Dermot O’leary on dream interviews and his “cuddle monster” son Kasper
The King Of TV tells Boyd Hilton about fatherhood, podcasting and his dream guests
Halfway through our Zoom chat with Dermot O’leary, who’s speaking to heat live from his north London home, a pram wheels into view and up pops an adorable little nine-monthold dude who stares straight into the camera with a quizzical look on his face. Dermot starts whistling (“He loves a whistle and a sing-song”, explains Dad Derm) and the child does seem to be nodding in appreciation. Yes, it’s Kasper Koppang O’leary – and, if this glorious cameo is anything to go by, stardom beckons.
But the baby Dermot is really here to talk about is his beloved podcast, People, Just People, in which he interviews all kinds of subjects –some very famous, others not so much – for about an hour about their incredible life stories. One week it’s Niall Horan from 1D, the next it’s two women in their nineties who helped crack codes at Bletchley Park during WW2. Eclectic is the word, and now the new third series kicks off with the unbeatable thespian duo of Andrew Scott off Sherlock and Fleabag, and Olivia Colman (Broadchurch and also Fleabag), who have a delightfully freewheeling conversation possibly fuelled by a few glasses of gin. As well as his podcast, Dermot has his Saturday morning breakfast show on Radio 2, his Toto The Ninja Cat franchise of children’s books – the fourth of which came out recently – and the recent addition of This Morning on Fridays, which he co-hosts with the iconic Alison Hammond. So, he’s quite busy really, and we’ll get to all that, but we have to start with the podcast and how he brought Andrew Scott and Olivia Colman together, in person, during lockdown…
You’ve got your own radio and TV shows, so what made you want to do a podcast as well? Well, I know the world doesn’t need another white guy in his forties doing a podcast, but interviewing people is my favourite thing, and when I did the three-hour Radio 2 show on Saturday afternoon, there was time for quite long interviews, but now I do the morning show the interviews are more like ten or 15 minutes. So we had an idea to find the most interesting people with the most extraordinary stories to talk to for about an hour, and luckily Audible liked the idea.
And the new series starts with Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott – how did you bring them together? Well, it’s a difficult podcast to book for, because we don’t really have guests on promoting anything in particular, so a lot of publicists might be reluctant to put their clients on the show, but I sent a very respectful message to their agent saying, “Look, I’d love to make this happen,” and she just replied saying they wanted to do it together, so I thought, “Of course, I’d love to get them together.” I love interviewing actors, perhaps because that was the career I always wanted when I was a kid, but I was never good enough to do it – and I have a huge amount of respect for actors, but I really like actors who don’t wear their craft heavily on their shoulders. They’re the type of actors I really like interviewing. Actors talking about acting can be quite boring, but I’m really interested in what it’s like being an actor without becoming too chin-strokey or naval-gazey about it. Andrew and Olivia are brilliant examples of that. And you actually met them in person during lockdown – not even over Zoom! Yeah, we recorded during
Lockdown 2.1 [in November] I suppose you’d call it – when we could travel and be in the same room with all the rules adhered to. I’ve been really lucky to be able to carry on working – it has really helped my mental health. I’m a cup-half-full person. anyway, but the fact that I’ve been able to go to the BBC to do the radio and King’s Cross to do the podcast and the studio to do This Morning – it’s really given me a lot of purpose, and focus. As has having a child! Yes, how is that working out for you? Well, we all know this last year has been a total shit show, but you’ve got to take your blessings where you can and having work and a child in lockdown means I’ve been able to spend time at home with the baby more than I would have, which has been lovely.
With the baby and the radio and the podcast and the writing and the TV show, do you ever just take a nap to deal with it all? I can’t really nap during the day – every now and then at the weekend if I put him down, I might steal 20 winks next to the cot, but then my problem is I’m like a lark and an owl, because I like getting up quite early and going to bed quite late. I really should have been born somewhere where I could have a really nice two-hour siesta.
Is there one thing that’s surprised you about fatherhood? I guess – and this is going to sound like a cliché – but how quickly the stages go. Like, the total unconditional love didn’t surprise me at all, and I’ve loved being on admin duty and kitchen duty for the first couple of months. A lot of people said, “You won’t really get much out of the first few months”, but actually that’s bullshit because you get loads because you’re just staring at this thing you’ve got this incredible love for and sure, you’re getting nothing back, but that doesn’t matter because that’s part of the deal, so it goes from that lovely froglet stage where they’re tiny and they’re asleep on your chest – I thought that would last like a year but it doesn’t – it lasts for about eight weeks and then they just get too big for that, so I guess it’s just how quickly the time goes that takes me back the most. But they’re all great stages … everyone keeps telling me that
‘My teenage crush slid into my DMS last week’
the next stage is the best. What have you missed most during lockdown? I’ve missed the simple stuff. Going to see Arsenal and having dinner with friends before – just the simplicity of meeting friends for drinks and dinner – the convenience of those things being gone in a heartbeat is tough.
Have you learned new skills, like baking banana bread? I’ve been trying to learn Norwegian for years, because my wife is Norwegian. That’s ongoing! And I’ve definitely upped my game on the cooking. I’ve always been a really keen cook, but if you’re cooking every single day, as I have been, then you do start to think more about what to make… What’s your best dish? I perfected a fish pie during lockdown. And there’s a very good cheat’s fried chicken that I’ve done which is really just baked chicken in a crispy, spicy crumb. It’s a Tom Kerridge recipe and to get it right you have to cook it on a really high heat, so it crisps up really nicely but then you have to be careful not to burn it. You are known as King of the Cuddlers, so you must have missed being able to cuddle everyone? Oh yes, but luckily I have a wife and son to cuddle – I’m lucky to have him as my new cuddle monster. But who knows when I’ll be able to cuddle friends? I mean, I’ll settle for just seeing them right now.
How are you enjoying doing This Morning with Alison Hammond? I’m loving it. It was a weird situation where, because of the pandemic, we never even had a chance to go to lunch or meet up to chat beforehand, so we’ve been chucked in at the deep end. But we’re getting to know each other more and more. She’s a really funny, warm, bright person and I really enjoy her company and she’s unfailingly positive, which I love. We have a lot of respect and affection for each other. We’re starting to get to know what makes the other one laugh now as well. I’m really enjoying it. Who have you been most excited to interview recently? I did David Schwimmer last week, and I’d not met him before. He told an incredible story of how he had this terrible first experience on a TV show when it was cancelled after one series, and then when Friends was offered to him, he had to be talked into doing it. That’s the kind of story that fascinates me. Do you ever get tongue tied meeting people you admire? Well, funnily enough, Emma Samms called the radio show last week and she was one of my great teenage crushes – she played Fallon in Dynasty. I met her once on the street and I was a babbling wreck, and then she literally slid into my DMS, which I couldn’t believe. If I got to tell my teenage self – first explaining what DMS are – that Emma Samms would contact me for help with a “Long COVID” charity fundraiser, my teenage self would have been full of questions, but he would have been very excited! Who are your dream guests you’d love to get? Paul Mccartney, Keir Starmer – because I’d like to know more about him as a person. I’d love to do Ian Mckellen – such a great actor and role model. I love [Labour MP] Jess Phillips – we’re trying to get her on – and Dame Judi Dench – someone who’s lived a life. Do you take requests? We’d like Simon Cowell... Well, I’d love to do him if it was going be an everything-on-thetable, ask-anything kind of situation. It would be an interesting chat. I should do it. Amazing. Finally, what are you most looking forward to when lockdown eases? The first dinner I have out, a swim in the sea, the first programme I buy in a theatre, the first Turkish meal we share before going to see Arsenal, the first kick-off – all of those firsts are the things I can’t wait for. n
Dermot O’leary’s People Just People podcast is available on Audible now