Dermot O’Leary is back for his seventh year hosting the National Television Awards, a figure he can’t quite believe. “Every time I come back I always ask myself the same question: how can I be so damned stupid as to keep coming back here?” he laughs, effortlessly quoting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s “carnage of a night” he says, describing looking down from the stage as like seeing the “fall of Saigon” with people clambering over chairs to see each other to meet and greet on what is, for most, the first big night out of the year. But you can tell the buzz of holding the two and a half hour live show together is part of its charm. “It’s a hoot,” he admits.
“The show itself, it’s just a lovely celebration of television,” Dermot enthuses. The radio and television presenter thinks the shortlist is pretty spot on this year. “There’s no massive shocks,” he says, although he’d like a Supporting Drama Performance category to be added. “There’s so much good drama now that’s made.”
The former X Factor host laughs off that he himself is not included: “I’ve not been on telly all year,” he grins, speaking to me just hours before he was drafted in to replace an unwell Sir Terry Wogan on Children In Need at the end of last year.
“I always like an underdog to do well,” Dermot continues of the upcoming awards night, insisting it’s important that what happens each year is recognised, rather than just personalities. “It’s always good when you see something new. So I’m really glad Poldark’s come out. I’m really glad Doctor Foster has done well. You just don’t want to see the same winners every year.”
Dermot asserts that he’s no camera monkey and isn’t presenting awards to people or shows he’s taken no interest in.
“I would never do that. Even with the soaps that I don’t get a chance to watch all year, before the NTAs I do start watching and cramming them in.”
“We should be so proud of British TV,” he adds, scrolling through the shortlist several times as we talk. “It’s in such a healthy state at the moment.”
“British TV is offering America the chance to come over and work with brilliant crews and work with terrific actors who don’t have to go to Hollywood,” he continues. “We don’t have to have to have a brain drain. We don’t have to have a brain drain from cities like Belfast. Now you can work in Belfast or Cardiff or do Natural History in Bristol. You don’t have to come to London. I think that’s so important.”
Discussing his preparations for the ceremony, Dermot lists dancing in his pants as his pre-show ritual without skipping a beat. “Just to get the energy out.” I joke the footage should be beamed out live to the crowd ahead of the show, but he’s not having any of it. “We’ve done enough dancing on the Red Button to last me a lifetime, Emma,” he gently chastises, still holding my campaign to see his dance return to X Factor 2013 partly to blame for his mammoth 24-hour dance for Comic Relief last year. This, it’s hoped, will appear in the yet-to-be-detailed TV moment of the Year category.
This underwear groove sesh doesn’t appear to be the only NTA tradition Dermot has, with the host humorously revealing he’s got caught up in a now three-year game of ‘Where the f***’s Hugh Bonneville?’ (which is a hashtag waiting to happen, right?).
“The director is lovely, but so chilled. He’ll say in my ear, ‘Er Dermot, Hugh Bonneville just seems to have disappeared. Can you keep your eye out for him?’ And I’m just going, ‘Where the f***’s Hugh Bonneville gone? What do you mean? I’m about to do a Hugh Bonneville gag, so we need a cutaway of him, where the f*** is he?’ It’s really odd, the NTAs are really calm in your ear, it’s just carnage in front of you. So I’m the only person that’s freaking out about it, which makes you freak out more.
“It’s happened about three years in a row!” he wails as I try to understand where the actor may have got to. “He’s Hugh Bonneville – everyone wants a picture with him. People either want to smoke or drink in the break so they go out and then it is like herding cats to get them back in.”
But holding it all together with apparent ease is just practice. “You just get better at your job the more you do it,” he says. He’s not necessarily making it easy for himself, this year’s opening skit some sort of horrid food and water-based challenge with Bear Grylls. But Dermot’s calm confidence means you know it’ll all go without a hitch. As long as Hugh Bonneville’s in place.
The National Television Awards airs Wednesday 20th January from 7:30pm on ITV