Back to lifestyle

Dermot O'Leary Exclusive Interview

Tuesday 15 December 2009 TV

Dermot O'Leary talks about tuition fees, Simon Cowell and what it's like hosting one of Britain's biggest shows. 

The X-Factor got huge audiences, it doesn't get much bigger does it?

No it doesn't and it sort of freaks me out because this is my third year. The first year I did it I thought "Just, don't get sacked", the second year I started to enjoy it and this year, because we've gone over two days, more people are watching but I'm not entirely sure where they've come from. It's not like it's a new show and we're rating three or four million than we were last year. I don't know where these people are coming from!

You look very comfortable on that huge stage, what was it like when you first walked out there?

I was so scared but, you know, the scared bit is almost the best bit. It's almost one of the reasons why you do it. It's like doing a bungee jump every Saturday and Sunday. The minute the doors open you think "Oh yeah, this is what I do for a living".

What's Simon Cowell like as a boss?

Honestly? I'll tell you what I like about him. You can have a proper conversation with him and he sees through fear immediately and hates fear. If you're straight with him, he'll be straight with you.

What have you learnt from him?

To be honest with you, it's been mostly "be fearless". Not to be worried about anything and just go for it. He sort of subscribes to that mantra that it's always better to ask for an apology than for permission. He's never said those words but that's his attitude.

Is the competitiveness between the judges real?

I think they like each other but, when the red light goes, they desperately want their acts to win and they want the bragging rights for next year. There's nothing worse for Louis than Cheryl going "Yeah, but I won last year so you can shut up" and that kills him. I think they get on, but they definitely want to win.

You went to Middlesex University, what was that like?

It was an alright place, there weren't enough books in the library. It was one of those degrees where I went to look for a book and it was never there. I wanted to get more than a 2:2 but I didn't.

How was your university experience?

I didn't really enjoy the first year that much because I had a fantastic sixth form and I loved doing my A-Levels and I suddenly found myself in London which was were I really wanted to be. Middlesex wasn't really a campus university and I deliberatley didn't want to go to a campus university, I wanted to go to a city. So, it wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be but, after a while, you find a nice group of friends.

What did you study?  

I did politics and media but I didn't have any interest in joining a political party. I'm just interested in politics and I really loved my studies there.

NUS is currently campaigning to stop politicians and universities raising the cap on tuition fees, which would mean they could potentially charge up to £30,000 per student and have proposed an alternative. What is your view on the issue?

Well, education was free when I was at university. I got my student fees paid for, I got a couple of loans and my dad helped me out. I certainly think education should be free. It just seems desperately unfair now that people don't get free education.

The full interview with Dermot O'Leary is available now on - download the podcast now.