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Dermot O'Leary on what it takes to succeed in the world of television

Broadcaster and children’s writer Dermot O’Leary shares his top tips for breaking into the media industry with Jenny Lee and reveals how he almost became a stand-up comedian

Cinemagic patron of 20 years Dermot O'Leary returns to Belfast this month to inspire and motivate aspiring TV and radio presenters
Cinemagic patron of 20 years Dermot O'Leary returns to Belfast this month to inspire and motivate aspiring TV and radio presenters Cinemagic patron of 20 years Dermot O'Leary returns to Belfast this month to inspire and motivate aspiring TV and radio presenters

Hard work, luck, talent and making yourself indispensable – these are the ingredients TV and radio presenter Dermot O’Leary believes you need to succeed in the media industry.

A strong work ethic is not something O’Leary has had a problem with. In fact, he’s been a near-constant presence on our TV screens and airwaves for well over two decades.

He first got into TV presenting in the late 1990s when he presented the live links to Channel 4’s weekend morning broadcasts and hosted Big Brother’s Little Brother.

Dermot currently presents ITV’s This Morning, alongside Alison Hammond every Friday and kicks off the weekend for listeners on his regular BBC Radio 2 show, Saturday Breakfast with Dermot O’Leary.

Dermot O'Leary with fellow This Morning presenter Alison Hammond
Dermot O'Leary with fellow This Morning presenter Alison Hammond Dermot O'Leary with fellow This Morning presenter Alison Hammond

Whether presenting events such as The National Television Awards, BRIT Awards, BAFTAs or broadcasting his own podcast, People, Just People, Dermot’s professionalism, wit and Irish charm shine through. 

It’s my second time to chat with the 50-year-old broadcaster – the first was in the backseat of a mini metro. Not so lucky this time, I had to settle for a WhatsApp call.

Despite the distance, his genuine warmth and enthusiasm was immediate. It’s not surprising he’s involved in a number of charities – including humanitarian charities UNICEF and CAFOD, as well as being patron, since 2002, of Cinemagic, the Belfast-based charitable film and television festival for young people.

Born in Colchester, Essex, to Irish parents Maria and Seán, and proud of his Irish roots, Dermot makes a welcome return to Belfast this weekend.

As well as looking forward to sampling the delights of his favourite fish restaurant, Mourne Seafood Bar, he is excited about meeting the next generation of budding broadcasters as he takes part in an industry Q&A workshop for aspiring presenters aged 16-25.

“Cinemagic has been such an incredible part of my life on a yearly basis. It’s wonderful to see how it has grown in size and to other parts of the world. It’s lovely to still be an active part of it,” says Dermot, recalling with pride how every year he encounters at least one member of a production team he’s working on who tells him they attended one of his previous Cinemagic workshops.

Cinemagic young presenters learn top tips media industry from radio and tv host presenter patron Dermot O’Leary at Cinemagic Dublin 2009
Cinemagic young presenters learn top tips media industry from radio and tv host presenter patron Dermot O’Leary at Cinemagic Dublin 2009 Cinemagic young presenters learn top tips media industry from radio and tv host presenter patron Dermot O’Leary at Cinemagic Dublin 2009

Dermot has even established his own Tuskar Trust, which he admits he has partly modelled upon Cinemagic.

So what makes him want to be involved in both charities and to help young people get a foot into the media industry?

“I'm not a saint, but I suppose it's partly my own upbringing and values and experiencing first-hand how hard it can be to break into the industry and make it.



“I want to give back, but also the industry needs schemes like these. It needs new blood and to be more representative.”

Dermot admits that he’s had his own fair share of luck and serendipity when it comes to his career. He reveals his big break came when he was “warm-up man” for Light Lunch, Channel 4 lunch-time comedy chat show hosted by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.

“Andi Peters saw my warm up when he came on as a guest. Andi had just taken a job at Channel Four where he was given the remit to start T4. He agreed to meet me for a coffee and then put me up for screen tests. The rest was up to me and my personality. You can’t fake being somebody you're not.”

Dermot admits the popularity of social media has changed the route into broadcasting for many in recent years. “Making your own content helps, though it doesn't necessarily mean that you can do television by being a YouTuber.

“My advice is to come with your own expertise, whether that’s dance, politics or gardening, and then you can branch out when you get your foot through the door.”

If television hadn’t worked out, was there a possibility we would have fallen in love with Dermot O’Leary the stand-up comedian?

“I don't think I was good enough,” he laughs. “Though I guess part of what I do is react to other people - and that’s part of what a  stand-up does”.

Read more:

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Earlier this year, Dermot made a surprising West End debut - starring in Mark Evan’s Charles Dickens mash up Bleak Expectations as the narrator, Sir Philip Bin.

“I was playing a Victorian narrator and it terrified me. It was relentless – eight shows in one week, but it’s the thing I'm most proud of this whole year”.

Whilst Hollywood may not beckon, Dermot has made quite a splash in children’s publishing. His sixth book, Wings of Glory, is an action-adventure story which centres around a bird named Linus, and his squadron of feathered friends.

Dermot’s interest in history compelled him to write this latest book series and, in doing so, hopefully inspire younger generations to learn from the past.

“The Second World War is tangible because it happened relatively recently, it's within living memory for a few and I love that we’re still finding out loads about it,” says Dermot, who in 2015 fronted a Battle of Britain documentary series.

“The story is about war starting and the call coming out across animal kind for any birds of a flying age to sign up for the Royal Bird Force,” he explains.

His children’s book series about Toto the Ninja Cat, inspired by his own rescue cats is currently being adapted into an animated comedy series comedy series with his wife Dee Koppang O’Leary, whose production credits include Bridgerton and The Crown.

Avid reader Dermot, was brought up listening to Irish fairy tales and folklore by his father; he is delighted his own son, three-year-old Kasper has developed a love of books.

“He's currently loves Hairy Maclary, as well as those Osborne peep inside books” enthuses Dermot, whose favourite author is Dublin crime writer John Connolly.

So does he fancy dabbling in crime writing in the future?

“I've got a couple of adult fiction ideas, but I don't want to presume that I can just jump straight into it. I’ve got a lot more  children's fiction to write first,” he teases.

Not commenting on the on-going debate about new long-term This Morning presenters, Dermot is currently filming a new history programme, for broadcast next March.

Once an omnipresent figure on Saturday evening autumn television as host of The X Factor, enthralling audiences with his entrance dances, would he be tempted to take to the Strictly dance floor?

“No,” he replies immediately.  “The X Factor had a great run and it was great to be part of it. If audiences are mad enough to miss my dances, they need to tune into my radio webcasts,” he laughs.

Cinemagic continues until October 31. For the full programme visit Cinemagic.org.uk.