Viewers know him as the sharp-suited X Factor host, who asks Simon Cowell and co for their comments, and then deals with contestants’ outpourings of emotions and lets them cry on his shoulder.
Today, Dermot O’Leary’s dressed more casually, in cream Chinos and a navy crew-neck sweater, but he’s still every inch the clean-cut, fast-talking, confident guy from the telly.
We meet in his publisher’s office to talk about his memoir, The Soundtrack To My Life, told through the songs that were playing at key moments in his life, from his childhood growing up in Colchester, Essex, to entering the realms of radio and TV and making the big time on The X Factor.
The track list ranges from Bruce Springsteen and The Smiths to The Rolling Stones and The Pogues, but there are also nods to Terry Wogan’s The Floral Dance and Los del Rio’s Macarena in his eclectic mix of recollections.
O’Leary says he’s had lucky breaks, presenting his own show on BBC Radio 2, doing the Big Brother spin-off, Big Brother’s Little Brother, and then getting the plum hosting role on The X Factor, but if you read the book, it’s clear his huge ambition has played a big part in where he is today.
He’s only 41 but has been in broadcasting since his 20s, firstly at BBC Radio Essex, then as a runner for several TV companies, before taking on low-profile presenting jobs to gain experience in front of the camera. Then, to his eternal shame, he was forced to go back on the dole when the next job didn’t just land in his lap.
“I honestly never expected to be on television,” he explains. “I wanted it, but it seemed so remote and also, I wanted to be on television for something rather than just being on telly.
“I would never have auditioned to be on Big Brother or any show like that. I wanted to have a trade. I thought I’d end up being a producer and would have been perfectly happy being a live TV or politics producer.”
He has been thrown in at the deep end on numerous occasions.
“I think fear’s a wonderful motivator,” he says, laughing. “I’m conscious not to paint myself as a working class hero but it’s not like I have anything to fall back on. First time on live television is a pretty massive thing, and you only get one chance.”
Today, things are very different. He lives in the celebrity enclave of London’s Primrose Hill and reckons he’ll never have to go on the dole again - but part of him still worries about the next job.
The Soundtrack To My Life by Dermot O’Leary is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20. Available now