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DERMOT TAKES A REALITY CHECK; Gearing up for another Celebrity Big Brother, presenter Dermot O'Leary can't believe how fast things are happening for him.

Byline: Paul English

DERMOT O'LEARY is singing. The shaven-headed Top Of The Pops presenter is warbling his apologies after phoning me more than an hour later than planned.

"Do you think I would leave you dying," warbles the 29-year-old, giving Rolf Harris's hit, Two Little Boys, a run out.

"There you go," says the rapid-fire Londoner, who claims he's Irish. "Of course I wouldn't forget to call. I'm singing to you - is that enough of an apology?"

It'll have to do.

It's a wonder Dermot has found the time at all. He's busy getting his act together for the second Celebrity Big Brother which kicks off on Channel 4 this week.

On top of that, he has been preparing for the Cinemagic Young Persons Film Festival in Belfast next month, researching the second series of his alternative music show Re:covered, preparing for a Clothes Show special and has just finished filming a new series of SAS: Are You Tough Enough? Oh and he has been spending time with his girlfriend.

"We've been seeing each other for about six months now," says Dermot, who shot to fame presenting Sunday morning hangover show T4 on Channel 4.

So who is she?

"You want to know her name? God, I can't remember half the time," he jokes.

"I'm not saying. We've been going out for about six months or so, which I suppose constitutes an anniversary of some sort.

"I'd better try to remember, or else it won't be for much longer."

Dermot is undeniably one of the most popular youth TV presenters on the go - but still he reckons he's on the periphery of things, despite a string of awards and a job publicly rubbing shoulders with a conveyor belt of A- listers.

"I never set out to be a celebrity," he says. "The last thing I want to sound like is a beauty queen. I was a researcher and I got into presenting to give it a go - and I love doing live shows. It's as simple as that."

He's not alone in loving live TV - especially when it comes to Big Brother. Love it or loathe it, the show has made an impact on UK culture.

They may since have disappeared like snow off a dyke, but Big Brother lab rats like Jade and Alex gained celebrity status for several weeks. These guys were so special, they didn't need surnames.

Even Hollywood legend Dustin Hoffman played Big Brother runner-up Johnny on Graham Norton's show this year.

Somehow, watching these ordinary people cooped up in an unnatural living environment gripped the TV viewing nation.

So does Dermot, who presents Big Brother's Little Brother, reckon Big Brother contestants are only out to become celebrities?

"Anyone who wants to do it to be famous is in it for the wrong reasons," he says. "Yes, people like Jade and Kate in the last series have done financially well out of it.

"After the first one I thought there was no point in doing any more because I thought the whole point to the show should be its freshness and naivety.

"But, yes, you do get people who go on it because they want to be famous - and celebrities get more famous."

Which is presumably the point in taking part in Celebrity Big Brother - it gives two- bit celebrities the chance to boost their careers.

Last year, Jack Dee emerged victorious from the house.

But the real winner was Claire Sweeney, who went on to star on stage in Chicago, won a record deal, became the face of the Irish Lottery and was beset with offers of presenting work.

However, it had little impact on the careers of Keith Duffy, Anthea Turner and Chris Eubank, while Vanessa Feltz's shambling mini- breakdown brought accusations of playing to the camera and made her even more of a laughing stock.

As Saturday magazine goes to press, this year's line-up hasn't been announced, although rumours that Dawn French and Graham Norton will live in the house for 10 days seem unlikely.

Dermot claims he doesn't know, although he does have a fantasy Celebrity Big Brother wish list.

"Kathy Burke would be my first choice," he says. "I love her. She was the nicest lady when she came on Big Brother's Little Brother as a guest last series.

"I'd love to have Jonathan Ross in there, and Chris Moyles, too. I think he'd be voted out on the first day, though - if the people in the house hadn't killed him first.

"It's a shame Tara Palmer Tompkinson has done I'm A Celebrity, she remembers the name of everyone from the cameraman to the cleaners - she's such a lovely woman.

"I'd also have Barbara Windsor in there because of her contagious laughter - and I think Josie D'Arby would steal it if she was in it."

But why should anyone care? Why should Big Brother be such a phenomenon? Isn't it pathetic that so many of us enjoyed watching people doing nothing much?

Dermot agrees - nearly.

"More than any country in the world, the British love sitting on their a***s and doing nothing. We're such a domestic nation, and our curtains are always twitching, which is why shows like Big Brother are so popular."

So is it cheap TV?

"No. I don't like the show getting slagged off," says Dermot. "I don't subscribe to the view Big Brother uses people, then spits them out."

"It's a social experiment, and appeals to people on different levels. I've had chats with everyone from street vendors to lecturers about Big Brother. One might love watching Jade make an a**e of herself, the other might enjoy it because it's a fascinating display of human behaviour."

Argument over. Besides, Big Brother is just work for Dermot. And there's more to him than that. He loves fishing, body- boarding and has been scuba diving in Egypt and Bali.

He was asked to take a part in Godspell in London's West End, but declined "because I can't act or sing".

He's a big Arsenal fan, and pretended to be related to Highbury legend David O'Leary to win popularity at school in Colchester.

"I was brought up Irish and was the only Irish kid in the town, so I had to have something," he says.

Other than Arsenal, Celtic are "the team I look for second". In fact, Celtic boss Martin O'Neill would be Dermot's choice for the next Republic of Ireland manager.

"There's not one Irish person out there who has won anything apart from O'Neill," he says.

"Someone sent me an e-mail the other day and the subject was: `Who's the next Irish boss'. There was a picture of David Brent from The Office, so maybe he's the natural choice."

David Brent versus Roy Keane in a live face-off - a reality TV duel surely no one would forget in a hurry.

lCelebrity Big Brother, Ch4, Wednesday, Thursday, 9.00pm; Friday, 8.30pm, 10.35pm, 11.05pm. This year's line-up will be announced at 8pm on E4

l Big Brother's Little Brother, Ch4, Thursday, Friday, 6.00pm
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 16, 2002
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