On Monday lunchtime, as the This Morning production team met for their daily post-show debrief, there was a collective sigh of relief.
Finally, after more than a year of high drama, bruised egos and fallouts, there was a sense of calm.
The tears of frustration that have become so commonplace behind the scenes of ITV‘s flagship breakfast show had been replaced with wide smiles because Cat Deeley‘s trial run on the sofa had been hailed a triumph.
After 20 years away from British television, and indeed from This Morning, which she hosted in 2003 alongside Paul O’Grady, 47-year-old Cat was approached, in the aftermath of Holly Willoughby‘s departure, to try out for the job.
She took part in a live audition alongside Rylan Clark and it went well . . .very well.
Her performance didn’t just leave the top brass and the viewers pleased, but the production staff, too. ‘Cat was a breath of fresh air,’ one staff member tells me. ‘There were no airs and graces, she just got on with the job and was an absolute joy to work with.’
Yep, after weeks of stress and uncertainty, ITV bosses think they’ve found their woman, and they can finally turn the This Morning ship around.
Now they’re hoping they can lure her husband, Northern Irish presenter Patrick Kielty, to join her on the sofa for one of the most sought-after jobs in television.
‘Cat and Pat has a great ring to it, doesn’t it?’ said an insider at ITV. ‘They are about the closest we are going to get to Richard and Judy. A married couple hosting This Morning again would be the dream — although to have just Cat would be perfect, too.’
They’re hoping they can lure Cat’s husband, Northern Irish presenter Patrick Kielty, to join her on the sofa for one of the most sought-after jobs in television
Insider at ITV said Cat and Pat are the ‘closest we are going to get to Richard and Judy’
Holly Willoughby quit her role as host of This Morning earlier this year after 14 years on the show
I’m told there have been several meetings about Cat and serious discussions about the pros and cons of hiring her. Sources within ITV say there were worries she would be deemed ‘too shiny and American’ after spending almost two decades in Los Angeles.
However, bosses have noted that despite her years in Hollywood, where she hosted prime time show, So You Think You Can Dance, she has kept her Brummie accent — something they thought would be a winner with viewers.
An ITV source tells me: ‘The main question over Cat was, will people relate to her? The last thing the executives want is someone who is perceived to be ‘all LA’ but Cat is a thoroughly lovely woman who is bright, funny and warm and that’s exactly what the show needs.
‘But, above all, she is a career broadcaster who’s spent her adult life learning her craft and that’s a priority for This Morning. While it is tempting to go for someone with little experience who they can make their own, the show needs a safe pair of hands right now. There is no room for error.’
For the most senior bosses at ITV, particularly director of television Kevin Lygo, there is something special about bringing Cat back to the channel where she made her name in the late 1990s and early Noughties.
Many will remember that, like Holly, Cat began her career in children’s television, starting as a co-presenter for the children’s show SMTV Live in 1998 for which she won a BAFTA Children’s Award.
But it was the spin-off, CD:UK, which catapulted her to fame. She was offered the job by Ant and Dec and would, for seven years, be a sister-type character alongside the duo, winning over viewers with her fun-loving manner. Like Holly, men wanted to date Cat while women wanted to be her best friend.
In 2003, she presented Fame Academy on BBC1 and also became presenter of the ITV talent show Stars In Their Eyes, which she hosted until 2005.
The following year she moved to the States where she hosted So You Think You Can Dance, a prime time reality show and the brainchild of British TV mogul Nigel Lythgoe. Cat quickly became a household name, hosting Fox’s celebrity dating game show The Choice and presenting the series Royally Mad for BBC America.
Meanwhile, she surprised the showbiz world when it emerged she was dating Kielty, whom she had met hosting Fame Academy.
He would secretly fly out to Los Angeles to surprise her and, in 2011, they started dating. Nine months later they married, in secret in Rome, and had two sons: Milo, now seven and James, five.
The couple quit the U.S. in 2020 after Patrick and one of their sons were caught up in a terrifying attack at a shopping mall.
Describing the incident, Cat said: ‘I got a call from Paddy, saying, ‘They’re taking us out through the fire exits but nobody can get to their car. If we walk to a junction, can you come and get us?’. He wanted to keep Milo calm, so I didn’t understand the enormity of what was happening. As I was driving I [saw] helicopters, news vans, firemen and Swat squads.’
Shortly afterwards, the pair left America and now live in Hampstead, North London. Last year the family briefly returned to the U.S. while Cat filmed So You Think You Can Dance, though she didn’t return this year and a 2024 series has not yet been announced.
Patrick, meanwhile, has recently secured his dream job as host of Northern Ireland’s Late Late Show. It’s this role that ITV chiefs fear could stand in the way of him joining his wife on the This Morning sofa. A source there says: ‘Expectations were managed from the beginning as they just didn’t think Patrick would do it, as well as The Late Late Show.’
That hasn’t stopped ambitious editors from trying, however. They are currently attempting to get Kielty to at least agree to a trial run alongside his wife.
So, if not her husband, who will Cat be sitting next to in January?
ITV tell me they adore Rylan and thought he and Cat had ‘huge likeability and chemistry’. He’s yet to be approached about the job but are considering asking him.
Cat Deeley ‘s trial run on the sofa had been hailed a triumph. Pictured: Deely in 2004
Then there is breakfast television stalwart Ben Shephard. He was due to join the show in January to replace Phillip Schofield as Holly’s co-host, and This Morning bosses are still keen to lure him from his current role on Good Morning Britain.
One issue, being discussed behind the scenes, is what would happen to Alison Hammond? It’s three years since she was plucked from being This Morning’s showbusiness reporter to host the show by its editor Martin Frizell, who was under criticism for his presenting line-up being ‘too white’.
Hammond currently hosts the show on Fridays with Dermot O’Leary, as well as covering school holidays. The role has helped her become one of the most sought-after women in television. This year she was signed up by ITV rivals Channel 4 to co-host the Great British Bake Off.
This Morning sources are sure she wants the big job. However, the problem, I’m told, is that bosses view Hammond as ‘too lightweight’ and see her as the perfect fit for Fridays when the show is lighter and brighter.
One insider tells me: ‘No promises were made on either side going forward. She knows her worth and the feeling is she might consider leaving if she doesn’t get the top job.’ Or, the source adds: ‘Kick up one hell of a stink.’
With ITV so keen to bring Cat home, that might be one final piece of drama they are prepared to weather for a much-needed return to calm.