Listening to Alison Hammond’s laughter was listed as one of the best things to boost your mood during lockdown in a poll last year. Today it’s rippling through our photo studio and giving everyone a lift – particularly her TV husband Dermot O’Leary – as she stands in an oversized cake to celebrate their first anniversary as co-hosts of ITV’s This Morning.
Dermot has proved to be Alison’s perfect partner-in-crime and together they’ve become the naughty rascals of daytime TV since they took over the Friday morning slot from Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes.
In fact they’ve been such a hit with viewers that this week they’re filling in for regular Monday-to-Thursday hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby when they take a half-term break.
Their success is all the more welcome because – as they will later reveal – both have suffered personal heartache over the past few years.
Alison Hammond, 47, and Dermot O’Leary, 48, ) are celebrating their first anniversary as co-hosts of ITV’s This Morning
Alison lost both her parents within months of each other in 2020, and Dermot and his wife struggled ‘for a while’ to start a family before their son Kasper was born the same year. Back then joy must have seemed a long way off for both of them.
When they were first ‘thrown together’ they seemed an unlikely combination, the quietly fun-loving but more conservative Dermot, a history buff and news junkie, and outrageous Alison who embraces her innate buffoonery both on and off screen.
Dermot, 48, has proved so popular that he’s tipped to step into Phil’s shoes if he ever decides to leave, but it would be a shame to split up this double act who have injected such fun into Friday mornings with their larking about and cheeky pranks, such as Alison, 47, giving Dermot a pair of pants with her face on for Christmas.
Even their arrival today, direct from This Morning, was a comical sight, with both of them screeching up on the back of motorbikes. Perhaps the other A&D – Ant & Dec – should be quaking in their boots.
‘No, we’re more like Laurel and Hardy,’ laughs Alison. ‘We’re genuinely like brother and sister. At first I was a bit star-struck by Dermot, I thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to work with him? He’s up there!’ Then I realised pretty soon he’s actually not up there.
‘I was quite surprised at how naughty he is. You love a little bit of gossip as well, don’t you Dermot? There’s a sweet competitiveness about us, a cheekiness too, like when you do stuff you’re not supposed to do. We have a few in-jokes only me and him know about. I feel like I know him so well now.
‘To be honest, I was quite surprised at how well we’ve gelled. I thought it was going to be hard because we’re both used to working on our own. But now, the thought of doing that show on my own would fill my heart with dread.
‘I look forward to our Fridays and I want to be sitting next to my Dermot. We can’t wait until we’re hosting for five days over this coming week.’
Dermot said he and Alison (pictured) hadn’t presented with anyone else before, but they clicked about four months in and realised what they like about each other
Dermot, who says he now talks to Alison the way he speaks to his TV and film director wife Dee Koppang, agrees.
‘I feel exactly the same. Neither of us had presented with anyone else before, and that’s daunting. Then we were thrown together on air for two and a half hours. We just sort of clicked about four months in, and we realised what we like about each other.
‘We’ve both got a naughty sense of humour. Not filthy, just childish. A bit like me and my sister used to be.
Mum loved Dermot but she never got to see us
‘We used to try to make each other laugh when you shouldn’t be laughing. It’s like you’re with your best friend. You love them dearly, but the greatest compliment you can give them is when you take the mickey out of them and vice versa.
‘When we first started presenting together we made a pact to be really honest with each other. At first you talk over each other because you don’t know when the other one wants to talk but now, a year down the line, I know exactly when Alison wants to talk – and she knows when I’ve got the bit between my teeth…’
Dermot has spoken before about his long path to parenthood, but today he’s extraordinarily candid .
‘We’re quite private people, but we’re honest about that because other people have the same thing and you don’t want to feel like you’re different,’ he says. ‘You do get an appreciation of people that either choose not to have or can’t have children, because our society is really set up to value children.
Dermot said his parents were in Ireland and Dee’s live in Norway, so they couldn’t go and see the grandparents when Kasper was born during the pandemic. Pictured: Dermot with wife Dee
‘You get engaged, then it’s questions like, ‘When are you getting married?’ Then you get married and it’s, ‘When are you going to have children?’ It’s so children-centric, which is great, but I think it’s really important that those people who can’t or choose not to have children aren’t ostracised in that way.’
Kasper was born during the pandemic, which proved timely for his parents. ‘It’s a funny thing. It sounds horrific, but the positives were that we both had this incredible enforced paternity-maternity leave where we couldn’t be anywhere else.
‘So we were with him. There were downsides though. My parents were in Ireland and Dee’s live in Norway so we couldn’t go and see the grandparents, which was hard. But we had that amazing early time with him.’
Alison is a devoted single mum to Aidan, 17, who was born during her marriage to cab driver Noureddine Boufaied.
We’re similar – we’re both children of immigrants
She still lives in her native Birmingham, but felt a family rock pulled from beneath her when she lost her mum Maria, who’s from Guyana, to liver and lung cancer in 2020, followed four months later by her Jamaican father Clifford.
It was her mother who set the young Alison on the path to showbusiness, but tragically she never got to see her greatest success.
‘My mum was amazing,’ says Alison now. ‘She was a single parent to three and did all the jobs around the clock. I was brought up by her alone.
Alison said she can feel her mum is close, when she makes decisions. Pictured: Alison with her beloved mother Maria, who passed away from cancer in 2020
‘Sometimes I’d go with her when she was a district nurse. She also worked in a casino as a croupier. She’d juggle three jobs. Me, my sister and my brother are really close – we used to mess around but we also helped out.
‘Mum had this love for showbusiness and television. She did loads of extra work behind the scenes and when I was six she got me in a film called Artemis ’81 with Sting. It’s the worst film you’ve ever seen, but even so that’s why I wanted to do what I’m doing now.
‘She sent me to audition to join the Central Junior Television Workshop, which offered drama training, and I got in. From there I learnt all the techniques of television and theatre. It gave me an eye-opener into the world and I got used to the knockbacks too.
‘I was doing well in my career, and then after Mum died I went to another level but she never got to see it, so that was really upsetting. She loved Dermot.
‘She loved watching The X Factor and all of his shows. To see me on This Morning with him would’ve been her dream. When I make decisions, I can feel my mum is really close and really there. It’s in those moments when I really feel her.’
Alison’s father Clifford was a big character too. He wooed Maria, who fell in love with him and became pregnant with Alison before finding out he was already married.
In her book You’ve Got To Laugh, Alison recalls how her dad, who was also a drug smuggler she describes as ‘shady’, was both ‘respected and feared’ within his community in Jamaica, mostly due to the shotgun he carried around.
While she was brought up single-handedly by her mother, Alison had sporadic contact with her dad who would shower her with gifts.
Although she doesn’t condone his criminal behaviour, Alison says her father doted on her. ‘He was lovely to me. I just didn’t see him enough, but when I did he was like the best dad in the whole world,’ she says.
‘I was the spitting image of him, and my dad was my mum’s number one love. I suppose the fact I look like my dad… she loved that.
‘The first time I went to Jamaica I really felt a sense that he was important. He had his own ranch and a lot of people working for him. Back then, when I was 16, he was building a shopping centre.
‘Real big stuff he was doing. And he had a bus company and a taxi company with his brother. He also had a dodgy sideline. I’m not proud of it. So he was a bit of a bigshot, and he used to show me off.
‘He’d say, ‘You know who this is?’ And they’d say, ‘That’s got to be your daughter, Mr Hammond.’ They called him Mr Hammond.’
Alison left Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling in stitches as they knocked back whisky during an interview (pictured)
I wonder if the fact that Alison’s father was already married when he met her mother influenced her trust in men, and Dermot pipes up, ‘She loves men!’ Alison says, ‘No, it hasn’t affected me at all.
‘In fact I want five weddings!’ So will Dermot be her usher, like he was at Holly’s wedding to TV producer Dan Baldwin in 2007? Alison says he certainly will, but Dermot shoots back, ‘No. I’m walking her down the aisle!’
WE WARM UP WITH A BOOGIE
Dermot and Alison’s on-screen chemistry may have something to do with the fact that they love a dance before presenting the show.
‘On the way in to the studio I work out what song I’m going to walk into the make-up room with,’ says Dermot, who showed off some nifty moves when he was presenting The X Factor.
‘I lose sleep over that music. I go to bed thinking, ‘What on earth am I going to play tomorrow?’ Alison lets out a roar of laughter.
‘So many times he gets the wrong tune and he just ruins the atmosphere,’ she chuckles.
‘But seriously, he’s a good dancer. He’s already got the moves so my dream would be to get him on Strictly. I film him dancing and post it on my TikTok.
‘That said, he likes to have at least ten minutes alone, when I’m not allowed to go into his dressing room. He puts a little handkerchief on the door and says, ‘Do not come in for ten minutes.’
‘He likes to go through his notes. I think he’s naked, and I just know I’m not going in there.’
‘Correct,’ deadpans Dermot. ‘I like to go through my notes naked in my room. It’s all time management,’ he says.
‘I don’t know how Alison does all that stuff on TikTok in the time it takes me to go through my script and get my clothes on.’
Alison’s joyful personality first came to the fore when she took part in Big Brother in 2002. She only lasted two weeks in the house but it was the platform for a TV career.
She was soon snapped up by This Morning as a showbiz reporter and has been delivering priceless TV moments ever since.
There was the time she knocked a male model into Liverpool’s Albert Dock while presenting the weather on This Morning’s floating map, and another when she had Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling in stitches as they knocked back whisky during an interview.
Dermot, who as presenter of Big Brother’s Little Brother actually interviewed Alison after her eviction, saw the same qualities.
‘She’s someone who loves life, who sees the good in people,’ he explains. ‘I knew all those things before I started working with her. But the extent of what a decent human being she is has really been an eye-opener for me.’
They share many similarities and Dermot believes one of them is their upbringing. He too had inspirational parents who instilled a strong work ethic in him. ‘We’re quite similar in backgrounds, because we’re both children of immigrants,’ he says.
His Irish parents Sean and Maria relocated from their adoptive home in Essex back to their native Wexford in 2017.
‘My parents came over in the late 60s with nothing, and they both worked very hard. My dad started as a labourer and then worked for BT for 34 years, he did really well there, while my mum raised me and my sister then went back to work at British Home Stores.’
Dermot is full of praise for his parents, who brought him and his sister Nicola up in a house that was full of books and laughter. There were ceilidhs in the front room, Irish fairy tales at bedtime and Mass every Sunday.
‘We grew up in a very Irish household, full of love and empathy. My parents are my big inspirations. Dad would get up at 5am to do an hour’s study so he could then be with us for breakfast and see us before we left for school,’ he recalls fondly.
In a similar way to his dad, Dermot has worked his way up. He started as a runner on BBC Radio Essex in the mid-90s then made a move into TV, working on shows such as Channel 4’s Light Lunch and Big Brother’s Little Brother before hosting The X Factor on ITV.
The first book in his Toto The Ninja Cat series for children was published in 2017, after his well-received memoir The Soundtrack To My Life.
Another of their shared passions is food. ‘I just love it,’ says Alison, who appeared on Celebrity MasterChef in 2014.
Alison and Dermot (pictured) take off their microphones and have a catch-up while eating the food cooked at the end of each show
‘We get to cook at the end of each show, and I love eating every last bit of it with Dermot. All the studio lights go off and they take our microphones off and we have a little catch-up while we’re eating.’
But it was the excruciating moment when her chair collapsed while interviewing one of her idols, Matt Damon, in 2007 as he promoted his blockbuster movie The Bourne Ultimatum that pushed her to make a major change regarding her weight.
‘Me and Matt had a little sit-down interview, and as you can see I’m quite a rotund lady,’ she says. ‘As I sat down I thought, ‘This chair’s a bit tight.’
‘About three minutes into the interview the arm on the right-hand side just went ‘Ping!’ and flew off. I said to Matt, ‘Carry on, what were you saying…’ He was laughing and was very kind about it but it wasn’t the best of days. I had to style it out, otherwise I’d have cried.’
Alison then took the major decision to have a gastric band fitted. ‘Straight after that Matt moment I felt like I needed to go on a diet, so I had my gastric band. I feel it didn’t really work very well, but the truth is it did.
‘I just wasn’t ready because I had to eat salad. I’d literally be feeling sick and I thought, ‘This isn’t normal. I don’t want to do this any more.’ So after about three years I asked the surgeon to take it out. I was over the moon when I got rid of it.
‘I did put on a bit of weight, but I just think I’m a big girl. Everyone can see I’m a big girl. I love life and I love food.’
Now, thanks to their unlikely partnership, life is looking rosy for both of them.
Alison and Dermot will host ITV’s This Morning Monday to Friday this week and subsequent Fridays, from 10am.