Book Review – The Soundtrack to My Life by Dermot O’ Leary

Dermot O’Leary, for those who don’t know, is the presenter of The X-Factor in the UK. He also hosts a radio show on BBC Radio 2 and appears almost ubiquitously on TV as a presenter, talking head or just as the face or voice of various adverts. In short, you could be forgiven for getting a little irritated by him!

As the presenter of The X-Factor he is quite a divisive character. Not in the same way as say, Simon Cowell, but divisive all the same. There are probably thousands of people who just don’t like him because of his association with the behemoth that is that particular franchise. Whether that’s fair, I don’t know and I daresay, Dermot O’Leary doesn’t particularly care.

For the record, I like Dermot. But then again, we go way back. I remember Dermot as the fresh-faced presenter of a programme called T4 years ago, which for many of us represented perfect hangover TV. As such, I feel like I’ve followed his career a little bit ever since. Personally, I find him funny and quite an engaging presenter and while I might not like watching The X-Factor, I would gladly watch him on other shows or tune in to his radio show simply because he seems like the kind of bloke I’d be friends with (You know, if massive TV fame hadn’t got in the way!).

And this is sort of where the book comes in. It’s part autobiography and part discussion of music. Dermot whisks us through his forty odd years on the planet via the medium of music, linking various anecdotes to many of his favourite songs and artists. So it’s an autobiography with a ‘twist’, which Dermot himself explains in the book. And it’s an understandable twist given his experiences within the world of music, from being a regular gig-goer in his teens and onwards to presenting shows such as T4 and The X-Factor and then his long standing time as host of various radio shows from XFM to BBC Radio 2.

If you’re a music fan, ‘The Soundtrack to My Life’ will most likely prove to be an interesting read. Dermot knows his stuff and certainly has a wide range of tastes and influences. He links infleuential artists, bands and songs alongside key moments and anecdotes from his life to pretty good effect. And if you’re insisting on attaching that X-Factor stigma to him and expecting that his list will simply be chock-full of One Direction and Little Mix, then you may well get a number of pleasant surprises. Sadly though, there’s no mention of Same Difference or Jedward…

Amongst the choices you’ll find some of music’s big hitters – from Springsteen and The Rolling Stones to Amy Winehouse and Beyonce as you’d reasonably expect from a man who’s spent quite a while mixing with some of music’s big hitters. But it’s not at all predictable. In among the star names are other less well know acts like Brendan Shine (a nod to O’Leary’s Irish heritage), Terry Wogan and Beth Orton. Add in tracks by Guns n’ Roses, Wham, Ian Brown and The Killers and we’re being served up a varied musical banquet here.

The soundtrack got all the more special for me when reading about tracks from the bands Elbow and Athlete. For starters O’Leary picks a very early Elbow track – ‘Newborn’ – which just so happens to be one of my favourite ever songs. It’s the band at their most melancholy and vulnerable and in a funny way, it was a nice surprise to find it nestling alongside The Macarena in a book by the bloke who presents one of the most popular shows on British television. It was nice to read mention of Athlete as not only are they a band that I like but one of their tracks – not the one chosen in the book – is a song that I’ll forever associate with the birth of my daughter and the frequent trips to hospital that I would take in those early days of her life.

Overall, the book works. O’Leary’s life story is, to a point, a familiar one. The suburban upbringing, the ordinary school days and the hard work that follows in order to make something of yourself. It just so happens that this ordinary boy went on to become probably one of the most recognisable faces on British television. The inclusion of the songs not only gives us a break from the usual ‘star’ autobiography format of a very dry, unremarkable account of someone’s life, with maybe a few quoteworthy opinions thrown in to grab the odd headline and sell a few more books, but it serves to give us a little more insight into the life of someone who many of us can say we’ve kind of grown up with. Others might find it interesting in terms of how it might change their their X-Factor based opinions.

It’d be easy to criticise people like O’Leary just because of The X-Factor, but as he points out himself, if you’re offered a huge gig in the field that you work in, you’d be silly to turn it down. O’Leary dreamed of working in TV from leaving school, so when the biggest show on the box comes calling, you’d be a mug to turn it down. And while this might reject things like principles, I daresay that showbusiness doesn’t always have time for such things. So while we may frown at The X-Factor, it’d be strange to not accept the fact that a presenter might want to present it.

One small criticism of the book comes with the style of O’Leary’s writing, which did get a little irritating at times. He almost abuses parentheses and at times it was a little troublesome just to follow the narrative. And as a lover of parentheses and the odd tangent myself, I can see the irony in not enjoying reading through so much of it! But sometimes the tales take a few too many turns and it did become a little grating.

Overall though, ‘The Soundtrack of My Life’ is an enjoyable read. It’s an idea that’s been played with before, most notably in Nick Hornby’s ’31 Songs’, but O’Leary’s light hearted tone makes sure that it’s not particularly derivative. This isn’t a taxing read. You’re not going to experience any emotional trauma or find yourself fighting back the tears at the author’s pain. But if what you’re looking for is an autobiography with a bit of ‘quirk’ then this might well be for you. As a fan of music and radio, I enjoyed it and I think you would too.

I give Dermot O’Leary’s ‘Soundtrack To My Life’…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Apprentice – bikinis or nut milk?

As the dust settles on this year’s Apprentice we can reflect on what should have been a vintage week for television. But has Sugar been sweet enough or have we been left with a slightly bitter taste in our mouths?

Following the interviews we were left with two choices. Nut milk or bikinis? What a choice! And as it is, Lord Sugar seems to have gone for the more unusual of the two. But did it all add up to a good week’s viewing?

We started, in the time-honoured fashion with the interviews. For the uninitiated here’s what happens. The last remaining candidates are put through four interviews with some of Lord Sugar’s most ‘trusted business associates’. Only it’s not quite that simple. These are not the kind of interviews that you or I – because we don’t profess to be business typhoons or sales sharks or any other ridiculous things – would have to go through. This isn’t ‘Why do you want to work here?’ or ‘What would you bring to the role?’. This is generally more like ritual humiliation and brutal interrogation that ultimately ends with all candidates looking stupid. Or stupider. And every year it follows the brilliant Apprentice formula of allowing halfwits to say a little too much before allowing the audience to watch them unravel before our very eyes.

At the start of this year’s interview episode we were presented with The Final Five, as if their presence in our lives was pretty much the only thing worth living for. It wasn’t. But watching them squirm for an hour or so was undoubtedly quite a lot of fun.

‘I’m not some kind of pervert who enjoys watching women cry.’

My ears pricked up as the candidates prepared for their day from Hell in the Leadenhall Building and not one, but two of them announced that they weren’t going to cry. While what was to come became a little predictable at this point, I couldn’t deny that I wasn’t half looking forward to it! And this isn’t a regular thing for me. I’m not some kind of pervert who enjoys watching women cry, which is a good thing given where I work. But given that one of the two here was Khadija…well this was going to be funny and it really made me sit up and take notice.

What unfolded before us then was actually not as brutal as previous years, but I certainly wouldn’t call it boring and I was never tempted to switch off. At every turn and with almost every question I was left squirming at the sheer ineptitude of the candidates. I mean, what was Daniel thinking when telling everyone who visits the Amazon page of his product that there were ‘One million already sold’? I scraped a grade C at GCSE Maths, but still I’d find it hard to not notice the difference between what he’d actually sold – 70,000 units – and what he was claiming on one of the biggest shopping websites on the planet! And still he tried to worm his way out of it, telling Mike Soutar things like, ‘That wasn’t me’, then ‘I could have had something to do with it’ before finally, after what felt like an hour of toing and froing, ‘OK, it was me’!

‘Is Australia in Asia?’

But just when you thought his suffering was over, the interviewer proceeded to give him a Geography lesson after Daniel had claimed to be selling on several continents. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t quite true – quelle surprise – and Daniel was left asking, ‘Is Australia in Asia?’ I’m not a twisted man, but I do love seeing an ego cut down to size and having watched Daniel standing in the lift telling himself ‘You got this!’ it more than raised a smile in our house when it turned out that he hadn’t got this at all. What he had got though was an ever decreasing chance of £250,000 heading his way.

Further eye openers then came in the form of Linda Plant’s shoes and Sabrina’s slightly bizarre suit and neck tie. Linda’s shoes were certainly eye-catching, looking as they did like they had bows on them that had been made out of hundreds of ladybird wings. Mind you, if you can’t parade your ladybird unfriendly shoes on telly, where can you parade them? And was Sabrina trying to nullify the ditzy blonde image by dressing like a card shark in the Wild West? Perhaps she should have skipped the interviews, got on her horse and headed down the saloon for a root beer then.

Other highlights were numerous. Camilla being told, ‘You’ve got 3 months experience. What expertise have you got?’ was particularly poetic. And Claude just repeating ‘no’ at Khadija as she desperately tried to convince him that she was right about something…anything – well that made me laugh. If you’ve ever seen the film Sexy Beast, it was a bit like certain scenes from that, but without the budgie smugglers. And then, near the end, perhaps feeling euphoric at the end of an exhausting day, Camilla almost danced out of the lift before greeting a clearly ambivelant Claude with a ‘Yoo-hoo’! Predictably (except maybe to Camilla) his face was a picture!

‘…Daniel was ‘bloody untrustworthy…’

And there were more cringeworthy episodes with Daniel too. Again though, the best of them had to be attributed to Claude who firstly declared that Daniel was ‘bloody untrustworthy’ before smiling sweetly and announcing ‘anyway…onwards and upwards’. For that few seconds worth of telly the BAFTA surely awaits. And if not, Claude can definitely expect a thank you card from me! Either way, if Daniel still thought he was in with a chance of progressing he was clearly barking up the wrong tree.

Before we knew it we were back in the boardroom and Camilla and Sian – who’d earlier been criticised for her marketing ideas, being told ‘You’ll want to piss the money up the wall on some woman from Love Island’ (wrong on any number of levels) – were being declared this year’s finalists.

So Sunday brought us an unlikely final. Camilla v Sian. Nut milk v swimwear. Carry on Eco-Friendly Milkmaid vs posh pool parties. All of it quite the conundrum for a 71-year-old Lord to wrestle with. All of it quite the conundrum for a 46 year-old English teacher to wrestle with, come to think of it. As we said in our house, who goes to pool parties? And as I said in my head, I don’t understand what nut milk is.

In the time honoured tradition many of this series’ candidates were brought back to help out. And other former cadidates were left out, begging the question, were they told they weren’t needed (fired again?) or did their ego, fuelled by a fleeting appearance on telly, refuse to allow them to appear?

‘…imagine the shame of being picked after Kurran…’

The teams were picked in much the same manner as a school PE lesson where the captains chose which people they wanted on their teams. You had to feel sorry for Sabrina, who having made the final five, was ignored by both of the finalists until the last pick. I mean, imagine the shame of being picked after Kurran, who while still sporting ridiculous hair had at least got rid of his sling. The poor girl must’ve been mortified, yet she still simply carried on giggling, seemingly unaware of the shame of having been picked for a team post-Kurran.

The cult of Kurran continued as Sian picked him as her sub-team manager, much to the surprise of the other team members who at this point were clearly doubting her sanity. They say that the most successful people are mavericks (well I say this, for the purpose of this part of the paragraph, anyway), but surely with a £250,000 investment in your business idea at stake, this was just a maverick step (or several leaps) too far? Thankfully, the reactions of her team said it all and Sian quickly changed her mind, putting Jasmine in charge instead. Kurran or no Kurran though, her team let her down and Sian was left in the embarrassing position of trying to be complimentary about the social media ad created when really – as she did later on – all she wanted to do was say how terrible she thought it was.

On Team Camilla it seemed like Daniel had missed the bit where he got fired and instead decided he was in charge. Off he went, making every decision going while somewhere in the background Camilla sat and agreed with him while trying to make it sound like it was what she was going to say anyway. He then sat shouting out puerile slogans that they could use to promote the brand because, you know, nut milk. Get it? Nut milk, you know milk from…yes we understand. Yet still it felt like somewhere, at the back of her mind, the sex obsessed Camilla actually agreed with him. Not an enormous surprise when you remember the imagery she was trying to use to promote her nut milk during the interview episode, but alarming when you sit watching, secure in the knowledge that she had been warned to avoid such tactics.

‘Cue the entrance of Tom, Jackie and Kayode…’

Thankfully common sense won the day and Daniel’s juvenile suggestions were confined to the file marked ‘Stop being a tw*t’. The packaging and the general idea behind the brand seemed to be working and at that point you’d have been forgiven for backing Camilla for the win. Cue the entrance of Tom, Jackie and Kayode, who managed not only to make a shockingly bad advert, but also one that ran more than a minute over their allotted time. Frantic editing ensued which only served to make a bad advert even worse. It was starting to look like the best result would be if both of them could lose.

Adverts filmed, GIFs made and prototype products designed it was down to the business of the pitch and the burning question which we all must have at this point every year. Why do they make them have such a long and awkward walk on? It must take the finalists a good 40 seconds to get into position as they strive to negotiate those steps while retaining some sense of confidence and diginity. The applause gets ever more strained while the finalists struggle with what appear to be the worst designed steps in history. As for the ptiches themselves, Sian was cool, calm and collected, while Camilla fell apart when faced with reading her own Powerpoint slide about figures.

Having viewed some brief feedback and another bit of a challenge for the contestants in the form of a ‘can they all walk in a businessy formation?’, we were into the boardroom, where a grilling or to was, as ever, expected. This also gave Lord Sugar the opportunity to conduct some gentle mocking, mostly at the expense of Kurran and Daniel, which as a viewer, was obviously more than welcome. On Planet Kurran, however, he seemed to genuinely see a time when he’d be sending Lord Sugar a ticket to his premier in Leicester Square, and the mocking of his qualities as a director drifted gently over his bouffant with Kurran leaving the boardroom for the final time no doubt dreaming of his future as the next Spielberg.

As Lord Sugar asked questions of Karren and Claude I couldn’t help but feel like he’d hire Camilla. Not because of her business acumen, but just because given the choices of area for investment nut milk seemed like the one he’d go for. I could see him drinking a MLK It, but couldn’t imagine him having an interest in pool parties, let alone wearing a bikini.

And then the finalists were invited back into the boardroom and the rest as they say is history. Or business. Sian’s ‘unbelievable talent’ for drawing patterns won the day over Camilla’s ability to sexualise cartons of milk. Vintage telly? Not particularly. Boring? Definitely not. Let’s settle on the fact that The Apprentice has given us another series full of memorable moments that have once again left the majority lost for words, while giving hope for halfwits everywhere.