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KATIE HIND: Why ITV execs chose Cat Deeley to replace Holly Willoughby on This Morning  instead of  up-and-comer Sian Welby


Just days after Holly Willoughby quit This Morning, ITV began holding discussions over how they could lure Cat Deeley to replace her on the programme’s coveted sofa.

Holly had barely cleared out her dressing room before the Birmingham-born former children’s television presenter was their list-topper to save the programme.

She was, for the channel, the only star who they thought could bring them the glitz and the success that Ms Willoughby did in her heyday.

Their dream was to team Cat up with her husband Patrick Kielty – a ‘Cat and Pat’ brand to recreate the good old days of Richard and Judy. 

But with Patrick happily ensconced and earning a substantial salary as the host of Ireland’s Late Late Show, they knew that would be almost impossible.

Cat Deeley and Ben Shephard have been unveiled as the new hosts of This Morning, ITV revealed on Friday, with a teaser clip showing their images been erected in the ITV corridors

Cat Deeley and Ben Shephard have been unveiled as the new hosts of This Morning, ITV revealed on Friday, with a teaser clip showing their images been erected in the ITV corridors 

So, in recent weeks there have been whoops of joy as finally it became apparent they had managed to make at least half that dream a reality. 

Cat has agreed to join This Morning. Alongside her will be Ben Shephard, host of ITV’s earlier show, Good Morning Britain, who’d been waiting in the wings. 

He’d been holding off signing his contract until he knew who his leading lady would be. ‘Once Patrick was out of the game ITV wanted Ben and Cat, or Cat and Ben. 

They couldn’t work out which way round to have the names, they were nicknamed BenCat months ago. That is what they were working towards.’

However, while Ben, 49, had agreed in principle to switching from Good Morning Britain, which he’s hosted for the last ten years, getting Cat’s signature was much trickier. 

In the end, ITV had to push back their relaunch date by months while Cat, 47, finished work on the US reality show, So You Think You Can Dance, which she’s fronted since 2006.

An insider at ITV revealed: ‘The negotiations were all about Cat’s diary and her commitments to So You Think You Can Dance and fulfilling her contract in the US. 

She wanted to make sure she was doing the right thing by them.

‘Cat always wanted to do it but it was about logistics and they were not easy.’

Indeed, they weren’t. 

After Cat’s impressive performance hosting four shows for This Morning last November, as ITV held auditions in the hunt for the next Holly, she’d told bosses she was keen to take on the role full-time.

However, it was the much-loved Rylan Clark who she wanted to sit beside rather than Ben, she confided to friends, after she hosted two episodes with him.

She also had to weigh up her domestic life, what with Kielty, with whom she has two young sons, working in Ireland from Tuesday until Friday. 

Her months of commitments on So You Think You Can Dance also meant she wouldn’t be available for the beginning of 2024 when ITV had initially wanted to relaunch the show.

So, during the first week of December, ITV chiefs were back to the drawing board. ‘They were gutted,’ said one source on This Morning. 

‘There was so much excitement around getting Cat in, she was like a breath of fresh air when she arrived at the studios.

‘Let’s not forget how traumatic it had been for the production staff for months before. First Phil left, then Holly, ratings were dropping and to the outside world the programme was absolutely toxic.

Ben Shephard and Holly Willoughby on This Morning last year

Ben Shephard and Holly Willoughby on This Morning last year 

Cat confided to friends it was the much-loved Rylan Clark who she wanted to sit beside, rather than Ben, after she hosted two episodes with him

Cat confided to friends it was the much-loved Rylan Clark who she wanted to sit beside, rather than Ben, after she hosted two episodes with him

‘Then Cat and her big smile arrived and it was all better for a few days. There was hope that the good old days, the early days of Phil and Holly, would be back. Then it all came crashing down and it was back to reality.

‘Once again, ITV executives were asking around for ideas of who they could hire. I was even summoned to lunch for my thoughts. Meanwhile, Cat was pre-recording So You Think You Can Dance auditions in America and she had as good as given up hope that she would be able to sign to This Morning.

I’m told ITV’s head of daytime Emma Gormley and This Morning editor Martin Frizell were looking at new stars, but chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall and her number two, Kevin Lygo, were still determined to get Cat and turn around their embattled programme, which was once the jewel in ITV’s daytime crown.

Lygo felt that there was 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. 

ITV's dream was to team Cat up with her husband Patrick Kielty, both pictured

ITV’s dream was to team Cat up with her husband Patrick Kielty, both pictured

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. 

Some at This Morning were against her hire. One senior executive explained their fears that Cat might be too ‘Hollywood and polished’ for This Morning audience after her years in the States, and it became a major point of discussion for the network’s chiefs. 

‘What if she is too unrelatable?’ one insider commented. ‘She is literally shiny and Tinseltown and it should not be forgotten that part of Holly’s problem in her later years was that she was perceived by viewers to be too perfect. ‘But the battle to get This Morning back to its best outweighed whether Cat would be too glam.

Of course, Cat’s new This Morning commitments mean that she won’t be able to host the next series of So You Think You Can Dance, for which filming begins in December. 

And it is no coincidence that ITV began getting excited again about getting her shortly after the US show’s boss Nigel Lythgoe stood down following multiple accusations of sexual assault, including one from singer Paula Abdul.

‘The timings match,’ one This Morning insider mused. ‘Maybe that’s what swung it, maybe So You Think You Can Dance won’t return for another series if it doesn’t go Nigel’s way.’

Meanwhile, Sian Welby, the former Channel 5 weather presenter and This Morning showbusiness correspondent almost got the prestigious role when was handed the reins alongside Dermot O’Leary last month.

Frizell – seen by some as a television Svengali – was bowled over by her and began thinking she could be the bubbly ‘next Holly’.

A source on the show tells me: ‘Nobody was expecting Sian to become a contender but she instantly impressed and was all of a sudden a serious replacement for Holly. I’m told that viewers will be seeing a lot more of Sian in the coming months as This Morning bosses attempt to ‘grow’ her to future-proof their programme.

‘But for now it’s all about BenCat, who will make their debut on the programme next month in return for a reported £550,000 a year each.

As she was unveiled today, Cat said of the show: ‘This Morning is a national institution. Whenever it’s on, it’s like having your friends over – funny, smart, silly, heartfelt, informative and joyful – like all the greatest friendships!’

Talking of which, ITV bosses will surely be hoping that Ben and Cat (or Cat and Ben ) don’t end up fighting like cat and dog, and falling out quite so spectacularly – or indeed as publicly – as their predecessors.



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