In a series that has seen tears, tantrums and some truly shocking departures, The X Factor‘s erstwhile host Dermot O’Leary has been a constant reassuring presence throughout. As the final dawns this weekend, TV&Satellite Week magazine caught up with him to reflect on a hectic few months…

Does hosting the final feel different from hosting the weekly shows?
“Well, this year it’s at Manchester Central Arena, and, like Wembley Arena last year, it is a real step up from our normal studio, which is quite an intimate set. The final is really like putting on an arena show and it is epic, the contestants are always on a high and it is just celebratory.”

Is it hard not to have favourites at this stage?
“You can’t on this show. I just love the fact that you see a journey in them all. I don’t mean that in a plinky-plonky piano way, just simply that you meet these people with extraordinary talent, but no channel for it early on and then you see how they progress and witness performances from them that could change their careers.”

Can you give us any hints about which guest stars will perform?
“I honestly don’t know myself, but I am very excited. I remember Beyonce singing with Alexandra Burke and Rihanna singing with Matt Cardle were great X Factor moments and I just hope that there will be some of those moments again this time.”

How do you think the judges have done this year?
“Brilliantly. Their rivalry is real and things get tense, but there has been no real nastiness. Like bringing in a Premiership footballer from abroad, you have to give them a year to bed in, so Gary and Tulisa seem more settled, but everyone is over the moon with Nicole. She takes being a mentor seriously, but she is also everything you want from a judge, she rips up the rulebook and has been a breath of fresh air and doesn’t mind taking the mick out of herself.”

Who is the best judge to go for a pint with?
“Well, Gary is probably the one I spend most time with, although he is more of a red wine man. Louis you can always have a good night out with, and I sometimes have a drink in Tulisa’s dressing room, if I can see through the fog in there. The few times I’ve been out with Nicole, she has been brilliant, too.”

What has been your highlight this year?
“It changes all the time, but one was the reaction Rylan got for his Spice Girls medley. He got boos early on in the series, but that time there were none, he smashed it and the audience went mad. It was that proper British underdog spirit, which I love. He knows he doesn’t have the best voice, but he just wants to be entertaining.”

How do you feel about the rivalry with Strictly?
“I am pretty sanguine about it. We just go out and do the best show we can, but Strictly is having a good year. Competition is always good, though. It’s the same with The Voice – the rivalry is friendly, they up their game and we do the same.”

Next year will be the 10th series. Would you like to see Simon Cowell back?
“I wouldn’t be averse to it. It’s always great when he is back because he is the boss and you do feel slightly en pointe when he is there. I don’t purport to the whole ‘We are only great when he is there’ idea, but he is one of those people, not dissimilar to Gary, who, when he speaks, you do listen because he has been there, done it and he knows what he is talking about.”

You have you own big birthday next year, too. How are you feeling about it?
“What, my 25th? No seriously, I haven’t given it much thought, but all my mates are having their 40ths already so I am going to have to deal with it soon. You can’t really worry about how old you are, though, because you can’t do anything about it.”