LOCAL lad Dermot O’Leary returned to his hometown of Colchester where he promoted the importance of reading to wide-eyed school children.

The television presenter, famed for fronting hit Saturday night show The X-Factor, visited St Thomas More’s Primary School yesterday morning.

The 48-year-old author’s stop-off came in support of Essex County Council’s Essex Year of Reading campaign and saw him lead an engaging workshop.

During the heart-warming event, the broadcaster turned children’s author read an extract from his new book Toto the Ninja Cat and the Legend of the Wildcat.

He was also asked questions by a room full of excitable young students, who also had a go at drawing Toto, which is named after Dermot’s real feline friend.

After his captivating storytelling session Dermot, whose mum used to work in the Colchester’s BHS store, said it was great to kick-off the scheme in his hometown.

He said: “There is something very unique coming to speak at schools because when you write the book you don’t think that is ever going to happen.

“But then you meet people who have read it and the young minds that have engaged with it and that is the bit that blows you away.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

“It is serendipitous coming back to Colchester to launch the campaign and the fact they even asked me to be part of it was lovely.

“But this is the town that I grew up in and it means a great deal to me, so it was a no-brainer - it is weird but wonderful.”

The £1million reading campaign was started to both encourage people to pick up a book and to help young children whose education was impacted by coronavirus.

Dermot, whose son Kasper was born during the pandemic, said: “I cannot tell you the sympathy I have for people who were home-schooled. It looked like the hardest thing.

“All my friends who did it, it is like they have been to the front and back – they are tired, but the newfound respect for teachers off the back of it is fantastic.”

Dermot, who attended Colchester’s St Benedict's Catholic College and the Colchester Sixth Form, now hopes his stories can inspire the next generation of writers.

“I remember my primary school visits when I was a kid and they stick with you,” added the Fantastic Mr Fox fan.

“So, I would never be presumptuous enough to think so, but if I can inspire any of these students to start or carry-on writing then it will be wonderful.”

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

Tony Ball, Essex councillor responsible for education excellence, lifelong learning, and employability, said he is delighted the initiative is now up and running.

He said: “It was really great Dermot agreed to do this and having such a high-profile name will only help spread the word about reading.

“The schools did a wonderful job, but with Covid some children struggled and standards, especially with reading, dropped a bit.

“We were clear we would not let that happen and when the opportunity arose it was important children had the chance to catch up.”