JONATHAN ROSS has made a career out of interviewing the biggest stars on the planet.
Yet despite the glut of A-listers he’s had on his sofa, the chat show host admits he’s not exactly a showbiz oracle — a point proved when he suggested US singer Natalie Cole was dressed as mystery character Daisy on TV’s The Masked Singer — despite her death in 2015.
Speaking for the first time about the gaffe on last Saturday’s episode, Jonathan told The Sun: “Obviously it was a genuine mistake.
“What’s interesting is we recorded this in September and nobody thought to check.
“But possibly it was my fault because they all think I know my stuff. They all assume, ‘If he says it, he must be right’.
“The rest of the panel and the audience didn’t know either.”
Jonathan, 59, has recommended producers introduce a crew member backstage armed with “Google or Wikipedia” to avoid a repeat, not that he’s worried about naming more dead celebs in the final three episodes of the series.
He jokes: “I’m old. I can’t f***ing remember what I did this morning.
“But don’t worry, I didn’t say ‘Tupac’.”
His dodgy guess was a minor blip in what has been a hugely successful first foray into the world of TV talent show judging for Wossy, whose career started in the mid-1980s.
The Masked Singer has attracted more than six million viewers for its debut series, dwarfing the ratings of rivals The Voice and The Greatest Dancer, as the nation turns detective to work out which singing celebrities are lurking inside those outrageous costumes.
Jonathan is being assisted on the panel by TV presenter Davina McCall, Hollywood actor Ken Jeong and singer Rita Ora, who correctly guessed the identity of Daisy — US singer Kelis — last weekend. Donny Osmond has been a guest judge too.
The fact Rita managed to crack the mystery came as a surprise to viewers, host Joel Dommett and the panel, as her suggestions are usually wildly wide of the mark.
During one of the early episodes, she thought the singing plant was Meghan Markle.
Jonathan says: “Rita is a delight. She’s amazing to work with and so much fun.
“In some ways it’s a bit like working with a child, in that the first thing that comes into her head she blurts it.
“But my feeling is we’re not really there to solve it. If we solved it on week one, it would be a really boring show if every week afterwards we’re saying, ‘I know who it is, I’m not going to change my mind’.”
The telly veteran admits he’s been guilty of throwing in suggestions just for laughs, adding: “Some guesses are designed, hopefully, to keep the level of fun up.
“When I said Ann Widdecombe, I didn’t really think it was Ann Widdecombe.”
Jonathan never had aspirations to become a reality show judge but changed his mind when he watched a few episodes of the Korean version of The Masked Singer, where it was born.
He explains: “I’ve never wanted to be a judge on the shows where it can make a fundamental difference on people’s lives.
“I don’t think I would really be comfortable with that power. When I watch them as a viewer, I would always want these people to have a second chance, so I don’t think I would be the right person.”
And he always had faith The Masked Singer would connect with viewers due to the “guessing game” which comes with every episode.
He says: “It’s really lovely the way the show has clicked with the audience.
“We were also caught up in the guessing game, me and the other panellists and Joel as well, and I couldn’t see how people at home wouldn’t enjoy doing that.
“I was talking to my wife about it and she said, ‘Never underestimate how much people love a mystery’ and the great thing is this is at the heart of it.
“It’s what makes it so different to the other kinds of shows on a Saturday. It has that extra level.”
He believes The Masked Singer has been so refreshing that it might encourage rival TV chiefs, including Simon Cowell, to tinker with their formats.
He says: “All shows that have been on for a while could do with a refresh. And knowing Simon a little bit, and I like Simon and I do very much respect and admire him for what he’s achieved on TV, I suspect he’ll be looking at it and saying, ‘There are elements from that show we could learn from’.
“Keeping people watching the show when there are so many different platforms and so many different demands, you do need a little extra gimmick.
“And the fact that we’ve got the thing at the end where someone is unmasked is a big thing.”
He adds: “The X Factor just needs a new lick of paint and a little look how they put it together. There were some episodes that were maybe a little longer than they should have been.”
Jonathan has really embraced the deep levels of secrecy that consume the series.
He has told just two people who the remaining contestants are, one of whom is his wife of 32 years, writer Jane Goldman, 49. He explains: “You have to tell your wife these things as that’s what keeps the relationship healthy. If you can’t trust each other, you can’t trust anyone.”
Jonathan believes it is far easier for the judges to keep the identities secret than the competitors themselves. He says: “I’ve been communicating with one of the people who’s still in the competition.
‘Had to ghost people’
“I was saying to this person, ‘This must be driving you nuts?’ and this person said ‘I’ve had to ghost so many people, I just don’t reply to a load of texts’.
“I suspect it must be a lot harder for the people in the mask if their friends or family or associates are saying, ‘That’s not you in there is it?’ and they’re like, ‘No, no’. So for us panellists it probably wasn’t too hard.
So far, EastEnders actress Patsy Palmer (Butterfly), former Home Secretary Alan Johnson (Pharaoh), The Darkness singer Justin Hawkins (Chameleon), former footballer Teddy Sheringham (Tree) and Kelis (Daisy) have been unmasked.
Two will leave the series tonight, when Sharon and Kelly Osbourne fill in for Ken on the panel, after they perform a group number for the first time — High Hopes by Panic At The Disco.
Another pair will depart in next week’s semi-final before the final three battle it out for The Masked Singer crown on Saturday, February 15.
The success of the debut series means a second series should be a formality and talks are underway.
Jonathan says he wants to return alongside the rest of the panel and hopes to introduce a new element to the show that he believes will ramp up the excitement.
He adds: “I would definitely do it, schedule permitting. I so loved working with Davina, Rita, Ken and Joel. I hope everyone comes back because it was great fun hanging out with those guys.”
Hopefully they’ll be joined by someone who knows how to Google.
- The Masked Singer is on ITV Saturday at 7pm.
BUT ARE JONATHAN’S GUESSES ON THESE RIGHT?
Here are Jonathon’s guesses, so far…