How time flies. One minute Brian Dowling is just a sweet Irish innocent on Big Brother, fretting about the fact he's just told his parents he's gay and shoving ketchup on his korma, the next he's sobbing his heart out as he presents his last SM:tv with Tess Daly.
He replaced Ant and Dec as a presenter on the Saturday children's show two years ago, and, of all the Big Brother intake, he's the one who has made a serious career from his 15 minutes of fame.
But he's not at all impressed with the current version of the show that propelled him to fame. In fact, he thinks Big Brother 4 is as mindnumblingly dull as everyone else does. "I have to say, it's absolutely boring," he remarks bluntly in his rapid Irish lilt.
"I watched it last night, and I thought, 'This is not the show I was on.' They're just boring, boring characters. And I didn't like the lady who looked like a man. Louise, or something. I wanted to smack her. But I think Big Brother's fading away."
"Of course, I broke down," he exclaims. "It was my last show. I was absolutely gutted. But, you know, I was ready. My contract had ended, and there was a chance of renewal but I didn't want to. I wanted to go while I was still loving it. But I'm really going to miss Tess. I love Tess to bits. I watched her on the show without me last week and felt a pang. I thought, 'Oh God: she might be a little bit sad.' Then I watched her and I was like: 'She's not sad!' So I texted her going: 'Why aren't you sad?' She just laughed ..."
Give him a tape recorder and he'll burble for hours. Mainly about himself and the nice things people have said about him, but he's such a sweetie, you don't mind.
Oh, he's off again, la la la la la - the main word to remember with him is "amazing", because everything is amazing: Tess, J-Lo and Kylie when he met them, dancing with Britney Spears, his six younger sisters in Ireland, his parents' reaction when he came out, his lucky break, his two-bedroom flat in Clapham South. In fact the only thing that isn't really that amazing is that he hasn't got a boyfriend, which he thinks is unfair, given he is hosting a late-night ITV makeover show called Brian's Boyfriends.
"It's a bit lame I can't get one," he complains. "I've had three dates this year and no action. I keep having this idea I'm going to meet The One in Marks & Spencer in the rain. I went there in the rain last week and was like, 'Wooh! This is it!' But nothing happened."
> He pushes back the flapping cuffs of his trendy blue Diesel shirt and prowls to the fridge. "But you know what?" he enquires wonderingly. "I'm kind of thinking now, 'Could I be bisexual?' I get more attention from girls these days. They think, 'Oh my God, I'll make him straight.' And they're often really beautiful. I do find myself thinking, 'Well, she's quite nice.'"
You could kiss one and see, I suggest. He picks absently at a plastic carton of ham. "Only if I was drunk.
Tess is very sexy. She's all woman. Beautiful body as well. I could probably sleep with her." He claps a hand to his mouth. "I shouldn't have said that, should I?" he squeaks.
"My God, I fancy Tess Daly! D'you think her fiancé would mind?" I say maybe he should go for Graham Norton to be on the safe side. But this gets a horrified look. "Too old," he says. "I like them a bit more masculine. And who else is there? Name one gay person in the public eye." He pouts warningly. "Don't say Dale Winton, or I'll smack you."
It is a simmering, dusty afternoon, and we are sat in the back room of his PR's office on the fourth floor of a narrow house in Soho. When I first walked in, Dowling had looked dishevelled; he had a numb cheek from a filling at the dentist, his voice was cracked and he seemed, well, jaded. But he then went into full performance mode - he is such a people pleaser you long to throw him a fish.
"I worked 52 weeks a year on SM:tv and I've only had four days off this year," he admits. (He won't say how much he's earned, except that he doesn't have an overdraft any more.) "But all I want to do is work. Tomorrow I'm hosting the Pride in the Park concert at Hyde Park and I close the show, which is really cool. Though I'm not really a gay activist - I've never had to be because I've been accepted for who I am. How disgusting is this?" And he squirts mayonnaise over a slice of ham, prior to lobbing it in his mouth.
Brain's life these days, hanging out with celebrities, is a far cry from the Bog of Allen, County Kildare, where he grew up with his sisters, trying not to get dragged to the boxing by his builder dad. In his audition video for Big Brother he chattered about his job as an air steward on Ryanair ("people would be spitting, fighting, exposing themselves, handcuffed to policemen ... ") and his teddy bears, Mr Bear and Mr Cow. The public loved his parochial, wide-eyed view of the world, the fact he had never had curry and frequently burst into tears. He hasn't got blasé. "I have to pinch myself sometimes," he says.
He didn't tell his parents he was gay until he was 22, just days before he went into the Big Brother house. He says it now feels as though a big weight has been lifted from his shoulders. "I feel much better as a person, because it was a really major thing for me. It used to be so hard because when I was going out with Keith, my first boyfriend, a banker - he now lives in Australia - I wanted to tell my mum if things were going wrong and I just couldn't.
"She is quite old fashioned. She'd look at gay men and say things like, 'God, look at him, he's a bit girlie: he's a bit strange.' And I'd think, 'Oh, is he? So am I, mum!' But she's been so supportive about it. It's been harder for dad."
He says he was about 16 when he realised he was gay. "I fancied the football team."
Was it upsetting? "I put on a lot of weight," he agrees indirectly. "Looking back, it was really weird to go through that at 16 - when all your friends have girlfriends and are all straight. Because who do you talk to?
"You can't talk to your teachers. You can't talk to your parents, in case they flip. So I told some girlfriends at school and they were completely fine with it." He daubs mayonnaise on another slice of ham.
"I've always tried to analyse it. People say you're born gay: it's in the genes. And I think it is. I was spoilt, I was a mummy's boy, but I look at other gay men who are quite masculine, people who used to play football and go boxing, and I think it's in the blood."
He prowls back to the fridge and truffles out a carton of yoghurt. "But I keep thinking my luck's going to run out. I finished my job two weeks ago and I'm already paranoid I'm not going to get another.
"I think, 'What would I do if the bubble burst?'
But nothing in my life's really changed. I still get the Tube. I don't have famous friends except for Tess and Cat Deeley. I do normal things. The only difference is I judge people a bit better now... Ooh!"
He has spotted his file of press cuttings and is leafing through the pages with fascination.
"I shouldn't do this in front of you, should I?" he asks, but it's a rhetorical question.
As I leave and head down the stairs, I can hear him enthusiastically regaling his PR with an account of the interview.
" ... Then I said, 'I want to sleep with Tess Daly.'"