Mansion, pool, sunshine, fame… Cat Deeley was living the dream in LA with husband Patrick Kielty and their two young sons. Then a terrifying gun drama made them rethink everything.
It’s taken me three years to get home, from when Paddy and I first started to have nagging thoughts in our heads,’ says Cat Deeley, revealing that she and her husband of eight years, comedian and TV presenter Patrick Kielty, have abandoned their life in Los Angeles to come back to live in Britain for good.
‘We made the right move at the right time,’ says Cat, who has powerful reasons for giving up her LA mansion with its pool, gym and perpetual sunshine to live in a flat in north London with Patrick and their sons Milo, four, and James, two. ‘They have grandparents who want to see them. Also we didn’t think it would be fair to start Milo in school in America then lift him out when it suited us in a few years’ time,’ she says.
But there’s something else going on, too: ‘Fear was part of this. there was a moment when I was with a friend looking at potential schools for Milo and we had to ask the question nobody wants to: “What do you do if there is a live shooter on the premises?” They tell you exactly what would happen, whether the kids would go to a safe room or hide under the desks, and you go…’ she gasps, and flaps a hand over her face as if in alarm. ‘The danger suddenly becomes a reality.’
That danger became even more real last summer when Milo and his father went to the Century City Mall in LA after morning nursery. The FBI turned up with guns and ordered everyone to take cover under counters or hide because a shooter was on the loose. ‘They shut down the centre. I got a call from Paddy, saying, “they’re taking us out through the fire exits but nobody can get to their car. If we walk to a junction, can you come and get us?”
‘He wanted to keep Milo calm, so I didn’t understand the enormity of what was happening. as I was driving I began to see helicopters, news vans, firemen and SWAT [armed police response] squads. It makes me go funny now,’ she says, her voice trembling. ‘It was terrifying.’ What were they like when she found them by the roadside? ‘Paddy was shaken by it, more than Milo, who was hot and cranky but didn’t properly understand.’
Patrick told her what had happened: ‘They had been in a Shake Shack and were pushed into the kitchen.’ Patrick, who in 2018 made an acclaimed documentary about growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, had distracted their son to stop him panicking: ‘he was like, “OK, Milo, let’s watch some Peppa Pig on my phone.” The kids never get to do that normally. Peppa Pig saved the day!’
It took a lot for Cat to leave the US after 14 years. Her move there had paid off, as she grew into the award-winning host of primetime shows like So You Think You Can Dance, for which she’s had five Emmy nominations, and made an estimated £15 million fortune. America may love cat, but now she sounds relieved to be living in the same country as her parents Howard and Janet. ‘The boys have grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews who want to be part of their lives. Everybody is healthy, but [if we came back] in ten years’ time they might not be.’
The head teacher of the school they chose for Milo in North London happened to be visiting relatives in LA so came by to assess whether he was ready. ‘You never know with a four-year-old… he ran down the driveway to see her and went, “how are you?” He showed her his bike, his sandpit and his dinosaurs. He did a good job.’
The head suggested Milo start in January of this year but the family had nowhere to live, so for three weeks they crashed with Cat’s brother in London. ‘There were eight of us and a dog in Max’s four-bedroom flat. We looked at each other like we were mad, lots of times.’
The frantic house-hunting paid off with somewhere to rent. ‘We found a great flat with a massive garden and big mature trees,’ says Cat. ‘There are loads of hiding spots for the boys. It’s like an adventure garden.’ Their home in LA is still up for sale. ‘I need to get everything shipped over. The main thing is, Milo loves his school. We were high-fiving each other. Then the pandemic hit…’
Cat had hopped back across the Atlantic to film a new quiz series, so she faced a race against time to get home before travel became impossible. ‘It was very stressful. Then LA started to catch up with London, in terms of the virus. The company pulled the plug and closed everything down. That meant I could jump on a flight.’
Cat made it back just in time. The crisis caused the postponement of the quiz, a new series of So You Think You Can Dance and an eagerly anticipated reunion with Ant and Dec for a one-off SMTV Live, the show that made her a star in the 1990s. ‘It’s such a shame because we had lunch and had the best time [before the pandemic]. The chemistry between us is still absolutely as it was.’
An unexpected bonus of lockdown was spending time with her boys. ‘The little one is really chattering now. If we’d all been working as per usual, I wouldn’t have seen as much of this stage as i have. I feel lucky.’ She had a breakthrough with her eldest: ‘I taught Milo to read – I would get him to say all the words and break them up phonetically. It’s amazing to watch. Their little brains are like sponges.’
Now she has published her own book for young children, The Joy In You, a picture story with beautiful illustrations of animals such as crocodiles and koalas. ‘It’s really a love letter to the boys,’ says Cat. ‘Like any other mum I am completely frazzled by the end of the day and can’t wait to get my pyjamas on and go to bed. I thought, “What do I want to say to them when I can’t find the words?’’
‘The more you can talk to them about their feelings and let them know they are enough the way they are, the more they will grow into the kind of human beings you would be proud of.’ So what have the boys made of it? ‘James made every animal noise in the book. Milo said: “Mum, your book says I can do anything I want. That’s not right, is it? I would like to take a koala home from the zoo and keep it here as a pet. I can’t do that, can I?’’
‘I said, “no, but you can become a zoologist. You could be in charge of every koala at the zoo, or even go to Australia and rescue koalas that have no mum and feed them with a bottle. But you have to work hard at school to be able to do that.” He was like, “Ok, Mum”.’ she wipes her forehead, as if to say, ‘phew!’ But she adds that she has seen the results of the positive thinking in her book already. ‘You’re giving the message that they are loved and are enough, right before bedtime. I closed the book the other day and Milo said to me, “Mummy, I do love you and I love Dad and I love James.” You could say that’s schmaltzy, but when your four-year-old goes to bed with his heart full, feeling peaceful, that’s what you want, isn’t it?’
The Joy In You by Cat Deeley will be published by Random House on 15 September, price £12.99 To order a copy for £8.99 until 27 September go to whsmith.co.uk and enter code YOUCAT at checkout. Book number: 9780593181416. For Terms and conditions, see whsmith.co.uk/terms.
Hair: Raphael Salley. Make-up: Amanda Grossman. Interview: Cole Moreton.