Even though Cat Deeley has the summer off for the first time in years, the veteran presenter of So You Think You Can Dance is still in host mode. When Romper calls to interview her at her home in London, it’s Deeley who starts asking questions straight away. Where are you calling from? Are you OK? How are you doing? Could you ever have imagined living like this a year ago? How’s New York City? You get the impression that the warm repartee is more than mere professional habit. Rather, her bubbly personality is what makes her good at her job.
“I don’t see enough people now because of everything going on in the world," she says. "I’m like ‘Oh, can I book another interview just to have a chat with someone, really?’” “[I’m] someone who’s just nosy and enjoys a chat,” she adds.
The past year has been one transition after another for Deeley. Though her Los Angeles home just went on the market in August, she quietly moved back to the UK months ago with her husband, Northern Irish comedian Patrick Kielty, and their sons, Milo, 4, and James, 2, to be closer to family. The plan was to spend the summer traveling between London and LA to film So You Think You Can Dance. But in June, Fox announced that Season 17 had been canceled due to production restrictions during COVID. Deeley's professional life may look a little different than it used to, but she's still keeping busy. She's even added a new job title into the mix — author. Her children’s book, The Joy in You, released on Sept. 15.
Illustrated by Rosie Butcher, The Joy in You is a cozy bedtime read that follows a small koala wandering through a whimsical jungle. The book’s message is one of encouragement — it reminds kids that they can be or do anything, that their feelings are valid, that they’re adored. In addition to writing the book, Deeley worked with Butcher to convey little details that would be meaningful to her sons. At one point, she even sent Butcher a video of her boys playing their favorite game — running around pretending to be rockets — and asked if Butcher could recreate it. (She did. Perfectly, according to Deeley.) The book's message is sweet and simple: “If you don’t try, you’ll never know how far you can go!”
Spending more time at home with her family has been an unexpected shift for Deeley. Normally, “Mommy’s going to work” is a good thing, Deeley says. Letting her boys see that side of her — living her dream of working in television — is important to her identity and to the work ethic she hopes to instill in them. She’s even brought Milo to set with her, where he serenaded everybody with his own version of George Ezra’s “Shotgun” and learned the joys of craft services. (“He’s a very big fan of craft services,” Deeley says. “Not a big fan of me, but a big fan of craft services.”)
But leaving home to go into work is out of the question right now. Her children have accepted her constant presence as the new normal, and while she worries about what happens when things actually go back to normal, she’s enjoying the moment. Interviewing dancers in between routines has been replaced with watching her sons talk to each other in a secret, Minions-inspired language. “I don’t know what they’re saying. I don’t need to know because they know what they’re saying,” she says. “It allows me to have a cup of coffee in the morning at least.”
She’s become more patient, she says, a virtue she lacked pre-pandemic. She’s even taught her son Milo to read by breaking down words, bit by bit. (“We call it roboting.”) She also feels the pandemic has prompted more empathy, not just in herself but in others. “Even if I walked down the street, I feel like we've all got a little bit kinder towards each other,” she says. “People are more engaged," she adds. "They're more open to chatting. They're kinder. They're less aggressive, I think.” Then, quickly, she’s back in host mode. “What have you found? Do you feel the same?”
It doesn’t matter what your background is. You can find what you love. And sometimes it’s simple. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Deeley has spent years hosting, centering others, and trying to find the heart of people's stories. Deeley was a known quantity in Britain before moving to LA and making a name for herself as the perky but witty host of So You Think You Can Dance. In the 16 seasons she’s hosted the show since 2006, she’s regularly peppered her resume with guest spots and other hosting gigs in the United States and the UK. The Joy in You is her first book. Though the message feels like a natural extension of the positivity and optimism Deeley exudes, it was born, she says, from her complete exhaustion.
“At the end of the day, like any other mom, I am frazzled,” she says. "I am so inarticulate because I'm so tired. I'm worn out, and I can't wait to put my pajamas on and get into bed," she adds. She wanted the book to be a clear-eyed articulation of everything she wants her kids to know before they drift off to sleep, even if she can’t express it in the moment. She wants them to know that they are capable of doing anything — an idea Milo has already taken to heart.
“[Milo] says, ‘What I want to do is take a koala home from the zoo, bring it home, and have it as a pet. I can’t do that, can I?’” Deeley says. “But I loved it," she adds. "I love the fact that he questions.”
She knows it’s not just her 4-year-old side-eyeing the idea that he can do anything. As the pandemic highlights and deepens existing inequities in society — racial, economic, gender — "Can I really do anything?" feels like a practical question. Deeley, though bubbly, is no Pollyanna, and was aware of the zeitgeist in which she was publishing this message. She remains a firm believer that passion and drive can be what turns your life around. It's something she believes not only from her own background, but from contestants she’s met on So You Think You Can Dance. “[Some of them have] had awful, awful tragedy,” she says. “Their human spirit should have been crushed," she adds. "But because they found the thing that they loved, and they really love it, it helped them out of adversity.”
“There are lots of people who are very lucky,” she continues. “And there are some people that aren’t. But the same idea applies, you know? You can find it. It doesn’t matter what your background is. You can find what you love. And sometimes it’s simple. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complicated.”