When Simon Cowell ripped up the rule book and unveiled husband and wife duo Robbie Williams and Ayda Field as the new X Factor judges, some were sceptical.
While Robbie, 44, had undoubted star quality and spent decades performing to millions of fans, judging others on live television would be a very different prospect.
And what would the public make of Ayda, 39, who aside from her Loose Women performances, was a relative unknown… at least on British shores.
But from the first auditions to this weekend’s final, it’s clear Cowell’s masterplan has paid off.
With their unique blend of bickering and banter, they’ve lit up our screens and injected life into a rather tired X Factor panel .
The pair have been juggling their TV careers with a hectic family life
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And, it would seem, the ITV show has also added an extra spark to their marriage.
In an interview with the Mirror, Robbie says the two are stronger than ever – despite their on-screen spats.
“We were a really tight unit anyway and when people say marriage is really difficult and you have to work at it, we never understand that saying… and long may that continue,” he says.
“I think that we are happy anyway but since X Factor maybe happier.
“Ayda’s ambitious and talented and creative and I dragged her away from her job and made her be my dressing room support. Now she has been working and really enjoying herself and because she is more fulfilled I guess that as a unit we are happier.”
Previously an actress in the US, Ayda got her break on soap Days of Our Lives before appearing in shows including Eve, Blue Collar TV, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
But after moving to the UK, Ayda effectively gave up her acting career to be ever-present at Robbie’s side, with the singer jokily calling her his “dressing-room b***h”.
This weekend Robbie will take to the X Factor stage to perform with his old bandmates Take That
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While she has been involved in all aspects of his career she was always, to a degree, in Robbie’s shadow.
But with Loose Women – and now X Factor – Ayda’s star is shining again.
Like any married couple, there have been bumps along the way.
Except theirs are played out in front of five million viewers every weekend.
Take when Ayda effectively got one of his acts – LMA Choir – booted off by failing to back them and sending the vote to deadlock.
It meant public votes saved Louis Tomlinson’s act Brendan Murray instead. Was it an uncomfortable taxi journey home?
“I didn’t expect them to be in the bottom three… that was the shock in itself and then my wife kind of voted them out – it was a double shock,” he says.
“She turned to me and went, ‘Are you OK?’ I said, ‘No, not really’. And she said, ‘Oh gawd, oh gawd’. I wanted to be happy for her but I wasn’t entirely happy with what she had done.”
They later talked it through in their dressing room. And Robbie, it would appear, knows his place.
“Within half an hour, it was all good and I got it. To be fair I didn’t want to be in trouble for being in a mood with the wife.”
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The pair have been juggling their TV careers with a hectic family life.
They recently surprised everyone by revealing the birth by surrogate of Colette Josephine Williams, or Coco – a sister for daughter Teddy, six, and son Charlton, three.
And Teddy –or Theodora – has made a name for herself too, not least when she stole the show outside Windsor Castle as a flower girl for the wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank. Spotting Sarah Ferguson, Teddy drew laughs when she boldly asked Fergie if she was the Queen. Robbie laughs and says the public debut has emboldened his daughter. He adds: “Teddy came to the X Factor and sat in the audience and because she had done the royal wedding, ‘you cant hide me anymore and I like it’.”
Like any true professional, Teddy is already having showbiz diva tantrums. Particularly when her favourite acts get voted off.
“It was like Teddy had seen her favourite dog being put down,” says Robbie. “Genuinely, she was on the floor wailing and crying. It’s difficult because you have three or four hours with your daughter that’s sort of grieving.”
This weekend Robbie will take to the X Factor stage to perform with his old bandmates Take That. He says he is looking forward to catching up with Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen, who are gearing up for the band’s 30th anniversary next year.
Asked if he wanted to join them on any of next year’s tour dates, Robbie dropped a massive hint to fans.
“I haven’t been asked but we have the weekend together,” he says. “And if they want to ask me I will turn up. If it coincides with me being in England I would love to.”
As for his future on the show, Robbie and Ayda are keen to return – and insiders say they would welcome them back with open arms.
“It’s been my most favourite thing I’ve done in showbiz,” he says surprisingly. “I have loved working on TV. I think I can see the next 10 years panning out in front of me.”
- X Factor is on Saturday and Sunday 7.30pm on ITV1