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 in front of 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 audition to this weekend’s final it’s clear Cowell’s masterplan has paid off handsomely.
With their unique blend of bickering and banter, they’ve lit up our screens and provided an injection of life into a rather tired X Factor panel. And, it would seem, has added an extra spark to their marriage too.
In an exclusive interview, Robbie has said how – despite their on-screen spats – the two of them are stronger than ever. And they have the ITV show to thank.
“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.
Robbie Williams for X-factor
English boy band Take That in 1990s
“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 American soap Days Of Our Lives before going on to appear in TV 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****”.
While she was involved in all aspects of his career – a fact that was not lost on Cowell – she was always, to a degree, in her husband’s shadow.
But with Loose Women – and now X Factor – Ayda’s star has soared and she’s stepping out in her own right again.
However, like any married couple, there have been some bumps along the way.
Except theirs are played out in front of 5 million viewers every weekend.
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Take the time when Ayda effectively got one of his acts – LMA Choir – booted off by sending the vote to deadlock instead of backing them.
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.
“My chin hit the floor, I was really confused, but she turned to me and went: ‘Are you ok?’. I said: ‘No, not really,’ and she said ‘Oh god, oh god…’
“I wanted to be happy for her but I wasn’t entirely happy with what she had done.”
The pair retired afterwards to their dressing room where they talked through what had happened. And Robbie, it would appear, knows his place.
“Within half an hour it was all good and I got it… But to be fair I didn’t want to be in trouble with the wife for being in a mood with the wife.”
The couple, who have been juggling their new TV careers with a hectic family life, took everyone by surprise when they revealed the recent birth by surrogate of Colette Josephine Williams, or Coco, a sister for daughter Teddy, six, and son Charlton, three.
And Teddy – or Theodora – has been busy making a name for herself too, not least when she stole the show outside Windsor Castle as a flower girl at the wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank.
FAME: Robbie has recently been a judge on the X Factor
Spotting Sarah Ferguson on the steps outside St George’s Chapel, the six-year-old drew laughs when she boldly asked Fergie if she was the Queen.
Robbie laughs and says the public debut has emboldened his oldest daughter.
“Teddy came to the X Factor and sat in the audience and because she had done the royal wedding: ‘You can’t hide me anymore and I like it.'”
And like a true professional Teddy has her showbiz diva tantrums down to a tee already. Particularly when her favourite acts get voted off the show.
“It was like Teddy had seen her favourite dog being put down. Genuinely she was on the floor wailing and crying. She just thinks we will never see them again which isn’t true.”
Robbie’s daughter Theodora
This weekend will see Robbie take to the stage on the show 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 would want to join them on any of next year’s tour dates, Robbie dropped a massive hint to fans it was on the cards.
“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.”
VETERANS: Howard Donald, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen now
As for his future on the show, Robbie and Ayda are very keen to come back and show insiders say they would welcome them with open arms.
Listening to Robbie it’s easy to understand why the par of them would want to continue their X Factor adventure.
“It’s been my most favourite thing I’ve done in showbiz,” he says surprisingly.
“I have loved working on TV. It has opened many doors and I think I can see the next ten years panning out in front of me.”
X Factor is on Saturday and Sunday at 7.30pm on ITV.