ASTON Merrygold is nursing a cold, and the urge to give him a hug is almost irresistible.
He may be all wrapped up in a chunky scarf and woolly hat, but despite the sniffles and croaky throat, he has no plans to head home and have a sick day.
“It’s better to sweat it out,” he says. “I always go to the gym and train a little bit and stuff, and get it out of my system. I prefer to do it that way.”
Besides, the 25-year-old’s schedule leaves little time for R&R. Along with promoting Sky1’s Got To Dance, for which he is a judge, Merrygold has also been busy launching JLS’s new scent Kiss, and spending time in the studio writing ideas and laying down tunes for the band’s fifth album.
The group’s efforts have paid off tremendously and JLS have become one of The X Factor’s success stories since finishing as runners-up to Alexandra Burke in 2008. It’s for that reason that Merrygold was invited to join the Got To Dance judging panel, alongside fellow reality show star, Diversity frontman Ashley Banjo and former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, following tap star Adam Garcia’s exit.
“It was daunting joining the show, from being a spectator and watching at home,” he recalls. “You can see the chemistry the judges used to have. It was difficult at first, it’s like first day in a new school.”
Thankfully, Merrygold says he’s lucky to have ‘hit it off’ with the others, though there has been a fair bit of banter between him and Banjo over their differing heights - the Diversity dancer is around 6ft 5in, while the JLS star stands a good foot shorter at 5ft 5in.
“We do wind each other up, which is funny. He thinks he winds me up, but I really don’t think he wants to be that tall. I don’t tell him that, because I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I know it’s a sensitive subject for him, being so tall,” Merrygold deadpans.
A self-taught dancer, Merrygold has brought a different perspective to the competition. Viewers have already seen him having heated arguments with both of his fellow judges over the gold stars he has given.
“The quality is ridiculously amazing this year. At first, it was very difficult because I had nothing to compare it to. The others have done four series and they’re used to the level of talent where they are blown away,” he explains. “I was just impressed with people who overcame barriers to perform, and thought they deserved a gold star. But as the auditions go on, you see the level you have to compare it to, and the bar that has been set.”
The series has also had some laugh-out-loud moments, particularly when Merrygold ‘booty popped’ with an act on stage, following Banjo’s encouragement.
“That was the most embarrassing thing I had to do. I got a lot of texts from that one afterwards,” he recalls, laughing.
Banjo had better watch out, though, because Merrygold is plotting revenge. “There are a couple of things I suppose I could do. I could get told off for it, but I don’t really care. This is live TV!” With the final 30 acts chosen, he has high hopes for the series’ final on Sunday, March 17.
“I’m ready to be blown away. I want to see something special. From all the other finals I’ve seen on Got To Dance, they’ve all been ridiculous, so I want to see star quality,” he says.
He has an early favourite. “Ruff Diamond really impressed me during the auditions with their old-school blend of styles and new-school choreography which they have twisted together and the amazing tricks that they do,” he says.
“Stepping up from the auditions will be hard, but I know they can do it.”
And Merrygold is planning a performance of his own for the grand finale, with his JLS bandmates. “I’ve had ideas since Christmas and it is going to be amazing if it can be pulled off. There will be tricks, flips, partner work, sync and movement. I’m very excited. In terms of TV performances, this will be the biggest one for us,” he teases.
His judging job has made him strive for more in his own career, he admits. “It’s been an inspiring experience because it’s made me more focused in my own goals - I didn’t think that was possible.
“It’s great to see the hunger in some of these young kids because they remind me of me at their age.”
• Got To Dance Live, Sky1 HD, Sunday, 6pm