DAVINA McCALL and Rita Ora battle to outsmart each other when guessing the hidden identities of celebrity contestants on The Masked Singer.
But away from the hugely popular ITV reality show, they have grown so close that they see each other as sisters.
In an exclusive interview, pop star and actress Rita, 32, said: “I’ve learnt a lot from her — she’s my sister, for sure.
“When I think of British TV, I think of Davina.
“She’s been on my screen ever since I can remember. I respect her so much with what she’s done.”
And the feeling is mutual, with Davina, 55, adding: “We appreciate each other in a very nice way. I really love Rita. She’s a girl’s girl.
“Rita is about lifting people up. I never hear her put people down.
“She’s a very, very nice person, which can be rare in this industry.
“We do take the mickey out of each other a lot but there’s a lot of love.”
The women were already titans of entertainment when they joined The Masked Singer as judges in 2020 alongside Jonathan Ross, 62, and US comic Ken Jeong, 53, who was later replaced by joker Mo Gilligan, 34.
The panel have to identify the household names hidden inside the show’s bonkers costumes, which in this new series will include an otter in scuba gear, a ball of knitting and a phoenix.
Huge names including Ne-Yo, Natalie Imbruglia and Katherine Jenkins have helped the show become a jewel in ITV’s crown, with up to 6.3million tuning in to the last finale.
But ahead of the launch of the fourth series tomorrow night, Davina and Rita’s thoughts turned to their own costumes.
Rita said with a laugh: “I’m trying to figure out a way where we can match our outfits.
“I always like to bring the glamour. I like to put make-up on and do big hair. I’ve always been like that.”
Davina agreed: “We are absolutely not functional. Me and Rita bring it in all the ways.
“On every show we’re like, ‘Heels? Get them on’, even though no one’s going to see them because we sit behind a desk.
“The other day I was wearing the best shoes I’ve ever worn. I was like, ‘How can we get these in? Can I put my legs up on the desk or something?’
“They had butterflies on the back of the shoe. I thought, ‘No one’s going to get to see these’. But, I saw them.”
Chiming in, Rita added: “We start with a pair of heels and then, by the end of the day, we’re like ‘Give me cosy shoes’!”
With a 23-year age gap between them, the women were perhaps not destined to become such firm friends.
While Davina has been in showbiz for 30 years, Rita has just ten under her belt.
But both share the same ambition and down-to-earth, likeable personalities.
After failed starts as a singer and dancer, Davina’s TV career began at the age of 25 as host of Ray Cokes Most Wanted on MTV Europe, a blend of viewer interaction, competitions, live music performances and music videos.
Big Brother came knocking eight years later and the London-born star saw her stock rise.
By the end of her ten years presenting the Channel 4 giant, she is said to have commanded £85,000 an episode.
Rita’s TV career began three years after bursting into the spotlight with her track Hot Right Now in 2012, when she became a coach on The Voice UK.
Simon Cowell was so impressed he poached her for his new-look panel of The X Factor, alongside DJ Nick Grimshaw.
But Rita quit after just one series and did not return to a regular TV role until The Masked Singer came knocking.
She said: “I was already such a fan of The Masked Singer shows I saw in other countries, so when they first approached me for The Masked Singer UK four seasons ago I was like, ‘100 per cent’.
“I feel like a lot of my co-workers in the industry really love the show but I don’t know if they would ask me, ‘Hey, can you get me on?’ because then I would know it’s them!”
With so much showbiz mileage on their clocks, Rita and Davina have vast phonebooks filled with celebrity pals.
It has meant both have unmasked friends, including the pop star’s great pal Jaime Winstone as Firework earlier this year.
Rita said: “A lot of people have said to me, ‘If I did that show you would never have a clue’.
“They’ve been threatening me, like, ‘If I was to ever do the show, you’d better watch your back!’
“They take it soooo seriously. I’m telling you now, if I miss one more friend, I’m going to be friendless by the end of this season.
“I genuinely don’t know how they do it. They’re so good.”
Davina sympathised: “It’s so weird. I’ve unmasked people that I know too. But that’s my favourite thing.
“When you really think you know someone but you don’t know if you really know, if that makes sense!
“Sometimes I have thought, ‘I definitely know you’ and they unmask and it’s not them.
“That’s my favourite thing to happen on this show. I love it when you get that moment and you’re like, ‘Ah!’ I think all of my mates know they can’t ask me to get them on the show, because it will be so obvious then if they were on it.
“They’d get their agent to get them on, then I wouldn’t know.
“This is what I love. It could literally be a very good friend of mine out there.”
The odds have been lengthened this series with the inclusion of a duo, Cat and Mouse.
Other characters include a pigeon, a wheelie bin, a jellyfish, a rhinestone-clad rhino, a little deer called Fawn and a tinfoil-covered jacket potato.
A cartoon ghost and a slice of cake will also each be masking a celeb, with Joel Dommett, 37, back as host.
So how did the show’s musical expert handle two voices from the duo instead of just one?
Rita said: “You’d think it’d be easier because there’s more information, but it’s more confusing.
“There was a duo on The Masked Dancer, but this is the first duo for The Masked Singer.
“I don’t know that many duo singers, so I was thinking, ‘Well, it couldn’t be them’, but then they don’t have to be singers to come on.
“So it was tricky, that one, but I loved it because they were just playing off each other, which makes for such good entertainment.”
Davina reasoned: “I guess on Masked Dancer it was different because we could see their relationship via dance, and it did look passionate, and it did look loving.”
That duo, Pillar and Post, were unmasked as married David Seaman and skater Frankie Poultney, who met on another show, Dancing On Ice.
Davina went on: “When you think of all the duos, it could be anybody on any soap who’s related in any way, or runs anything together.
“Or any presenting duo, although I think that would be too easy. Anybody that’s ever sung together. I mean, the list goes on.
“In my dreams it could be Ant and Dec. Who knows?
“They could be Holly and Phil as well, that’d be epic.
“But I think sometimes, when they just stare at you, you think, ‘Are you staring at me because you know me?’ But then, they might not even be staring at you.
“Their head might be facing you, but they might be looking over at Joel. It’s so weird.”
Cat and Mouse will be aiming to join the list of champions, including previous winners Nicola Roberts who appeared as Queen Bee, Joss Stone whose alias was Sausage, and Natalie Imbrulgia as Panda, as 12 new hopefuls pull on their creative costumes.
‘I’VE LAUGHED SO HARD’
And Davina thinks this series is the most fun yet after execs introduced new theme weeks and twists to keep the format fresh.
She said: “There have been moments where I’ve really not been able to stop laughing. I’ve just laughed so hard.
“‘What is going on? What am I doing here?’ It’s the weirdest show, I’m watching a rubbish bin sing! I couldn’t stop laughing at Rubbish. The fact that you are Rubbish, how bad is that?
“We’re just constantly calling him Rubbish all the time.”
Competition between the four panal detectives remains fierce, with rivals Rita and Jonathan the most successful.
She, because of her singer’s ear for vocal tone; he, because of his encyclopaedic knowledge of celebrities.
Rita laughed: “I’m trying to hear any sort of little twang that they have that’s super-them, and so that’s how I always judge it. I’m always really listening.
“I always try to get a cheeky little thing out of them, but this time they’ve been super-strict.
“They’re just not giving me anything. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m losing my touch.”
Davina has her own approach but admits it has yet to pay off.
She added: “I’ll tell you something, this is a secret. If the call time we’re due on set is 10.30am, I get here at 10am so I can get an extra half an hour going through all the clues from the episode before.
“It doesn’t help me at all, but I am the class swot! I have always been!
“I think it’s worth saying to the people at home that we pre-record this and so, funnily enough, when I watch from home sometimes, I think, ‘Oh my goodness, why didn’t I hear that?’
“But in the studio, it all sounds so different. Each series, the contestants get wiser and they know that if they are not the strongest singer then they need to bring it, in terms of the character.
“That is my favourite bit because what I love about this show is that it’s not necessarily the strongest singer that’s going to win — it is the person that brings the most in terms of entertainment.”
- THE Masked Singer returns tomorrow at 6.30pm on ITV1 and ITVX