Taskmaster's New Year Treat - interviews with Greg Davies, Alex Horne, Adrian Chiles, Claudia Winkleman, Jonnie Peacock, Lady Leshurr & Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Category: Interview, News Release



Let’s talk through the contestants for this special, starting with Adrian Chiles.

Greg: He’s absolutely hilarious, Chiles. I didn’t expect him to be as hilarious as he was.

Alex: There was a bit in the pole task where Adrian really lost it and giggled like a baby for about a minute. I really enjoyed seeing him look so happy. He really lost it. It was great. Normally, slightly older gentlemen get teased for being slow by Greg, but he bonded with Adrian a lot.

Greg: We bonded over being middle-aged men. Speaking as a man in his 50s I can confirm our lives are made miserable by gastric problems, as Adrian said in the vinegar task when he got heartburn. He’s my type of older gentleman.

You invited him to go camping with him, didn’t you?

Greg: Yes, and I stand by that. I know that Adrian thought it was a joke, but I will go camping with him at a time and place of his choosing.

Alex: We also really enjoyed pitting him against one of our greatest Paralympians.

What about Baroness Warsi?

Alex: She was very TV savvy, and comedy savvy as well. And she made jokes that weren’t bad. She really got stuck in with trying to persuade Greg that Claudia had done something not awful, which I enjoyed.

Greg: She tried to turn something into a contentious issue, saying I was out of touch with modern Britain. Which I dealt with. She was feisty.

And surprisingly came out with quite a few innuendos as well.

Greg: The Bawdy Baroness. She accused Alex and I of flirting with each other.

Alex: She was probably keen to make sure the stereotype of a fusty old Baroness was destroyed. She was there to show what she’s really like, which is good thing. I really liked her. I thought she was plucky and spunky.

Greg: Regardless of where you are politically in life, it’d be difficult to deny that.

Alex: Yes, but she really tried to pull the heartstrings as well. She was playing the game at the beginning, which was very clever.

Greg: With anyone else that may well have worked, but I find that stuff grates with me. I know when someone’s ploughing the furrow.

Alex: She definitely understood Taskmaster, she wasn’t out of her depth in any way.

There was another surprising moment where she said that she could identify a drug by sniffing it.

Greg: Because of her legal background, yes. I didn’t realise that’s what goes on in Her Majesty’s Courts. Law makers sniffing stuff.

What did you think of Lady Leshurr?

Alex: I’m not sure how much she knew about the show beforehand. She’s one of our smallest ever contestants. Greg: I thought she was fun. She doesn’t really care what anyone thinks, and I always admire that, especially in a young person. And as Alex points out, she’s pint-sized. I was really pleased because the audience got behind her right away, which is good. I didn’t think she was as well-known as Claudia Winkleman, but she held her own. Then I looked her up on YouTube, and one of her clips has got 65 million views.

Greg, she told me that you have such a way with words that you would make a good grime rapper.

Greg: Did she? Wow. Well, let’s hope that this interview means that the right people get in contact with me at last.

You’d be up for that?

Greg: Of course! They say you should change job every seven years so I’m long overdue a change, and why not to grime?

Alex: Probably, annoyingly, you’d be quite good at it. Greg wore a big orange jacket yesterday for a bit. I couldn’t believe it. It caught me by surprise.

Greg: It really fascinated you, my new jacket, didn’t it? I often criticise Alex for his dress sense which is, across the board, pretty awful. And because I was wearing a bolder coat than I normally would, it drew his eye.

What about Claudia?

Alex: She was a bit like Mel Giedroyc, in that she was very keen to get in and do things quickly. She wasn’t hanging around. She’s a pro. She’s done a lot of telly, and she’s very, very funny.

Greg: She’s very funny. I also think she’s very used to being in charge. She did that thing that Victoria Coren Mitchell did, which is march into a room and say, “Right, let’s get a few things straight right now. This is the way things are going to be.” But then she remembers that she’s the one being told to do things.

She shouted at Alex quite a lot to “shut up” and “stop talking”. Has anybody ever spoken to you like that before, Alex?

Alex: Not for a good while. She was a bit of a whirlwind. I’m still slightly in awe of her. It’s Claudia Winkleman! She’s got that star quality. Having her in the Taskmaster house was quite incongruous. It felt like we were in the middle of Strictly and I watch Strictly with my kids, so I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Greg: I thought she was great. She entered into Taskmaster in the way you hope people will enter into it – without any clear plan for victory. From the very beginning I don’t think she could have cared less how many points she ended up with, and I greatly admire that. She was excitable though. She enjoyed it without caring much about the outcome.

And finally, Jonnie Peacock.

Alex: He showed off his athleticism a couple of times. The Peacock family are big fans of the show, so I think he’s done them proud, which is good. It’s his mum’s favourite programme apparently, so he was mainly doing it for her.

Greg: I didn’t meet Jonnie because I wasn’t there during the tasks and he couldn’t come into the studio as he was ill. But watching the tasks I can see he was quite canny, quite cerebral. In a couple of them he thought, “Oh, there must be another way of doing this,” which a lot of the other contestants didn’t do at all. I thought it was a good combination: the visuals of Johnny’s athleticism, and then going back to the studio for the contrast of Alan Davies. It worked a treat. I think those guys should work together more.

Alex: He took it seriously. He took it like an athlete would, I think. He was competitive and ambitious. He had that thing that athletes do of being really focused. Straightforward, I suppose. He’s used to training all day by himself. Jonnie and Sayeeda were the most competitive. They’re the ones who wanted to win the most.

Greg: His technique was genuinely impressive.

Will there be more celebrity specials?

Alex: We both felt it was great having people outside of comedy on the show. Maybe there’s room to have three comics and two non-comics in the same series, or just one, or mixing it up. It would be good to have an athlete or a historian or something. Someone like Mary Beard. She was my lecturer at university. She was amazing, really inspiring. She’s a good one. Quite scary.

Greg: I really enjoy involvement from non-comics. I don’t know what it means going forward, but it’s really exciting.


Why did you sign up: were you a fan of the show?

I watch very little telly, but I’ve seen bits of it, and I know people who are into it. I’ve always liked Greg and Alex – I used to work with Alex’s wife, who’s a delight as well. It’s blameless fun, really. There’s not much of that around anymore. Everything’s got an edge, everything’s got a side. This is just a funny, feel-good thing.

Did you know anybody who’d previously taken part? I know Josh Widdicombe and one or two others, but I didn’t specifically ask them about it. I’m pretty poor at preparing for things. The more I prepare, the more I worry. So I watched a couple but then decided to turn up and hope for the best. There wasn’t a lot to worry about really – the worst that can happen is you make a fool of yourself. But that’s half the point. The only real way to make a fool of yourself is to take it far too seriously. I’m not inclined to take anything too seriously. I decided to submit to the authority in Greg and Alex and let them do their worst.

Did you learn anything about yourself?

You learn something about yourself whatever you do. It was interesting. For one task Alex said, “Oh, do it nonchalantly.” That’s not like me, I normally get frantic and panic. But that was at the end of the day, so I took his advice, stopped caring as much and just got on with it. It seemed to help. Trying too hard and overthinking things can always end badly, so there was a lesson there. I mean, that’s my ADHD all over that.

For another one, I identified that I needed a piece of litmus paper, so I went looking for litmus paper, found it and picked it up, looked at it, and put it back down again, because by then my mind had gone on to the next thing. It’s absurd. It’s about taking a minute to stop and look around you. That’s always important. It’s like your teachers said: “Make sure you read the exam paper.” In life generally, there’s many times I’ve just not done that.

Previous contestants do say it’s a bit like going back to school and taking exams. Did it feel that way to you?

That’s very true. The last time I was tested on anything was my shorthand exam when I was about 24, which I had to retake because I failed the first time, and I ended up cheating by copying the examiner’s notes who was sitting opposite me. It was upside down, obviously, but it was so neat I was able to copy it. The next time I was tested was my motorbike test in my early 40s. So, yes, being tested was such an alien feeling, and that’s what made me really nervous.

For one task you ended up stripping to your boxers. Tell me your thinking behind that.

I immediately started overthinking it by wondering if there was a double meaning. My main motivator, to be honest, was doing as little fannying around as possible. I just wanted to get it done so I could go back inside and have a cup of tea. It was a case of choosing the path of least resistance.

This show does involve you leaving your vanity at home: you’ve obviously got no problem with looking a bit daft.

No. Absolutely not. I’ve never really cared how I look, which is probably to my detriment in television, but it served me well here. I looked an absolute twit on Celebrity Chase. I started looking at the clock instead of concentrating on the answers, then I literally couldn’t remember anything by the end. There was one question which was, “Who told the parable of the wheat?” I couldn’t remember it. I remember thinking, “It can’t be Jesus, that’s too obvious.” Of course, it was. My priest is going to be pissed off about that when I next see him.

What did you think of the other contestants?

The baroness, I could see there was there was cold-eyed determination there. She got to be a baroness; she’s absolutely made of girders. I knew Claudia, who is always lovely. I’d never met Jonnie and I was looking forward to meeting him, so it’s a shame he couldn’t make it to the studio. Lady Leshurr was an absolute delight. I always like to see a Brummie doing well, and she was great fun to hang around with. We both know what it’s like to be a Brummie: self-effacing. You pick yourself up and try to get on with it, and sort of grunch if everybody compliments you.

It was very cleverly cast because everyone was laughing at and with each other. It was a nice atmosphere, a pleasant experience. There was one point I properly got the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing.

How was your relationship with Greg? He said he wants to go camping with you because you’re kindred spirits.

I’m not much of a camper, actually. I have a lifelong of swearing blind I would never go – but for him, I would make an exception. I’d be more than happy to get under canvas with him. It’d have to be a big bloody tent, though, the size of him. I’m bang up for it.

Why do you think you two got on so well?

I don’t know. I’ve only met him once before and I went, “Oh, you’re tall.” I felt a bit ridiculous from that. I mean, what’s not to like about him? He’s a gentle giant, he’s really funny. There’s a breed of comedian which doesn’t laugh at other people’s jokes – which is fine, it’s a way of doing it – but Greg’s very generous. It was interesting during filming when Alan said a couple of really funny things which didn’t come across because I was talking, or somebody else was talking, and Greg went back to see what Alan said. There’s plenty of comedians who wouldn’t do that – remember how 8 out of 10 Cats used to be like a bear pit, you could never get your words out? – but Greg wanted to share it, which was really good. He wanted to make sure that everyone got the glory of what Alan had said.

What was your relationship like with Alex when you were doing the tasks?

I found him really neutral and deadpan, as he’s supposed to be. I found myself trying to get him to crack a smile a couple of times, so that might have distracted me. He’s got a very interesting, gentle persona. It’s nice to spend time with him.

How do you describe the relationship between Greg and Alex?

It’s pretty unique. I can’t think of a relationship like that on television at all. It’s not like Morecambe and Wise … it has sort of homoerotic mutual respect, but gently savage. It’s very difficult to characterise, actually.

Do you think there was any difference between the way that the different genders or age groups approached the tasks?

I’ve done shows before that pit people against each other and what I’ve noticed in the past is that men tend to strategize and talk about it, and the women generally get on with it. But everybody was on the same page on this one, no one was trying to be clever. They cracked on with it, which is how it should be. I don’t think anyone had an approach.

You turned up in your suit, you complained about having heartburn, you wanted to go and have a sit-down, and you talked about your enjoyment of descaling kettles. Are you out there doing it for middle-aged men?

I don’t know many middle-aged men who get as much pleasure out of descaling kettles as me. I went in a suit because my best mate is in the fashion industry. I always get him to watch whatever programme I’m doing, and he tells me what to wear. I don’t argue with him, I just go and do it. Mind you, my girlfriend always warns me about nasal hair. She’s going to give me a right bollocking because she’ll be furious at the fact I had a hair coming out my right nostril in one of the close-ups. She’s going to have my guts for garters.

Who do you think would be great at Taskmaster for a future series?

Lee Dixon who played for Arsenal would be very good. He’s resourceful, intelligent, funny, he’s competitive. He’d be up for it. Denise Lewis would be good, the heptathlete. She’s got grit, she’s determined, she’d have a laugh – and she’s from the West Midlands as well, so she’d be well-suited.


Why did you sign up for Taskmaster?

Vicky Coren [Victoria Coren Mitchell], who is my eldest best friend, did it, and she said, “Claud, you will laugh your head off.” I was like, “Fine, I’m in.” We’re both the same, like we weren’t in it to win it. I thought she was brilliant in her series. We’re oldest, oldest friends.

Did you have any kind of strategy in the way you approached the tasks?

No. I would like to tell you that I did, but I didn’t. I always like to nap so whatever I do, I want to do it at speed. That propels my entire life, really. I’m much older than everybody else on the planet, so I don’t dilly-dally. I wouldn’t ponder. I wouldn’t do a diagram. I wouldn’t ask advice. I mean, I did for my finals, and I would if it was something to do with my kids, but, the tasks, no. I’ll just do it. I’m decisive. On the day of the tasks, I didn’t know what time I was supposed to finish, but I know I broke a record for getting through them all quickly. I mean, we were eating noodles at one o’clock, we were done. So it may not necessarily be a good trait and it may not have always led to points, but I am decisive.

Did you learn anything about yourself?

No. I did learn that Greg and Alex are the funniest people to be in a room with. And I learned that Adrian Chiles loves descaling things, which blew my mind. Blew my mind. That’s what I learned.

Was it what you expected?

I’ll tell you one thing I wasn’t expecting. The house is tiny. On telly, I was always like, “I know those sorts of houses, they’re like a labyrinth. They look small from the outside, but you go inside and it’s room after room after room.” No. I covered the whole thing in under eight seconds. I had enough spare time afterwards to eat all the crisps and all the chocolate, so I apologise to future contestants.

Was your tactic with Alex to share food with him and try to be his friend?

Yes. And he’s so charming and so funny. We had a lovely time with the crew. I was like, “Who fancies a KitKat?”

Did you find Alex in any way helpful during the tasks, or was he a hindrance?

He’s a magnificent human being. I don’t know whether I’m supposed to say that. I mean, I’m a moron. But no, it was lovely to do it with him even though he wouldn’t tell me the answers because he was really funny.

You shouted, “You’re a horrible, horrible man,” at Alex, and ordered him to “stop talking” several times.

Yes. There were many times when I said, “Stop talking,” and then would ask him a question immediately afterwards which confused him. His confusion was excellent. But he wouldn’t tell me how to do anything, so it was frustrating.. It turns out he notices everything. I hid behind the chair when they showed a particular task in the studio.

How did you feel about Greg’s judgements: did you try to alter any of your scores by arguing your case or buttering him up in the studio?

There was one task which Greg gave me grief for, for not putting in enough effort, but I just had to get to nap-time. I thought the way I did it had a certain speed and charm and bravery to it. The whole thing was over in two minutes, then we all had a cup of tea and dipped a chocolate bar in it. That’s living. I think you have to go with his decisions outwardly, but inside you can be screaming. I still stand by my prize task choice. He hated it but he’s wrong. It’s a privilege to be in the room with him, though. He’s incredibly funny, and I’ll just do whatever he says.

Greg said that when he heard you were coming on the show, he was excited because he thought he was going to get this incredibly glamorous woman, but instead he got an overexcited woman. How do you feel about that statement?

I mean, he’s not wrong. Number one, he shouldn’t have been excited. Number two, I go from zero to 10 fast, then I immediately go back to zero again. Also, I like to ask questions. By the end, I thought I was going to be disqualified if I asked another question.

I assume you weren’t competitive?

I’m afraid not. I don’t have a competitive bone in my body. I should probably have flagged that up when they asked me to do it.

Do you think any of the others were competitive?

No. I thought the group was perfect. I mean, I don’t know how other groups work, but I adored all of them. I’ve met Alan before, but I hadn’t met the others. Sayeeda was amazing, Lady Leshurr, Alan standing in for Jonnie. Everyone was unique, and really funny. I loved Sayeeda trying to persuade Greg to give her more points, it was just fantastic. You go, “Oh, clever girl.”. We were just there to watch Greg and Alex. We had such a great time. We ate a lot of Double Deckers.

Do you think the show is unique? Does it compare to anything else on telly?

It didn’t compare to anything else on telly other than the fact that it is on telly. It’s lovely to take part in. There is absolutely zero research. You don’t need to do anything. You basically just need to have a shower before going to the studio.

Doing live TV means you can think on your feet. Do you think your day job helped in any way?

I don’t think my day job helped, other than being fluorescent orange, which helps everything in my world. I took snacks. I was there to have a laugh.

What about being a parent: that must mean you’re good at multi-tasking, which might help with Taskmaster?

No, I’m not a good multi-tasker on any level. I literally can’t read a book if there’s music playing. I can only do one thing at a time, so I don’t think that’s particularly helpful.

Who out of your friends do you think would be good on future series of Taskmaster?

I’m allergic to famous people. I don’t know any. I would highly recommend it, though, to anybody.


Why did you decide to sign up?

I’d watched the show many times, it’s always a good laugh. When my agent mentioned it to me I was like, “Absolutely! It looks like so much fun.” It was a long day, but a great day. So much fun. You’ve just got to try and think outside the box. Sometimes you need to think inside the box, actually, but apparently I don’t have thought process there at all.

Was it what you thought it was going to be?

Yes and no. Obviously I had a rough idea it was going to be a bit strange with lots of different mental and physical challenges. I was worried about the mental stuff, to be honest. I thought I’d be standing there for two hours with absolutely no clue what to do. But I didn’t have too many of those moments as it turned out, just a couple.

Did you learn anything about yourself?

I’m not sure. I don’t really know how well or how badly I did, because I didn’t get to do the studio show due to illness. When you do the tasks, you have no clue how you’ve done. You think, “I’ve probably done the worst.”

Well, I can tell you that Greg and Alex said you were quite calm and logical.

Oh brilliant! I’ll take that. I’m quite black and white, I guess, quite logical. My mum watches Taskmaster religiously. She said to me, “I’m intrigued to see how you get on because your mind works differently to other people’s.” So I guess it could have gone one way or the other. I do always try to stay relatively calm but when you first open the task, the brain farts come on strongly. You’d be sat there trying to think about it, and there’d be nothing coming to you because you’d have absolutely no idea where this has come from, or where it’s meant to be going.

As a non-comedian, did you think, “I’m going to try and be funny about this,” or, “I’m going to do my best”?

I don’t know, really. The fact that it’s a celebrity special took that pressure off. Had I been on the show with the standard group, you probably would be really worried that you’d come across as boring. I tried to be a bit outrageous or a bit silly, I guess, with some of the challenges. It’s go hard or go home in that situation.

How did you get on with the physical challenges: the day job must have helped you?

I was like, “Right, let’s try and go as big as possible.”. That was good fun. I just decided to go big with it all and see what happened.

You have to leave your ego and your vanity at home a little bit. Was that a worry for you?

Not at all. I’m pretty happy to put my ego to the side. I think you should experience different ways of life too. That’s what I love about all of these shows and opportunities that we get to do. My job is an athlete, so I work out every day. It’s fun, but it’s also quite monotonous, so it’s great to get the opportunity to experience completely different worlds and have fun with it. Let your mind go, enjoy the moment, and look like a fool. I don’t get to be creative day to day. There’s no thinking involved in my job. There’s only two steps to do in athletics really, so it’s fun to do something different.

Did you find Alex helpful or a hindrance in doing the tasks?

He was really good, and he was also one of the nicest people I’ve met in these showbiz things, because he came in and chatted to you in between tasks. We had some really good chats, actually, and got along. He’s such a cool guy. There’s obviously a lot that he couldn’t do and couldn’t say, but he would try and give you a helpful hint. Maybe he just felt sorry for me. There were times when I was like, “Oh, he’s been looking at me for an hour, struggling, and he’s clearly thinking: ‘I’m going to chuck this guy a bone. We’ve got places to be.’”

You didn’t get to meet Greg in the studio as you were ill. But what are you hoping that he will think of your tasks?

I met Greg once. I shared a lift with him, me and a friend, in Manchester. I was there for one of my first races back in 2013. We were both big Inbetweeners fans at the time, and so we were all there in the lift and Greg’s stood there with the most evil stare on him. Me and my friend were both too petrified to say anything. So I guess I had a lot of fear.

You weren’t really ill at all, were you? You were just too scared to meet Greg!

That’s it! I just put it on. I was outside in wet clothes all night, to make sure that I was ill, because there was no way I could meet him. I thought, “I can’t put myself through that again.” He’s a very tall man. I just hope he sees the good things in my tasks.

What did you think of having Alan Davies stand in for you in the studio?

I’ll be completely honest, I actually thought, “That’s the best situation.” Probably way better than the studio would have been with me. As far as I was concerned, and my girlfriend said the same thing, she said, “That’s going to be really cool.” To have someone whose job it is to be funny, and is funny, saying stuff about me. I’ve never seen a show where they’ve done that, so I’m intrigued to see where he goes with it. I sent Alex a text saying, “There’s nothing I could have said that Alan won’t say better.” So, yes, great job.

Disabled people are making waves in acting in sport and entertainment. Do you feel like visibility for disabled people is getting better?

A little bit better. Equality is so important. We’ve seen a lot of change in the way we talk about sexism, racism, and disability equality as well. We’re all seeing how important it is when you do have representation. There’s a very large percentage of people that are disabled in the world, and TV should be representing people that are sat at home watching it.

We’re starting to see female leads, we’re starting to see attitudes to racism getting better, and that racism is going to hopefully be stamped out in the future. It’s the same with disability equality. Ten years ago, there were barely any disabled people on screen, and if there were, chances were that they were a villain in some kind of action movie. Fast forward to today and my Paralympian colleague Aled Davies won SAS: Who Dares Wins, we’ve had Paralympians on I’m a Celeb, Kadeena Cox is on that this year, Dancing on Ice, obviously, Strictly has had multiple disabled contestants, Love Island. Pretty much every reality show has started to realise that disabled people need to be represented. It’s really cool for me to see that from where we’ve come from. For me, this is a huge thing. And the whole #metoo movement as well, in terms of equality, the whole world’s attitude changing for the better. The younger generation coming up and realising what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable. I personally believe that it’s going to be a very different world in 10 years. It’s already a different world than it was 10 years ago, so I’m very excited for the future.


Why did you sign up: are you a fan of the show?

Of course! I’ve always wanted to meet Greg because he’s really tall. I’m only 5ft tall, so I’ve got this little section in my phone where I meet really tall people and take a picture with them. I love his energy, he’s hilarious. For me as a rapper as well, I watch a lot of comedians. That resonates with my personality and how I express myself through lyrics. He’s one of those people as well. He doesn’t know it, but he can potentially be a rapper. I thought the show was so hilarious, but when I got there I couldn’t believe what I had got myself into.

Did you have a strategy going into it?

I’m a competitive person, I’m always trying to push myself. I don’t want to go into anything in life half-hearted, so I always try to do the best I can.

How did you get along with the other contestants?

I didn’t know anyone, but obviously I knew who Claudia was. I see her face all the time. She’s a goddess. She looks like she’s walked out of an advert. She literally came up to me like, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” and I was like, “Oh, my Lord!” I’m always going to have those moments because I’m that type of person. It was good to meet Sayeeda, she was really lovely. We got on like a house on fire. We’re little shorties. Adrian is my spirit animal. He’s from Birmingham, and he doesn’t know how funny he is. He says things normally and everyone is laughing. It’s the Brummie banter.

Did it get very competitive between you?

No, not at all. Genuinely it was a laugh. Alan Davies was really lovely as well. In the studio, he was saying, “This is the best part, you’re going to really enjoy this.” I didn’t know what to expect. My cheeks were hurting, I was laughing so much. The studio task was hilarious as well.

Did you notice any difference in the way that each of you approached the tasks?

I genuinely think everyone thought completely differently. Jonnie was looking around the room, being strategic, and he left the room a couple of times to look for stuff, whereas I just sat down and did what I was told. I didn’t ask questions; I just went in for it. Everyone had their own personality and ways of doing things.

Were you mindful of how you looked?

No, I don’t care. I fell at a gig and everyone saw me, and I thought, “I’m going to be a meme by tomorrow,” but it didn’t stop me. I thought, “I’m going to throw myself into it and step out of my comfort zone,” because I love things like this. It genuinely is my personality. I love doing fun things. I’m still a kid at heart, so I like doing activities and challenges and stuff like that.

How would you describe the relationship between Greg and Alex?

They’re like the Chuckle Brothers. Literally, they finish each other’s sentences, they look in coordination, the energy is a match. That’s why my cheeks were aching, because the way that they bounce off each other, the energy is so loud, it not only shows on the TV, it’s in the room. The energy was on a high, the audience is so positive and laughing all the time. They’re really a good act together, they really work well. They’re like brothers.

Do you know anyone who would be good at doing Taskmaster in the future?

I know exactly who should do it: Judge Rinder. I love him. He’s up for a good laugh as well. I met him one time on Steph’s Packed Lunch and he was declaring his love for me. I said, “Oh my gosh, I used to watch you on telly,” and he’s like, “I used to listen to your grime.” I’m like, “What? You used to listen to grime?” he said, “Yes, I still do now.” Since then, we’ve kept in touch. So he’s definitely someone I would put up for this.

Do you have any other unexpected famous fans?

Yes. What’s his name? I tried to forget him because of that horrific story. Is it Matt Hancock? He’s a fan. If you go onto Google and you type in ‘Lady Leshurr, Matt Hancock’, it will come up with an article in 2017 where he said that he listens to me and Skepta. It’s crazy. So many people listen, you just never know.


Some people will be very surprised to see you on Taskmaster. It’s not really what politicians are known for, is it?

No, I know. I suppose for me, Covid and turning 50 were big moments. You try so hard in public life to never put a foot wrong, never say anything wrong, and always try and be the sensible one. Then I turned 50, and we just went through the last 18 months with the pandemic, and I started thinking, “Life’s too short. I’ve got to learn to be me, live a little and relax a little bit.” You’re getting a much truer version of me now. I’m not sure that it’s always going to go down well, but it makes me feel a lot better.

Have you always enjoyed comedy?

Always. Even at the height of when I used to work really long days, my husband and I would always try and sneak away and sit in the back of a comedy club, which in those days was really difficult. The whole point of comedy usually is to punch up against power, and when you’re in the Cabinet you’re usually at the receiving end of that. We especially loved going in the winter, I could put on a hat and scarf, hoping nobody would notice me.

We’ve always loved comedy clubs, it’s our thing. It’s where we go quietly and listen. Even at home, watching recordings of live comedy has always been a big part of what we do. My close  friends used to say, “Nobody really gets to see the real you. You’re so much more alive and so much funnier, and yet you turn up on things like Newsnight and Question Time and you sound like a real political bitch.” So it’s nice to be able to put away the political bitch and just be me.

Did anybody ever spot you and heckle you in these comedy clubs?

Yes, they did. I’d go to events where comedians would use me as the butt of all their jokes, but that’s comedy. I don’t think you can take these things personally.

Do you think taking part in shows like Taskmaster is quite a nice way to connect with ordinary voters?

I know this sounds terribly selfish but first and foremost, this is about me. I have to feel like I’m in a good place. There was a lot that I felt I was holding back because that is public life. This is something particularly about women coming of age, and turning 50, and being menopausal that means I don’t care anymore. My kids say, “the way you present publicly is more the real  you.” I’m happy. Some of the stuff that I’m doing at the moment is a really happy place to be – and Taskmaster was a really uplifting, happy experience. Politics, as it is at the moment, is so depressing, so it’s nice to be able to operate in happier, uplifting spaces.

Were you a fan of the show before you were approached?

I didn’t know it, but somebody wrote to me and said, “Would you consider doing Taskmaster?”

I’d heard about it but never watched it.  I watched it and thought, “I’m not sure. Am I ready for this?” But  everybody I spoke to, friends within the comedy space and people I work with, were all just like, “Oh, my God, you’ve been asked to do Taskmaster? You should do it.” There wasn’t a single person who said I shouldn’t. The show is a big deal  for its fans and has a loyal following and so thought “Okay, why not? It’ll make me do stuff that I wouldn’t normally do.”

There was a task that involved you dressing as a superhero. What do you think that moment is going to do for your political career?

As long as I’m comfortable doing what I do, then I’m okay with that. And it’s so good for older people to be doing this. I think it’s great that there were a few of us of a certain age doing the programme.

Did you have a strategy?

No. My first thought was, “I’ve got to survive this, and actually function and do the tasks.” I didn’t really think about the funny aspects of it. My worst nightmare was that I wasn’t going to be able to complete any of the tasks.

Do you think that your day job came in handy at all? There was a moment in the studio where we could see the politician in you trying to argue your point with Greg.

I’m not sure it worked! But I definitely argued my case. I think the fact that we were all being like that made it okay. And he’s such a good laugh, he and Alex work so well together.

How would you describe that relationship?

When you first see them, if you don’t understand them, it feels almost abusive. You think, “Why would you talk to him like that?” But eventually you realise that they are so close and so in tune with each other. You’ve got to understand their relationship to understand how they behave towards each other. The studio was great fun. Actually, that’s when the whole thing comes together. I thought was a very well-chosen, diverse cast, who all bought something totally different. It was lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

How did you find Alex in the tasks?

I thought he was a bit of a hindrance actually. He kept putting out these odd lines which I took on face value, and I really should not have. I thought he was trying to be helpful, but he wasn’t.

I thoroughly enjoyed you saying that you have a very good nose. Is that a well-known fact about you?

After summer when autumn kicked in and we turned the radiators on, I actually woke up in the middle of the night saying I could smell smoke. It was so subtle, nobody else would have noticed it, but it woke me up. Maybe it’s because my eyesight is so bad that my sense of smell has kicked in to compensate.

At the beginning you talked about this “fan” who was obsessed with your bare feet.

Yes, there’s a website, just photos of my bare feet. It was years ago. I’ll have to try and dig it out. Obviously I take my shoes off a lot when I’m visiting temples, mosques etc and there’s someone out there who just compiles all these pictures on a site. It’s quite strange.

There was a moment where Greg said, “They’re going to take a title off her after this.” Do you think you are making a bit of a risk during the show?

No, not at all, when you’ve got Boris Johnson running the country, I’m not sure I could ever do anything on TV that would have such consequences. If ever a PM has had a sense of humour its Boris.

Which politicians do you think would be good at Taskmaster?

I think the PM would be good. I think he’s really funny. He’s very entertaining.

How did you get on with the other contestants?

They were a good bunch of people. There was a lot of political talk behind the scenes, we were talking about some serious stuff. Claudia and I spent a lot of time talking about Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of British-Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was on hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in London, and Adrian and I had a conversation about the Balkans conflict and current problems in Bosnia  .I have worked on issues impacting Bosnia, and Adrian has got links to Croatia.

We also  talked about Afghanistan . We had some quite serious conversations behind the scenes. And I talked about Birmingham with Adrian and Lady Leshurr – she’s so funny.

Do you think being a parent makes any difference to doing Taskmaster?

I think being a parent helps. Being peed and pooped on is the first step towards not taking yourself too seriously.

Do you think your kids will be proud of you?

I hope so. When I did Stand Up 2 Cancer, they said, “It’s brilliant that you went and did that.” My family do see me happier these days because politics can be emotionally draining. We do walk around feeling like the whole world is on our shoulders. Entertainment is a different space. I’m still a politician, I’m not an entertainer, but being in a different space sometimes makes me a more effective politician because it allows me the downtime to then do the serious stuff, and the hard work.

Would you do more things like this if they came your way?

Yes, definitely. We’re working on some really interesting programme ideas, stories I want to tell. I want to use comedy as a medium to talk about serious stories. You can tell them in a documentary, which some people can find preachy, or you can tell them in a much more light-hearted way, which is also entertaining to watch as well as having a serious message. So yes, fingers crossed. Who knows?