Sandi Toksvig: ‘Hopefully I’m doing my bit for female TV show hosts over 40’
Sandi Toksvig, aged 57, fronts quiz show Fifteen To One on Channel 4. The author and broadcaster talks about what makes a good game show, the lack of female quiz show hosts, and being recognised in embarrassing situations.
Q: What makes a good quiz show?
A: What I like is when it's a mix of the serious and having a good time. What I like about Fifteen To One is there's a really nice balance of us crying with laughter about some answer that somebody's given, and going, 'Wow, how did you even know that?' when it's a difficult question about ancient history or chemistry. So a good quiz has got all of human life in it; it's got the comedy and the tragedy.
Q: Why are there so few female quiz show hosts?
A: I have no idea because, honestly, it's not that difficult - you have the questions and the answers in front of you. What I'd like to think is that (having a female host) brings a different tone to the programme, straight away it just seems sort of calmer and jollier. And I don't know why there aren't older women, women over 40, who shockingly are still able to have a cogent thought and stand up. I don't know the answer, but hopefully I'm doing my bit, and the world has not fallen apart. It's our third series and somehow, we're OK with that.
Q: Is it true that someone once tweeted a picture of you eating a sandwich?
A: There are some very strange moments in your life. I don't do the Twitter thing, but I was on a train and as I got off the train, my sister rang me and said I had eaten a cheese sandwich. I said, 'How the hell did you know that?' Someone had taken a picture of me eating a cheese sandwich and tweeted it. What is wrong with the world that people have got the time to do that? Thank goodness I wasn't doing anything outrageous. That is the extent of the excitement of my life, that I once had a cheese sandwich on a train.
Q: Do you get spotted a lot when you're out and about?
A: Well, I have been on telly since I was 23 and I started at a time where there were only three channels, so you became famous in a way that doesn't really happen now. I have been around for quite a long time. I once was in a public ladies' lavatory and the door wouldn't close properly, but I was desperate for a wee. So you know that thing when you are sort of hovering and trying to hold the door shut? I thought, 'I am just going to sit down and do my business and hope nobody comes in'. So I am sitting there in the loo and the door bangs open and a woman goes 'Oh sorry', then shuts the door. Then she pushes it open again and goes, 'You're Sandi Toksvig - can I have your autograph?' I said, 'Could you give me a minute?'
Q: Your kids are all grown up now (Toksvig is mother to three children from a previous relationship). What do they do?
A: My 26-year-old has got her own photography business and she has just published her first book. My 24-year-old is just about to qualify as a doctor and she has just got her first job in a hospital. My son is my failure - he's an actor. I said to him, 'Con artist surely, or thief? Something else'. But no, acting. He's good, too. I have loved every minute of every day of my kids' lives. I like everything about them. I like the people they have become. Of course, I love them, but I really like them. If you asked me what was the best way to spend a day, it's in the company of my beautiful wife (Debbie, a psychotherapist) and my three children. Then I could not be happier.
Q: What advice have you given them?
A: I gave them the same advice I give to all young people, and it is follow your heart and be passionate about what you do. If you ever get up and think that you don't want to go to work that day, you are in the wrong business. You need to do something else.
Sandi Toksvig is a British-Danish writer, presenter, comedienne, actress, politician and producer on British radio and television. She presented The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4 until June this year. Fifteen To One continues on weekdays on Channel 4.