Presenter Konnie Huq: 'I don't really do many cool things'
Former Blue Peter presenter and self-confessed geek Konnie Huq tells Keeley Bolger why she's the ideal host for Sky 1's King Of The Nerds
Happiest playing board games, swerving celebrity haunts and taking as little notice of fashionable trends as possible, Konnie Huq admits she's not the most obvious candidate for a career in TV presenting.
"People like me don't become TV presenters," says the 39-year-old, laughing. "I always used to think, 'How did I become a TV presenter?' Something went wrong somewhere down the path. I'm bluffing this whole thing," adds London-born Huq, who describes her style as "daggy".
In her case, bluffing means talking 10 to the dozen ("I have verbal diarrhoea!") on a dizzying range of subjects, varying from the "process of integration and differentiation" in mathematics, her problems with fashion ("It's supposed to be about self expression, but it's herd mentality..."), to the social pressures on teenagers to fit in.
She is sympathetic on that final point.
"I grew up in a Muslim family," elaborates Huq, who is married to TV satirist Charlie Brooker and mum to sons, three-year-old Covey and baby Huxley.
"We didn't go to a mosque, but they [my family] didn't drink and I didn't wear shorts, so I'd say I grew up nerdy by default. I don't think it was even on my radar to try and be cool. In a way, I was what I was.
"Pretty much everything is nerdy about me..."
So finding herself in an industry where 'cool' people gravitate remains a source of bemusement for the TV host, who studied economics at Cambridge University.
"In telly, you meet loads of people who are really cool, and I'm never comfortable to be friends with them outside of work," explains Huq, who credits her two older sisters, who were into fashion and music as teenagers, for giving her a "bit of cool, and a bit of confidence".
"I don't want to name names, but there have been people I've really got on with, really nice people, and you go abroad to film with them and you're like, 'We're all best friends'.
"[But] It's a bit like a holiday romance for me. I'm not the sort of person who's going to go the Groucho Club or Glastonbury. I don't really do cool things."
And unusually for a TV presenter - and especially one who, in person, is every bit as approachable and likeable as she is on screen - she says she feels unnerved in certain social situations. "Weirdly, I think I'm really confident with people I know, but when I'm in a group of strangers, I crumble," she adds.
Recently though, Huq put aside these fears to present new Sky 1 series King Of The Nerds, which she says was a natural fit for her.
The competition sees 11 of Britain's sharpest brains face challenges which test their intellect, ingenuity, skills and pop-culture prowess, before one will be named the victor.
And Huq soon found herself confronting an unjust truth.
"There are a lot of nerdy girls out there, but there's more pressure in society for girls not to be nerdy," she says.
"Girls often fancy nerdy blokes, more than blokes fancy nerdy girls. It's much easier to think of Jarvis Cocker and your attractive bloke nerds in indie bands, but can you think of a girl nerd?
"We need to bring in a trendy nerd-girl image."
Despite this imbalance, she found leaving the show much harder than she expected.
"I was commuting with a tiny baby to Chelmsford from Ealing and I was getting up at 5am to be there for 7am," she says with a wry smile, before adding that trying to balance work and home life was bringing on a "mental breakdown".
"Then I thought, 'I'm going to miss this when I go back to nappies and poo and baby sick'."
Just 22 when she started on Blue Peter, which saw her travel the world, dive with sharks and become an extra in a Bollywood film, Huq has been a mainstay on British TV ever since.
Originally destined for a career in engineering, her original reasons for auditioning for TV jobs were less wholesome than expected. "I went to an all girls' school, so I thought there will probably be a load of blokes as well!" she reveals, laughing.
After bowing out from the children's programme in 2007 after eight years (Huq remains Blue Peter's longest serving female presenter, and says: "I'm scared of change, that's why I stayed on that show for so long"), her time on ITV2's The Xtra Factor was briefer. She lasted one series, amid online petitions to bring back the former host Holly Willoughby (though Huq's management maintain the exit was due to a clash in filming schedules).
Huq, however, remains reflective about her split from the spin-off show.
"We had the highest ratings of any series there was, nearly double the series before and the series after," she says. "I think I'm at my best live because of my weird verbal diarrhoea, so I loved The Xtra Factor."
As comfortable as she is beaming out to the nation, she admits she's a bit worried about the reaction to her presenting style on King Of The Nerds.
"I get more nervous when things are pre-recorded," she says. "I think about how it will be edited.
"I take on a bit of an Anne Robinson [persona] at times in this [series], and then at other times, I take on this weird historical orator role.
"I kept saying to the production team, 'Am I this weird freak person?', because you're in a bubble when you're filming, and then you think, 'Am I going to get bullied by the twitterazi?'"
Although she avoids watching shows she's involved with - because she's worried she'll "hate myself" - King Of The Nerds wasn't as wounding on that front as she'd anticipated.
"I watched it last night, and I was like, 'Phew, thank God - I'm not that much of a weirdo'."
King Of The Nerds starts on Sky 1 on Sunday, July 12