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Sandi Toksvig: 'My ideal guest would be my late father... he was brilliant'

Sandi Toksvig is not only busy earning herself a new fan base as the co-host of The Great British Bake Off, she's also back armed with mind-blowing facts for a new series of QI

By Georgia Humphreys

A woman on every quiz show panel? That's not enough for Sandi Toksvig. The no-nonsense comedian wants to see more females at the helm and, considering her triumphant takeover as the host of BBC Two quiz QI from Stephen Fry last year, she's only too happy to pave the way.

"I like to think having a woman on a chair will soon not be an unusual thing," says the 59-year-old, who co-hosts The Great British Bake Off alongside Noel Fielding.

"Here's the secret - and don't tell anybody - but when you're the host they tell you the questions beforehand," she continues playfully.

"They also give you the answers, and the cards aren't as heavy as I was led to believe. So it's not that difficult."

So what else do you learn as the woman in charge? The Denmark-born star tells us more.

Best behaviour

Toksvig is quick to call hosting the brainy comedy quiz her "dream job", but admits it requires a completely different mindset from being a regular guest.

"You can't be quite so naughty, because there are actual facts that need to be presented," she elaborates candidly.

"So it's sort of lovely to be a panellist, and occasionally I'll be a panellist on something else, and behave appallingly."

Has she felt pressure taking over as the host of such an iconic show then?

"I'm not really a person who thinks like that if I'm honest with you", maintains Toksvig, who also spent nearly a decade as the host of The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4.

"I've been in the business 35 years and you have to be yourself.

"You go through patches where that self is not something everybody wants, and then patches where that is something people want, but you can't try and be somebody else."

Swotting up

For anyone not entirely clued up, QI stands for "Quite Interesting", and sees panellists - including permanent fixture Alan Davies - try to answer obscure questions with the most interesting answer possible.

And Toksvig, who lives in London with her wife Debbie, makes sure she does her homework.

"One of the nicest compliments I've had is when people have said, 'I totally understood that' and you think, 'It was worth spending the weekend driving myself mad with diagrams'," Toksvig explains.

"I say to the family one more time, 'OK so if this is the sun and I'm a rocket ...' you know. It's like, 'Mum, can we just eat'."

But there's one topic she insists she'd struggle with at a pub quiz.

"I'm no good at popular culture, that always lets me down ... I think one of those Kardashians, I could fall over them and I wouldn't know ..."

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Sandi Toksvig with Noel Fielding on Bake Off

Guest list

Now Toksvig is the one asking all the tough questions on QI, does she ever notice guests seeming a bit nervous?

"Yep, and without naming any names you get that sometimes and people take a while to get in," she discloses.

"I always say to them, don't worry about being funny, worry about being fired, so say something, anything, because then somebody else can be funny.

"But if you're just quiet ... don't be silent, don't be the Bermuda Triangle of the entertainment business; it's not fun for anybody."

When asked who her dream guest would be, dead or alive, Toksvig, who has three grown-up children with former partner Peta Stewart, replies: "My dad. He was the most brilliant person I ever met in my whole life.

"He was born in 1929 and we had a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1929 and he used to say to us, 'Anything you need to know before 1929 it's in those books, anything after, it's in here', and he was a brilliant broadcaster and a clever man and charming. He would be my number one.

"Though he's long gone to wherever, we don't know. I like the idea that we don't know."

Busy bee

Presenter, actor, writer, producer, political activist (she is joint founder of the Women's Equality Party); if there's one word to describe Toksvig, it's multi-talented.

Erm, how on earth does she fit it all in?

"I'm a woman, I'm multi-skilled", she says with a laugh. "I love my life and I approach everything I do with passion and I love what I do, I love my family, I love my friends, I like my activism, so I am somebody who gets up early and gets going, I'm not somebody who spends a lot of time sitting around watching box sets."

A moment later, however, she slightly backtracks.

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Sandi Toksvig presenting QI

"Having said that, I have just watched Big Little Lies, did you see that? It was great," she adds.

"If I do get a box set, then I have to watch the whole thing. But I'm usually knitting while I'm watching."

Indeed, something tells us Toksvig would never be happy just binge-watching TV ...

"I'm always thinking about the stuff I want to do," she confirms. "I'd like to go back to university, I'd like to learn another language.

"The bit I don't get is when somebody says they're bored and you just think, 'really? The world is too intriguing, what is the matter with you?'"

QI returns to BBC Two on Friday, October 20 at 10pm

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