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Claudia Winkleman: 'I'm happy to be a quite unpopular and deeply embarrassing mum... that's my main role'

She may be realistic about 'perfect parenting' but, as Claudia Winkleman tells Gabrielle Fagan, her kids are her proudest achievement

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Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman has perfectly mastered the art of self-deprecation - it's part of her charm, along with her witty one-liners. Despite being one of the most recognisable faces on TV, co-hosting Strictly Come Dancing with Tess Daly, she shrieks in horror at the thought of being called a celebrity.

"Nooo, please don't call me that! Of course I'm not, not even close. I'm just a short, orange person with a fringe," she jokes.

"I don't really regard myself as being in show-business," Winkleman adds. "It's entirely possible that my indulgent family have created a home video scheme, where I feel like I've been hired to do telly but it's not actually real."

Despite the humorous protestations underneath that trademark fringe - which she claims became so long during lockdown that "birds and squirrels started nesting in it" - she is clearly super-talented.

She's carved a hugely successful career in broadcasting. As well as Strictly, she currently presents her own BBC Radio 2 radio show - Claudia On Sunday - and hosts Best Home Cook. But it's her latest role, as one of five judges for the 2020 Amazon Kindle Storyteller Award, she's enthusing about today.

"I'm a keen reader - come to think of it, pretty much all I've done during lockdown is read and eat cake - so when they offered me this role, I said, 'Bring it on, the more books the better'," she says gleefully.

"I'm really excited about being part of an initiative like this, which gives new authors the chance to share their stories and be recognised on their own merit. It celebrates people who've seized the opportunity to create their own work and have it read by millions."

Winkleman (48) is also welcoming the task as a diversion because, she declares wryly: "I'm genuinely not doing anything else, apart from really bad homeschooling. No one's more relieved about this new role than my children, because it turns out teaching is not my super-power."

In reality, she's also finished writing a humorous memoir, Quite, set to be published in October, and has teamed up with her friend, clinical psychologist Tanya Byron, on their podcast, How Did We Get Here?

Clearly though, she's relished spending more time at home with the family this year.

Married to film producer Kris Thykier for 20 years - they have three children, Jake (17), Matilda (14), and Arthur, eight - she says: "I pretend to be busier than I am but the truth is, I'm essentially lazy, like a sloth really. I feel beyond lucky to be able to say that for me, the best part (of lockdown) has been enjoying the family being together all the time."

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Claudia Winkleman and her husband Kris Thykier

Claudia Winkleman and her husband Kris Thykier

Press Association Images

Claudia Winkleman and her husband Kris Thykier

But she's quick to acknowledge that "this time been truly terrible for some people. I'm in awe of the sacrifices people have made being on the NHS frontline, and others keeping services going, like supermarkets."

In 2014, Matilda suffered severe burns when her Halloween costume caught fire. The incident prompted the government to tighten the flame retardant standards of Halloween costumes.

"I've always thought nurses were the most important people in the world, and not just because of what happened to my family, and this has made us all value them so much more," Winkleman adds.

She is characteristically candid about her efforts to home-school her youngest son.

"I start out every day wildly enthusiastic about trying to teach him something and promise it's going to be awesome," she says. "Then after half an hour, I'm tetchy because he's not remembered something I've told him. It's renewed my admiration for teachers, who are, I think, extraordinary."

Her parenting style, she confides, is "very strict - I'm happy to be a quite unpopular and deeply embarrassing mum. That's my main role. I have no interest whatever in being their best friend, I don't think that's my job, maybe when they're older but not now."

She insists on strict bedtimes, limits screen time, and resolutely avoids "an unrealistic idea of perfect parenting" right now. "We put enormous pressure on ourselves to give them organic meals, do science and craft sessions, and then gather to discuss the works of Charles Dickens. That's just not the way it really is. We just have to muddle through as best we can."

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With Tess Daly on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing

With Tess Daly on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing

Press Association Images

With Tess Daly on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing

Reports suggest that Strictly Come Dancing and other shows will return to screens in the autumn, and Winkleman notes: "I love working and I'm so lucky I can dip in and out of these days. When my eldest son was young, I was working much harder doing daily stuff, whereas now I turn up occasionally and talk about a rhumba, do a bit of radio, and that's about it."

She's philosophical about the hiatus brought on by lockdown. "I love it (my job) but during this time, I haven't felt like, 'Poor me, I can't read aloud!' I mean that's what I do - I read aloud off an auto-cue. I'd love to say my job is more complicated than that, but it isn't. For me, when the time comes, if they still want me to, I'll do it again, and if they don't, I'll totally understand."

Down-to-earth and unstarry, her glamorous on-screen persona isn't, she reveals, replicated at home.

"It's not sequins at home for me. I love the clothes on Strictly but I don't get to keep them ever. One of the bonuses of the show is they completely take charge of my appearance and get me glammed up in a way I simply can't achieve," Winkleman admits with a smile. "I've now realised how much they do because on the Zoom calls over the last months, I've sometimes looked at the screen and thought, 'I didn't realise Meatloaf had moved in', and then realised it was me!"

Vanity was discouraged when she was a child, she explains. "I was brought up by my mother, a staunch feminist (former newspaper editor, Eve Pollard), to think my appearance was the least interesting thing about me and not to worry about it. We didn't have mirrors at home and I've followed that, and don't have them in our home now."

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Eve Pollard and her daughter, Claudia Winkleman

Eve Pollard and her daughter, Claudia Winkleman

Eve Pollard and her daughter, Claudia Winkleman

Ageing is something she takes in her stride. "I can't wait to be 50, and I'm so excited about 60, if I live that long. I asked for a crochet set for my 21st birthday, so truly I've never been very interesting or 'young' young.

"Neither am I someone who puts on heels and wants to go out all the time - I'm far happier at home, talking to my girlfriends on the phone, and doing puzzles and brain-teasers.

"I look after my wellbeing by taking naps - I really believe in the power of sleep," she adds. "I don't physically exert myself much. I did a yoga class once and left half way through."

She cites her marriage as "very important to my happiness - I'm so lucky. Who knows how long it will last but while it does, it's brilliant. That and my children, my family, and my amazing friends are what I value. They've all got me through any tough times."

She doesn't hesitate when asked to name her biggest achievement: "Definitely my children. They say 'please' and 'thank you' and make toast for everyone. They're good, humble and kind. I wouldn't recommend show-business for them but really they can do whatever they like, as long as they work hard and are unbelievably friendly and kind."

Winkleman's not one for regrets, either: "They're a bit of a waste of time. Of course, I haven't done everything right in my life, but I'm incredibly grateful for what I have," she says. "I think we're all agreed, I've been far too lucky already."

Claudia Winkleman is a judge for the 2020 Amazon Kindle Storyteller Award, open for entries from now until August 31. All titles must be enrolled in Kindle Direct Publishing Select while in the competition.

Belfast Telegraph