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Thursday 8 December 2016

Claudia Winkleman: 'I live for television - after all, how do you think I look after my kids?'

INTERVIEW

Claudia and Tess on Strictly
Claudia and Tess on Strictly
Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman has a degree from Cambridge University in theology and history of art but all anyone ever wants to talk about is her fringe, and her liberal use of eyeliner, not to mention the fake tan.

Or perhaps I should say that this is all Claudia wants to talk about - she is self-deprecating to a fault and seems not to take herself the slightest bit seriously.

"The fringe is much more interesting than Rembrandt, let me tell you," she deadpans, when I bring up her impressive, yet rarely spoken of, degree.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do [when I left school]. I thought I'd work in a gallery and people would stroke my hair while I talked about Titian."

She started off doing archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge, with art history as an add-on, but was wasted there.

They couldn't have got her dryness, or her expert eye-rolling - television was the way forward. After she graduated she did a bit of magazine work before finding herself presenting game shows on the far reaches of your digibox.

Juggernaut

She did a bit of celebrity interviewing for This Morning, became a regular on BBC Three, helped out on Comic Relief and the Eurovision Song Contest, before finding herself on the Strictly juggernaut in 2005 as the co-presenter of spin-off show It Takes Two.

As the years cha-cha'd by, her role became more and more prominent until last year she joined Tess Daly as one of the lead presenters.

We meet the day before she is due to find out this year's contestants, and it would be fair to say Claudia is not really in glitterball mode.

"Here's the thing: when I come off the train, so to speak, I go into hibernation and forget that's what I do. If you said to me now, 'What's a cha-cha?' I would say, 'Is it a sandwich? A form of greeting?' But then tomorrow it all begins, and you enter a world of fake tans and heels and I am lost in it."

The reason the 43-year-old loves Strictly is that "it's joyous. You're watching someone learn something. I mean, the paso doble! It's people pretending to be capes. Some celebrities have said to me, at the beginning, 'If I ever say "give it some sparkle" you have my permission to slap me round the face.'

Then a couple of weeks later they are crying, going, 'Claudia! I cannot get my heel lead right! I just can't!'

Of course, one could always take Winkleman's endless jokiness as something of a defence mechanism, a way to stop you talking to her about anything other than fringes and fake tans.

Last year her daughter, Matilda, then eight, was badly burned while trick or treating, prompting Claudia to take three weeks off from the show.

She later appeared on Watchdog to warn parents of the dangers of fancy-dress costumes and she wants to raise money for the team that helped Matilda, but she is rightly protective of her daughter and doesn't think it's fair to talk about what happened in public.

Matilda is one of three children Claudia has with her film producer husband Kris Thykier - completing the mix are Jake (12) and four-year-old Arthur.

Marriage

Nine years ago it was reported that their marriage was in trouble because they weren't seeing enough of each other, but she has since said that she believes "you can have a different marriage with the same man".

They believe strongly in equal parenting.

"I don't know what we would do if we didn't. He will come in when I go out. He's very good if I can't pick the kids up from school."

She says Strictly can become all-encompassing.

"I find out the music choices on a Thursday and I can't take in that my child wants to do a project on Saturn, because someone is dancing to Fairground Attraction. Towards the end of Strictly all the kids have pantomimes and carol services and he steps in, going to all of that."

She was recently quoted as saying that the family don't have a television because she thinks parents rely on screens too much for entertainment.

"Oh, I was so mortified by that!" she says. "I do have a television! I live for television! Of course I've got a telly! How do you think I look after my kids? 'The Octonauts are on, Mummy's just going to have a lie down…' "

But she doesn't have an iPhone. "I go round to people's houses and they are standing by the wall stroking their phones [as they charge]. I don't want to be like that."

Her parents were divorced when she was three, but she claims it never had any impact on her life.

"I had no idea, I was too young. Then they met the loves of their lives, and I have always been very close to my family."

She has a half-brother from her mother's marriage and a half-sister, the actress Sophie Winkleman, from her father's next relationship.

The Winkleman-Thykier family live slap bang in the centre of London in a house without a garden.

"I have a window box, is that OK? I'm so sorry to let you down. I lick bus stops. My problem is that I love London too much."

She takes her children to school on the Tube but claims she is never recognised.

"I think maybe because I am not in full make-up and a sparkly dress. I look very different without all the black eyeliner and the white lipstick and the mahogany skin."

I bring up her talent for self-deprecation.

"I'm not self-deprecating!" she insists, in an entirely self-deprecating manner.

"If you were interviewing me because I had invented some brilliant surgery, or because I had done something with my stem-cell research, then I would not be sitting here saying, 'Now, what I do is moronic'.

"But I love what I do. And I don't have to leave the house too much, which is the key to a good job." I ask if she ever has dark moments.

"I have an awful lot to be grateful for. There have been moments, but I don't want to talk about them. I live in the city I love. I have three amazing children. Tonight I'm going to the theatre. Tomorrow it's Chinese with my family."

Forget the fringe, and the eyeliner - for Claudia Winkleman, that's what life is all about.

The new series of Strictly Come Dancing starts on BBC 1 on September 5

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