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Family atmosphere spells success for Hewer as Countdown returns

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Nick Hewer loves the friendly atmosphere on set, with the crew cooing over Rachel Riley’s baby

Nick Hewer loves the friendly atmosphere on set, with the crew cooing over Rachel Riley’s baby

Jason Clarke Photography

Nick Hewer loves the friendly atmosphere on set, with the crew cooing over Rachel Riley’s baby

Nick Hewer has been whipping up eggs and bacon for breakfast while away from home filming the latest series of Countdown.

However, the 76-year-old isn't shouting it from the rooftops.

"I don't want to tell anybody at home, lest I'm called upon to do it here," he says.

The Channel 4 programme resumed filming recently after a long pause because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As with every production, there are measures in place on set for everyone to adhere to, in order to keep in line with health and safety guidelines for returning to work.

"We do 245 shows a year and we were steaming away, then coronavirus came sweeping in like a great dark cloud," says Hewer, who has been presenting the game show since 2012, having taken over the reins from Jeff Stelling.

Anxieties

Now, after months of lockdown, the team - including Rachel Riley and Susie Dent - are back at work.

"Obviously, one is slightly apprehensive, but when we got back, the precautions that had been put in really alleviated any anxieties I'd had," says Hewer, whose previous television roles have included being one of Alan Sugar's advisers on The Apprentice for several years.

"They really put in some extraordinary protocols, and because I'm an old bloke they wrote me telling me all they were doing and asked me to go and see my doctor to agree, essentially, that was it enough to protect me. I thought that was all pretty thorough stuff.

"So we went back and, true enough, it was all a bit odd - no audience, everyone is sitting very far apart, there's a route through the studio, a one-way system, and I do my own make-up and my own sound stuff."

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Rachel Riley

Rachel Riley

PA

Rachel Riley

Hewer is full of praise for the Channel 4 team behind the scenes, although he's light-hearted about the "at a distance" make-up lessons he's receiving.

"There's a make-up artist with a screen like somebody attending a nuclear explosion, and they stand two metres away and say, 'a little bit more foundation please on the nose'. It's very big and very shiny," he says.

"Everything comes in a sealed container and they give me a brush to do my eyebrows with."

The atmosphere at work is "cordial and friendly" and there's a real family element to it all.

"Rachel brings her baby up, so we all coo over the baby. There's quite a family feeling, actually. It's lovely, it normalises it somehow," Hewer says.

"But we all eat in our dressing rooms as normal, and we all stay in.

"Because the hotels are not open, they've rented me an apartment, which is fine, so I'm cooking fish pie for myself. Well, I'm not, I'm heating it up, actually.

"I'm cooking it in the oven, but it's all prepared. I had to ring home to find out why the oven wouldn't heat and Catherine, my partner, said, 'Have you put it on the fan?' and I said, 'Fan, what's a fan?' Apparently, I've got a fan oven."

You can almost detect a cheeky smile over the phone as he adds: "I know how to open a bottle of wine."

Asked about Countdown and the impact it has had on his life, Hewer says: "It's tiring filming up to five shows a day, but it's wonderful, really, because what else would I be doing?

"I've recently discovered during lockdown the pleasure of staying at home, something that has escaped me for however long it is I've been an adult.

"I was always rushing off, working or whatever, but there I was, forced to stay at home. I thought, 'This is going to be tricky', but it was lovely, very pleasant."

He reflects on what has been keeping him busy during his at-home sojourn, and it's a far cry from consonants and conundrums - instead, think chickens, lawnmowers and workshops.

"We're spoilt and blessed because we have lots of room, so I was fiddling around," he says.

"We've got chickens here, so I can feed the chickens and slide my hand under a broody hen to see how many eggs she's covering up without getting pecked. That's quite a challenge.

"And then I've got a tractor, so I go off into the wood and mow all the stinging nettles, so I've had lots to do.

Haphazard

"I've built a workshop. I'm not good at making or mending anything, it's all very haphazard, but it's very much a bloke thing to open the door, go in, close it, turn the lights on and there are workbenches, power tools and mowers and old cars and stuff. It's great, I love it.

"So, to go back and leave this idyll was slightly difficult, but to go back and be doing something I've been doing for about nine years was great."

Having first been broadcast in 1982, Countdown is an afternoon staple, and with more than 80 series filmed, it's a firm favourite with Channel 4 audiences.

"What's so good about it, it's not silly, there are no flashy prizes. So much TV these days, everybody is shouting and having extravagant characters, which is so boring and so unnatural," Hewer says.

"Things like Love Island and all of these things, everybody's shouting at everybody else and showing off and being greedy with camera time.

"God bless, Countdown in series 82, everybody is normal. I'm not laughing hysterically at bad jokes somebody else is telling extravagantly. It's very English, and I like it."

Countdown is on Channel 4 at 2.10pm.