She’s famous for that fringe, fake tan and her ditzy double act on Strictly — a mix that’s made her a top earner at the BBC. But in this refreshingly honest interview, CLAUDIA WINKLEMAN admits: One of the highest-paid women on TV? No one is more surprised than me!
- Claudia Winkleman, 47, is one of BBC's top earning women, along with Zoe Ball
- The Strictly host commands a salary of between £370,000 and £374,999 a year
- She also earns an undisclosed amount as an ambassador for Head & Shoulders
- She recounts work experience teaching her ‘be the first there, the last to leave'
- Mother-of-three who studied art history at Cambridge, spoke about her career
- Claudia believes her signature fringe has helped her to get employed
Claudia Winkleman is not very big on ablutions. ‘I think the last time I washed my face was in the 1980s!’ she says.
‘I’ve never used a facial cleanser and I never, ever take my make-up off before I go to bed. I think we can all agree if you’re leaning over a sink with some toner on a ball of cotton wool at the end of the evening, then life has gone badly wrong.’
On she chats.
‘So if I’m in the bath with my eight-year-old, I might go mad and splash some water on. But I generally get into bed fully made-up — I have better dreams that way.’
Then the next day, she says, she’ll drop the kids off while wearing yesterday’s make-up — ‘I let it crisp up on the school run’ — and finally wash it off in the shower the following day.
‘Life is just too short for complicated beauty regimes,’ she says.
Strictly host, Claudia Winkleman, 47, (pictured) who is one of the BBC's top earning women, reflected on her career success
Which is perhaps why, close up, she is a bit disconcerting-looking. Vast eyes inked in thick, gothic Alice Cooper–style liner; skier-white lipstick; a thick, dark extremely angular helmet of hair; and, of course, orange, orange, orange! Every inch of skin on display — slim ankles, a knee through a ripped jean, slender hands poking out of her navy polo-neck’s sleeves and, most of all, her face — is distinctly Jaffa.
‘Next week I’m going to ‘double dip’!’ she says. ‘I’m going to go really dark. As I say to my kids: if you’re doing to do something, really do it!’
While, of course, a deep fake tan is mandatory for a Strictly Come Dancing host, the rest of her distinctive ‘look’ is very much not.
Particularly the dense, choppy fringe that covers half her face — ‘I’m going to keep growing it until it covers my whole face like a curtain.’
Claudia insists it is part uniform, part protective armour and mostly lazy shortcut to doing the absolute minimum necessary to look presentable.
‘It’s a cheat. If you’ve got a fringe, your look is sort of done and you never, ever have to change it, which suits me as I am fantastically lazy. I am the most lazy person you’ll ever meet,’ says one of the highest-paid women on television.
Thanks to Strictly and her weekly Radio 2 show on Sunday, Claudia, 47, has risen to become one of the BBC’s two top-earning on-air women (along with Zoe Ball), commanding a salary of between £370,000 and £374,999 a year according to the BBC’s annual report released this summer.
She also earns an undisclosed amount as brand ambassador for the shampoo Head & Shoulders, which she says she’s been using for decades. (‘I actually bloody love it! My dad used it, my stepdad used it, my kids use it, my husband loves it. It has the consistency of yoghurt, it lathers like a dream.’)
Claudia (pictured with Claudia with her Strictly co-host Tess Daly) earns an undisclosed amount as brand ambassador for Head & Shoulders, fans have sent her many questions about her hair
While we might not all want to replicate every aspect of Claudia’s very distinctive look, her fans are obsessed with her hair.
‘I had a fantasy that when I went on Strictly, I’d get letters from fishermen who painted on Sundays and could make a good stew and would ask me out to dinner,’ she says. ‘But every single message is about my hair and only about my hair. Why is it so shiny? What products do I use? And have I ever thought of not having a fringe? Over and over.’
Not that she’ll ever change what she calls ‘Fringeworld’. ‘I can’t,’ she says,’ because a) my forehead is a disgrace. I don’t even know what’s up there. There could be squirrels living up there, possibly a toucan. And with a fringe, I don’t need Botox. I don’t need to do anything at all.’
(I ask several times to see if her forehead is wrinkly, but she won’t even show me her eyebrows. I can just see them lurking as she bounces about.)
‘I think genuinely it’s the only reason I get employed. They might not know my name, so they just say: “You know, the fringe one.” ’
Claudia’s rise has certainly been stratospheric — from reporter on BBC’s Holiday, to hostess of a series of minor quiz shows to appearances on This Morning, to presenting Strictly Come Dancing’s week-night spin-off It Takes Two from 2004. She has been presenting the main Strictly show, alongside Tess Daly, since 2014.
Claudia (pictured) revealed she loves the adrenaline that comes with working for live TV, in the same way that she used to love exams
Even her mum, Fleet Street doyenne Eve Pollard (who, one might assume, has been at Claudia’s side, advising and negotiating) admitted it all sort of crept up and took them unawares. ‘Nobody’s more surprised than me,’ says Claudia. ‘I don’t know how to explain it. I feel incredibly bonkers lucky [here she starts clambering up the sofa in search of wood to touch], and I assume it will end any minute now. And that’s also fine. It can end, and I am incredibly grateful for what I’ve had.’
As to the question, why her, she insists she’s as bewildered as the rest of us.
‘I think I was in the right place at the right time, you know — “Oh, yes, you can have a go if you want.” And when I’m there, I work hard. Although I might not look it with my fringe and eyeliner, I am also very obedient. I am always on time and very friendly and helpful.’
She describes her job as ‘reading aloud’. ‘I think it’s a lot easier than you think,’ she adds. ‘I think most people are good at it.’
Perhaps her passion for live TV helps. While many presenters loathe it, she adores the buzz. When, in 2010, and to some people’s consternation, she succeeded Jonathan Ross to present BBC’s film review show for six years, Claudia insisted on doing it live. She’s good at it, too — natural, funny, a bit kooky, immensely likeable and fantastically relaxed.
‘Imagine if a camera came in now,’ she cries. ‘We’d be outstanding! We’d sit differently. Our chat would be better.
‘I love the adrenaline, knowing it could all go skew-whiff. I used to love exams — how you get one shot. I’m always trying to explain to my eldest that if you’re doing GCSEs, then really do them. I am the opposite of a perfectionist; I just like to get things done.’
Claudia (pictured with Tess Daly) recalls growing up in a household where her feminist mother insisted on not focusing on appearance
Claudia adds that when she and her brother did work experience as teens, Eve and stepfather Sir Nicholas Lloyd, former editor of the Daily Express, drummed it into them to ‘be the first there, the last to leave, be helpful and make tea and coffee’.
Eve had a few other useful life lessons, too. For starters, the entire house was mirror-free, and the whole family fostered a very relaxed attitude to nudity, wandering around naked as they got ready to go out or putting the kids to bed.
‘Mum was a staunch feminist and would say: “Life’s too short to worry about your shell — what you look like is the least interesting thing about you.” ’ Claudia insists that, as a result, she isn’t remotely vain. ‘We weren’t allowed to be. I don’t think I even knew what I looked like until university!’
Also banned were Barbie Dolls, ballet lessons, trying to be cool and television.
‘I think that’s why I went into television, because it felt so intoxicating to me,’ she says.
(Now she and husband, Danish producer Kris Thykier, have their own children, Jake, 15, Matilda, 13, and eight-year-old Arthur, Claudia has followed suit with just one mirror in their Westminster home — reserved for tooth-brushing. She is extremely body-unselfconscious and open, and has never locked a loo door in her life.)
She can’t get her head round her career success.
‘There’s lots of us girls — all adorable and good at it — Davina, Holly, Tess, Fern, Emma Willis. We’re having a laugh and we’re grateful. Unbelievably grateful. Because ten or 15 years ago at 47 . . . exactly!’ she cries, referring to the fading shadow of ageism in the world of TV.
Claudia (pictured with husband, Kris Thykier) says that she doesn't do much exercise, focusing instead on healthy eating
Not that she seems remotely bothered about getting older and insists she has no truck with specialist products.
‘Anti-ageing? Are you mad?’ she shrieks. ‘I have clean hair and I sleep. That train has left the station, so what are you going to do? So bring it, bring it! I want to look 47, and next year I will look 48.’
She also says she does almost no exercise. ‘I once went to a spinning class six times,’ she recalls. ‘It was so fun; I felt like I’d been to a nightclub. I felt absolutely amazing because I’m almost agoraphobic and I never go out.’ But then she got costochondritis (a painful inflammation of the chest muscles), which she blames on her poor posture (‘I’m like a tortoise!’) and had to stop.
So she tried yoga. ‘I went once, but they told me to breathe, and I was like: “I am!”
Instead, she tries to eat healthily and avoid sugar, but usually caves in at 4pm when she picks up Arthur, whom she calls Bear, from school, and tucks into his snacks.
Then she took up bridge.
‘Bridge is my sport! I am obsessed with bridge. It is the greatest thing, and you get to sit down. You’ve got to do it. It will change your life. That and a Gravity blanket! I sound like a 98-year-old woman.’
She goes on to stress, several more times, that she’s the most boring and lazy person I will ever meet, while sounding anything but.
‘I eat the same food, in the same restaurants. I am not experimental. I am never going to wake up and say: “Today I’m going to wear pink gingham and put my hair in bunches,” ’ she says.
Though she did recently have what she calls ‘a midlife crisis’ and have the ends of her hair dyed blonde. ‘I couldn’t help myself! And I got this [she waves her teeny thumb at me]: a 40-quid thumb ring.’
Claudia's daughter Matilda (pictured in 2014 with Kris) suffered terrible injuries when her Halloween costume caught fire in 2014
Next, she wants a tattoo.
‘I would love one,’ she enthuses. ‘Not hidden. If I’m having a tattoo, I want it out there. So maybe the names of all my children, possibly my address. My mum’s phone number. The kids’ favourite things to snack on . . .’
While she is very funny, good company, incredibly chatty and clearly extremely clever — privately educated at City of London School for Girls, she went on to get a good degree in art history from Cambridge — Claudia is relentlessly trivial. She adores a detail, any detail: about a favourite blanket; her love for brandy butter; how she leaves her boots on in bed for her morning nap; loves rain; hates summer; and how bright white she is underneath the fake tan.
She uses trivia to deflect anything more significant — her vast salary, current affairs (other than admitting to sitting ‘mouth agape’ in shock while watching the Ten O’Clock News), or the terrible injuries her then eight-year-old daughter Matilda suffered in 2014 when her Halloween costume caught fire.
‘I heard her shout and she was on fire,’ she said at the time. ‘It was like those horrific birthday candles that you blow out and they come back. It was really fast.’
Today, nearing the fifth anniversary, she won’t be drawn on that ‘life-changing’ night, but says she counts her blessings constantly.
She is also obsessively self-deprecatory about everything from career success to how slim she is.
‘I am so not!’ she cries, immediately grabbing and squeezing a teeny thigh.
She shrieks ‘Disgusting! Disgusting!’ when the photos pop up on the screen of her looking, frankly, gorgeous at the photoshoot.
And she refuses to accept she is remotely famous.
Claudia (pictured with Kris) once founder herself in tears because of work commitments, she now works hard for the last few months of the year and protects the rest
‘Don’t even say that!’ she squeals. ‘I’m definitely not famous. I’m on the Tube four times a day — which idiot sends their kids to different schools? — and I’m never, ever recognised.’
But she glows when she talks of her family. Her 73-year-old mum, who was ‘so embarrassing’ when she was a child, but to whom Claudia now talks three times a day and is ‘brilliant’ at advice; how she would choose her teenage son over anyone to have dinner with (‘He’s magnificent and very funny’); babying Arthur (‘I still cut up his sausages!’); and teaching her children her mantra: ‘Be nothing else but funny and kind.’
Spending enough time with the kids is her biggest priority.
A few years ago, when she was juggling the BBC film show with a magazine column and Strictly, she found herself weeping and overwhelmed in John Lewis on Christmas Eve at all the time she’d missed with her kids.
So she turned down Film 2016 and, earlier this year, gave up the magazine column. While she used to get drawn into other BBC presenting gigs including The Great British Sewing Bee and last year Britain’s Best Home Cook with Mary Berry, this year she hasn’t done anything since the live final of Icons: The Greatest Person Of The 20th Century back in February.
‘Now I work hard for the last few months of the year and fiercely protect the rest,’ she says.
Given she’s now the Beeb’s favourite female megastar, she could probably choose any show. But when I ask what she fancies next, she looks shocked.
‘Nothing! Nothing at all. I’ve far, far exceeded my own expectations. I just want to say thank you very much indeed.’
Claudia Winkleman is an ambassador for Head & Shoulders (headandshoulders.co.uk).