Claudia Winkleman is in a happy place. She’s pregnant, and is one of those peculiar women who simply love the experience (apparently it’s not all vomit and varicose veins). She’s also got a new show starting up on Channel 4, King Of…, that she is ridiculously excited about.
The show aim is that each week, Claudia, her celebrity guests and a studio audience will deliberate and debate to find the definitive, the top, the crème de la crème – in short, the king of just about everything.
Today, she’s bursting with enthusiasm and bonhomie – until the subject of Pink Lady apples is raised.
You’ve never had a regular gig on Channel 4 before. What’s taken you so long?
I don’t think I’ve ever been employed by Channel 4 before. Oh – I was. I did a terrible show. It was such a bad show that even my parents said “There’s got to be another way to pay rent.” It was about cars. If I tell you that while I was actually filming it, I had a small nap, does that give you an idea of how interesting it was? I don’t even like cars, I can’t even drive a car, I can’t spell car. [Otherwise] I don’t think I’ve really worked for Channel 4. I’ve done the The Big Fat Quiz of the Year with Jonathan Ross. That’s joyful, and they have the best snacks.Of all the shows you’ve done, which have been the closest to your heart?
I’ll do anything for a fiver, you should know that. Honestly. If they were doing a documentary about avocados, a six part series called Avocados – A Closer Look, and they sent me a cab and gave me some crisps, I’d probably do it. The show that’s closest to my heart is the Radio 2 Arts Show, which I love, because I could never say out loud ‘I quite like going to a gallery’ without people going ‘Moron!’ And I can do it on there and nobody minds. And of course the dancing, I got quite involved with Strictly. Well, I did it for 900 years, talking about the foxtrot.
What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done on television? You’ve interviewed some incredibly famous and important people, and done masses of live TV – what was the scariest?
Easily the most nerve-wracking thing I do is anything for Comic Relief. You feel like there’s somebody who might call and they might not call depending on whether I’m incredibly annoying with an over-long fringe and a slight tic. Maybe they’ll just switch off. So you feel responsibility. I once dressed up as an orange for This Morning, for fruit awareness week -seriously. Live link, I’m on the South Bank, dressed as a Seville orange. I like being orange, so it was working for me on every level, but Richard went ‘Claudia’ and at that point I lost my ear piece in the back of the orange. I’m dressed as an orange, and I have to interview someone who’s dressed as a pineapple. That, as nerve-wracking goes, was up there. But it’s all reasonably nerve-wracking, but it’s also, in the nicest possible way, only telly.
Speaking Of telly, your new series is King Of… What’s the concept of the show?
I’ve played King Of… all my life. I’ve been married for about 80 years, so when we go on holiday, we’ve had every conversation there is. By your sixth holiday, I know how you feel about geography, I know you want to lick my ear, I know what that means. I get it. My husband once turned to me and said ‘King Of nuts?’ You think it’s a pistachio – it isn’t, that’s wrong. But we found this joyful. I play this with friends, I play it with my children all the time. We played it this morning – King Of underwater creatures. What do you think it is?
I like a starfish.
Ok. You’re wrong. It’s lovely that you’ve got an opinion, but it is a seahorse. You could fight for killer whale, and my eight-year-old put forward quite a strong argument for octopus, just for weirdness. Anyway, let’s not play the game now. The point is, I had a meeting with a boy from Channel 4 who was charming, called Justin, and I sat there and said ‘I want to make this into a show. King Of.’ And he said ‘That’s absolute nonsense.’ And I said ‘Alright, King Of condiments?’ An hour later, he shouted at me ‘It’s not horseradish, get out of my office,’ and then called and said ‘Hmm, yes, let’s make a pilot.’
So how does it feel to be let loose on your own show where you get to talk about things you’re really passionate about?
I’m incredibly nervous. I’m also incredibly pregnant, which means that I’m incredibly unhinged. Those, added up, I think might make television disaster. This might be the worst thing you’ve ever seen in your life, but I’m incredibly flattered they’ve let me do it. I’ll just wear a lot of black eyeliner and hope for the best.
What kind of things will you be looking for the King Of?
It’s a good question. Everything has a winner. It might be King Of royals, it might be King Of cheeses. King Of musicals – I don’t know, I don’t like it when people break into song. King Of city breaks – is it Barcelona? Is it Rome? Hold on a minute, I think it is Venice. No. Is it Lyons? King Of things to put on toast. King Of artists? I want to say it’s Vermeer, but I know that that would make my dad punch me in the head, because he’d probably say it was Picasso. So anything and everything – often to suit the person you’re chatting to. King Of fruit? It’s probably a Braeburn.
It’s a Pink Lady.
Pink Lady’s not even a real apple. It was just invented recently for M&S I can’t believe you just said that to me. I respect you less, I think you should know that.
Who would be your King Of guests?
Anyone who plays the game. If you have the coolest, funniest, cleverest guest and they came on and said ‘What do you mean, King Of sandwich fillings? I don’t care’ they would no longer be the King Of guests. I don’t know – Miranda Hart is my favourite person on earth, so if she came on, I’d be delighted.
Isn’t King Of a bit patriarchal? Shouldn’t it be Monarch of?
No, because King Of’s got a nicer ring to it. I’m okay with that. Girls are kings. King Of the sexes? Women. Deal with that.
What kind of subjects do you think will really exercise you? What are the categories that you’ll be most passionate about?
I get very passionate about the little things, the minutiae. One of my favourite King Ofs ever was King Of things to do at 4pm on a Sunday. I think, in the end, we went with ‘Sit down and have a little cry.’ It felt right.
Sunday, the beginning of the week, the children don’t listen to you, you’re no longer attracted to your other half, your friends are a bit annoying – just going upstairs for a tiny sob and then coming back, felt like one of my favourite categories. But that’s just me. My best friend in the whole world, after a rosé-heavy Sunday lunch, stood up and burst into tears when I said I thought the King Of cuisines was Japanese.
She stood up and said ‘I thought I knew you better,’ and turned around and walked. That’s what we’re dealing with. You think ‘I’m pretty happy about what you think the King Of crisps is,’ and then all of a sudden you’re going to say it’s Salt and Vinegar, and I’m going to go home and think that you are a moron.’
Can I ask you for some of your Kings of?
If I know, definitely, yes, but I don’t want this to be official. I have a problem with that.
King Of comedians?
King Of books?
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.
King Of TV dinners?
I don’t believe in them.
King Of Channel 4 programmes?
What’s on Channel 4? All of it’s brilliant. Is Titchmarsh on Channel 4?
Shame, you should get him.
King Of films?
Oh, that’s mean. I can’t. E.T. for sentimental reasons.
King Of websites?
King Of Sweden?
He seems lovely.
You’ve mentioned you’ll be pregnant during filming. What difficulties to you envisage this causing?
I don’t know if there’s enough chocolate on earth to keep me going. No, I love being pregnant. This human – I think it’s a human – my kids are hoping it’s a pony – it feels sometimes a bit like a pony – it is particularly wriggly. So I don’t know what to do about that. I love Channel 4, because I don’t think ever before has somebody this pregnant started a brand new series. I told someone in charge at Channel 4 that I was pregnant and said ‘Shall we talk again next year?’ And she said ‘If it’s alright with you, we’ll just crack on.’ I said ‘Okay, but you realise I get really big. I’m like a mountain. I am fat from the chin down. I’m eating as if I’m on death row. I’m eating butter with my hands.’ She was like ‘No problem’. So I love them for that. And I’d much prefer to work while it was in there, and then when it comes out, I can just lick it.
What ambitions do you have left?
What would be your King Of presenting jobs?
Doing this is pretty much King Of. I’m fine. I was done a long time ago. When I was presenting a show about crocheted animals for Granada Breeze, I had reached the peak. The fact that I’m still allowed to do this is, quite frankly, insane.
Have you thought about doing stand up?
No, I can’t do stand up, because I like a sit down. I don’t believe in movement, I’m Jewish.
By Benjie Goodhart
King Of…, Friday nights on Channel 4.