Hannah Waddingham: From Ted Lasso to a Eurovision Song Contest star (2024)

ByIan Youngs,Entertainment & arts reporter

The standout stars of this year's Eurovision Song Contest do not just include the competitors - one of the hosts has become a fan favourite as well.

Hannah Waddingham has been a leading lady on stage for more than two decades and found wider fame thanks to TV shows Game of Thrones, Ted Lasso and Sex Education.

She can now add "Eurovision icon" to her CV.

Hannah Waddingham: From Ted Lasso to a Eurovision Song Contest star (1)Hannah Waddingham: From Ted Lasso to a Eurovision Song Contest star (2)PA Media

The English actress is co-hosting the contest's finals with British presenter Alesha Dixon and Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina and the BBC's Graham Norton.

While they have all been excellent so far, Waddingham in particular has earned rave reviews, and her appearances have capped her elevation to A-list status.

Viewers have responded to her unbridled energy and overflowing sense of fun, plus the effortless composure and assured stage presence that come from years in the West End and on Broadway.

Her enthusiastic facial expressions, exuberant style, impromptu dance moves and language skills also have the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand.

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At a press conference on Friday, one reporter informed her she had been dubbed "mother" on social media. "Can I just ask if that's a good thing?" she responded.

It is - being a term particularly used in the gay community to refer to iconic women.

Waddingham only hosted her first awards ceremony last month - the Olivier Awards - when she was particularly praised for comforting an emotional winner.

"It was my first ever presenting gig, [with] this subtle little one being my second," she said.

"As with the Oliviers - the winners and the losers, everyone [at Eurovision] makes the effort of their lives. All of us, all of them on stage, everyone backstage, we're all just trying to put on a beautiful, massive, joyous show, and be unified by music.

"So it's very much our job to be there for the ups and the downs for the winners and the losers, and that's why I wanted to get involved."

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Waddingham is from London and spent her childhood in theatres watching her mother, a singer with the English National Opera.

By her 20s, she was in leading roles in the West End herself. Waddingham now has three Olivier nominations to her name - for Monty Python show Spamalot, Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music and Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate.

After some TV roles, including in ITV comedy Benidorm, she was cast as Septa Unella, better known as the Shame Nun in Game of Thrones, joining in season five.

It was "horrifically difficult" to be taken seriously enough to make the leap from stage to screen - and she had to go to the US to make a real breakthrough, she has said.

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"You see the same faces constantly, I think, on British television. And that was my frustration," she told Kate Thornton's White Wine Question Time podcast in 2021.

"I had to jump over to the other side of the pond in order to get recognised. And I don't think that's right, personally."

But with a baby on the way, she no longer wanted to be on stage six nights a week. She started filming Game of Thrones just eight weeks after giving birth.

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That led to shows like Superman prequel Krypton. But while filming that, her daughter, three at the time, became seriously ill with Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP), which affects the blood vessels. It was "all a bit touch and go", Waddingham said.

After being unable to immediately get home to be with her, so told her agents she no longer wanted acting jobs that would require her to travel.

"I am first and foremost a mum, and more importantly, a single mum," she said. While her daughter was recovering a month later, she stood in her garden one night and "thanked the Universe" for making her better.

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While she was at it, she asked the Universe for another job that would allow her to be near her daughter and keep them afloat financially.

"And also, can I be so cheeky as to say, could it be something that shows everything that I can do, and things that I don't feel like I've been able to do yet? And is there any way it could just be around the corner?" she asked.

"And I'm not joking, within two months the audition came in for Ted Lasso, that shoots 40 minutes away from my house."

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The Universe came through. Waddingham won the role in the Apple TV+ comedy as Richmond FC owner Rebecca Welton, who hires hapless US coach Ted because she wants the team to fail to spite her former husband.

It became a hit, and Waddingham won an Emmy, a Critics' Choice Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Global fame has come relatively late. "You don't think your career is going to rev up during your 40s," she told the Plot Twist podcast last year. "Being a mother, you think it's going to slow down a bit."

There's not much chance of that. She recently appeared in Hocus Pocus 2 and ITV's Tom Jones, and will be in forthcoming films The Fall Guy, Garfield and Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part Two.

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If she hadn't made it as an actress, she would have liked to work as an interpreter, she has said. "I love languages."

She speaks Italian and French - as she demonstrated in the Eurovision semi-finals.

"I was just keen to show the hands across the water and try giving languages another go," she told reporters on Friday.

"It's that fine line of wanting to be respectful to a language and include it, but not screw it up. So I hope I'm doing OK."

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All the build-up, insights and analysis is explored on the BBC's Eurovisioncast.

Eurovisioncast is available on BBC Sounds, or search wherever you get your podcasts from.

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Hannah Waddingham: From Ted Lasso to a Eurovision Song Contest star (2024)
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