I made a life changing decision when I turned 50 – and thankfully it’s paid off, says Strictly star Claudia Winkleman

CLAUDIA Winkleman’s TV work has been dominated by Strictly Come Dancing for the past six years – but all that’s about to change since she turned 50.

The mum of three is hosting another BBC1 contest, The Traitors — a new, big-budget show which starts tonight and is arguably her biggest solo presenting role yet. 

I made a life changing decision when I turned 50 – and thankfully it’s paid off, says Strictly star Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman’s TV work has been dominated by Strictly Come Dancing for the past six years – but all that’s about to change since she turned 50Credit: BBC

I made a life changing decision when I turned 50 – and thankfully it’s paid off, says Strictly star Claudia Winkleman

Claudia with her husband, movie producer Kris Thykier, 50Credit: Rex

I made a life changing decision when I turned 50 – and thankfully it’s paid off, says Strictly star Claudia Winkleman

Strictly's leading ladies, Claudia with Tess DalyCredit: BBC

And she reckons the challenge has come at just the right time.

She said: “I turned 50 and thought I’d start saying yes to things. 

“I mean, it’s 50, and we’re only here for two minutes, so I felt like I wanted to work a bit more and be less risk-averse.

“I love it, I love being 50. Everything’s falling apart physically, it is like my skin is completely made of crepe paper now, who knew? 

“I’ve always just really liked playing bridge, and a heavy tog duvet. And at 50 you can do all of that and you don’t have to make any excuses. You’re no longer the odd one out.

“But then my eldest left home for university and I was asked to do this show and I just thought, ‘I just can’t say no’.

“I got in way too deep on that show. I’m really obsessed, but also worried nobody’s going to like it. It’s like giving birth again.”

Claudia’s role fronting the 12-part psychological reality series comes as she also bagged the job of hosting Channel 4 quiz One Question.

It’s a stark contrast to 2016, when she had started to scale back her broadcasting work, including Great British Sewing Bee and review show Film, to devote more time to the kids she shares with her husband, movie producer Kris Thykier, 50.

Now her eldest Jake, 19, has flown the nest and her daughter, Matilda, 16, is embroiled in her GCSEs. Her youngest, Arthur, is 11.

Making progress

Since landing the high-profile gig on Strictly — which she co-hosts with Tess Daly — Claudia has been desperate not to let work seep into her home life in the same way that her mother, newspaper editor and subsequent TV star Eve Pollard, used to keep her job separate from her family time.

Claudia said: “I feel incredibly lucky for what I do, but it’s a job, right? You take pride in it and you want to do well, but when you go home it’s all about, ‘Are we ordering a pizza or am I making a lasagne?’.

“I grew up with a newspaper editor as a mum and she never mentioned it. She dealt with it and it was invisible to our lives. We would have egg and chips and watch Arsenal but we never knew what she did. 

“She would just leave the house and come back in high heels smelling of perfume — she was amazing.

“But I never saw her on telly, we weren’t allowed to when we were growing up.

“Afterwards, yes, and I was immensely proud of her. But if I even mentioned it, she wasn’t interested, she’d change the subject.”

On the rare occasions that Claudia’s fame does become apparent to her two sons and daughter, she says they’re usually “mortified”. 

But most of the time they are not entirely sure what programme their mum is on, whether it’s the BBC1 dance contest or her Saturday morning show on Radio 2.

And that’s just how Claudia likes it.

She said: “The little one likes Strictly, but the eldest two, no. They don’t watch Strictly and I’d never watch myself. My daughter texted me quite a lot at about 10.30am on a Saturday going, ‘Have we run out of jam?’.

“I’m like, ‘I don’t need you to listen to my show, but I do need you to know that I’m live on BBC Radio 2. I can’t be in charge of jam right now, please just ask your dad’.”

Claudia’s children will have to get used to her being on our screens more — not just because she wants to take on extra work, but because she is now able to.

Once, TV was the preserve of middle-aged men, whereas women were usually under 40 or playing a supportive role.

But Claudia is now part of the growing band of fifty-something females fronting TV’s biggest hits.

Along with Tess, 53, hosting Strictly has seen her join a group of leading ladies including The Masked Singer’s Davina McCall, 55, and Britain’s Got Talent’s Amanda Holden, 51.

Even though it’s something Claudia celebrates, she also feels it’s a pity it has to be highlighted at all. 

She said: “I’d hope our age is now inconsequential, do you know what I mean? Nobody says to Ant and Dec, ‘Here you are in your late forties!’.

“Because they are amazing, and I want to continue to watch them for the next 20 years. Tess and I were so amazed by the hoo-haa about us hosting Strictly, because, at the time it was announced, the biggest show on TV was already hosted by two women — Mel and Sue presenting Bake Off.

I made a life changing decision when I turned 50 – and thankfully it’s paid off, says Strictly star Claudia Winkleman

'I love being 50. Everything’s falling apart physically, it is like my skin is completely made of crepe paper now, who knew? 'Credit: Rex

I made a life changing decision when I turned 50 – and thankfully it’s paid off, says Strictly star Claudia Winkleman

Claudia with her mum newspaper editor and subsequent TV star Eve PollardCredit: Rex

I made a life changing decision when I turned 50 – and thankfully it’s paid off, says Strictly star Claudia Winkleman

Claudia on a trailer for new TV show The TraitorsCredit: BBC

“So we were like, ‘Guys we’re just getting on with it’.

“I hope we’re making progress all the time, as a species and also as women. The public are now happy to watch men and women in their fifties, up to their eighties and nineties, on TV — that’s got to be good news.”

Claudia and Tess took over Strictly when Bruce Forsyth stepped down in 2014 after 10 years at the helm.

 Tess’s husband, Vernon Kay, says she would like to present it for as long as her predecessor.

 But Claudia doesn’t feel the same. She revealed: “I’ll do it for as long as they want me and I’m very grateful to them.” And does she have any plans to leave? Joking, she said: “Oh no, they’d still have to prize my cold, dead hands off that shiny glitterball.”

Her new project, The Traitors, is a seriously expensive show based on its Dutch equivalent.

It sees a group of strangers compete for £120,000 by playing a game of detection, backstabbing and trust inside a Scottish castle. Secret Traitors among them plot to “murder” players and it’s up others, known as The Faithful, to snare the bad guys. 

It couldn’t be further from the happy, glitzy Strictly, but Claudia says she couldn’t resist its draw.

She added: “I know this is bizarre, but it’s like when you meet someone and you fancy them, and everyone goes, ‘Look at their track record’, or they wear comedy socks, and you go, ‘Guys I’m powerless here!’. The addictive part of this thing is that unlike almost any other show, there is no luck and it doesn’t matter what qualifications you have. It is purely a game of nous.

“It’s a psychological expe- riment. If you put people in a room and they don’t know who to trust, what happens?

“You have to be wily, and I love wily. I’m obsessed with it.

“I left my daughter in the middle of her GCSEs to film this, and I’m not that mum.

“I’m the mum that still tries to cut up her sausages. But, no, off I went.”

  • The Traitors is on BBC1 tonight at 9.30pm.

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