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Claudia Winkleman: a face for TV

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She thinks her day job is “moronic”, dismisses her appeal as “cheap and friendly” and assumes she’ll be fired from every position she gets. Meet Claudia Winkleman – the queen of self-deprecation

There you are, on the BBC every week, talking about Kurosawa on Wednesdays (Film 2013), Molière on Fridays (Radio 2 Arts Show) and foxtrot fiascos on winter weekends (Strictly Come Dancing). However, even a doyenne of prime-time media like Claudia Winkleman can still suffer moments of mind-wavering chaos. Give her a ring on a Monday morning and this is what you get:

“If somebody said, we’re doing a show on asparagus, I would love to do it. NO! NO! I’ve got a meeting! I’ve got to go! Argh!”

Then, you’re back to discussing asparagus again. But for the 41-year-old Cambridge graduate that anarchic energy and non sequitur-ish kookiness (she is somebody who didn’t stop skipping until she was 18) is a trademark of her presenting style, every bit as valuable as the kohlrimmed eyes or voluminous fringe.

ABOVE: Claudia with Sewing Bee judges May Martin and Patrick Grant

It’s a winning combination we’re about to see more of. Claudia is fronting BBC2’s The Great British Sewing Bee, which aims to do for needlework what The Great British Bake Off did for meringue-making. Just like its wildly successful forebear, the show sees eight amateurs battling each other with two judges (stern WI-woman May Martin and Savile Row designer Patrick Grant) assessing their A-line skirts and scallop necklines.

The Great British Sewing Bee couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The cult of SIY (sew-it-yourself) is thriving. While pubs and high streets flounder in the recession, the number of fabric shops has risen 44% in the last year. Across the UK, ‘craftivists’ congregate for ‘stitch’n’bitch’ sessions, sales of sewing machines are soaring, and there are even cafes (such as King’s Cross’ Drink, Shop, Do) where customers can learn to make corsages, garters and underwear.

Even Claudia – a self-confessed anti-homebody who “couldn’t sew a button” – is now making clothes for her kids. Here, she talks about presenting howlers, Fairy Liquid cakes and how she’d choose bobbins over Bond Street any day…

Why should we watch The Great British Sewing Bee? How would you sell the show to stitching-sceptics?

It’s going to make people think. I got a total buzz out of watching people turn a piece of two-dimensional fabric into something you wear. The Great British Bake Off made me stop buying supermarket cakes – I get so much enjoyment making my own instead, even if they’re inedible because a six year old put Fairy Liquid in them. In the same way, buying grey tweed and turning that into a skirt is thrilling.

Has it inspired you to take up the needle-and-thread yourself?

Only my kids’ clothes [Claudia has three children with film producer husband Kris Thykier]. Because I’m really horrible, my daughter’s had the same coat for three years. So I got some fake-fur and wrapped it around the hood and sleeves. Now, she thinks she’s got a new coat! I don’t want to be a mug anymore. I don’t want to buy a round-necked blouse for my daughter that costs a fortune because it’s Liberty Print. I want to buy a fabric with her then make it together. And it would cost a hundredth of the price.

Could sewing ever become cool?

Yes. On the school run, there’s one super-glam mum who works for Vanity Fair. One day, she was wearing this herringbone skirt with chiffon band. She was like, “I’m always sewing stuff on”. You don’t have to go to Bond Street and spend a fortune. You can just alter things to make them prettier.

Some people argue that the rise in domestic pursuits like sewing and baking is a step back for feminism…

Not if men are baking and sewing it isn’t. If my husband turned to me and said, “Look, love, sew this button on, then throw a pie in the oven,” it would be a problem. But if he’s going, “Sweetheart, I’m just making you a burger, then I might make Jake’s shirt baggier,” that’s fine.

ABOVE: Non-fringe flashback: Claudia on God's Gift in 1997

Does your passion for handmade stuff extend to your house?

I haven’t made a thing! But we have cushions all over our house that my mum [ex-newspaper editor Eve Pollard] made. She’s always done tapestry, despite her career and two babies.

What’s the coolest thing in your house (apart from the fridge)?

My kids. I’m at home most of the time, so I’m incredibly lucky. I’ve got lots of friends with proper jobs, like lawyers. It’s tough because they leave at eight, and come back at eight.

Do you regret presenting God’s Gift [think Blind Date but with semipornographic tasks] and on Live TV [whose most famous show was topless darts] early in your career?

For me, it’s always been about, “This seems fun, I’m going to do it”. And I was at Live TV before topless darts. But I’m sure there have been times my parents were upset they spent so much money on my education and I ending up doing something stupid like presenting telly.

But it’s a real skill coming across as likeable on TV…

Oh god, I’m not. I don’t have any appeal. I’m really cheap and quite friendly. TV presenting is genuinely moronic – you just need the ability to read out loud. So I do that. My main job is as a mum, the rest is just stuff I do to buy shoes.

What’s been your biggest presenting faux pas?

I once introduced Engelbert Humperdinck as “Ingelbert Dimper Dunk” on live TV. I’m doing stuff all the time, falling over, being an idiot.

Do you still get nervous?

Absolutely terrified. But that’s what I love about it. I don’t like pre-recorded TV for that reason. I love working and earning my own money, that’s a feminist thing, but I can’t believe they’re still letting me do it. I assume I’ll get fired from every job I have. I’ve always thought one day, somebody will turn around and say, “Time’s up”. And when they do that, I think I’m ready for it.

The Great British Sewing Bee is on Tuesdays, 8pm, BBC Two. The Great British Sewing Bee book by Tessa Evelegh is out now (£20, Quadrille)

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