free hit counter code I was called a ‘lanky freak’ & told I looked like I’d had a STROKE – now bullies offer me jobs, says Hannah Waddingham –

I was called a ‘lanky freak’ & told I looked like I’d had a STROKE – now bullies offer me jobs, says Hannah Waddingham

HANNAH Waddingham has a list in her head of all the people who slighted her on her grindingly slow rise to the top of the showbusiness world. 

As she hangs out with Ryan Gosling, gets in helicopters with Tom Cruise and seems well on her way to becoming a bona fide national treasure, who would deny the Ted Lasso breakout star – who turns 50 in July – the satisfaction of occasionally thinking of all the people she would be happy to say, in her words, “bog off” to? 

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 25: Hannah Waddingham poses at Bingham Riverhouse in her award show look for the 27th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 25, 2021 in London, England. Due to COVID-19 restrictions the 2021 SAG Awards will be a one-hour, pre-taped event airing April 4 on TNT and TBS. (Photo by Darren Bell/Getty Images for ABA)
Actress Hannah Waddingham has had the last laugh when it comes to her school bullies
USA. Ryan Gosling and Hannah Waddingham in a scene from (C)Universal Pictures new film : The Fall Guy (2024). .Plot: Colt Seavers is a stuntman who left the business a year earlier to focus on both his physical and mental health. He's drafted back into service when the star of a mega-budget studio movie, which is being directed by his ex, goes missing. .Ref: LMK110-J106459-030424.Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only..Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets.
Hannah stars opposite Ryan Gosling in The Fall Guy

For starters, there are the school bullies who labelled the 5ft 11in beauty a “lanky freak”.

There’s also the drama teacher who announced to the whole class: “Oh, Hannah will never work on screen because she looks like one side of her face has had a stroke.”

There are the boyfriends who told her she was not good enough, as well as all the casting directors who said she was too tall or too curvy – but now want to cast her. 

“Yes, there is a little list of people who wouldn’t give me the time of day but now want to work together,” the star said recently on the podcast Sunday Sitdown With Willie Geist.

“And I am happy to say to them: ‘Please look somewhere else. I’m human. I remember. Bog off.’”

Hannah likes to joke that she’s the longest-incubating overnight star in history.

She’s been hoofing and sweating away in the West End for decades, but it took a sweet show about an American coach who’s hired to manage a British football team for people to realise her potential. 

Since Ted Lasso hit our screens, she’s won an Emmy, had her own Christmas show, hosted Eurovision, featured in the Marks & Spencer Christmas ad, is currently starring in hit blockbuster The Fall Guy with Ryan Gosling and will soon be seen with Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 8. 

Everything she does just makes the public love her more – from when she told off a paparazzi for demanding she show more leg on the red carpet to cheekily drinking out of a bracelet flask at the BAFTAs, where she was nominated for two gongs – one for her show Hannah Waddingham: Home For Christmas and another for Best Entertainment Performance for Eurovision. 

She feels like a genuine breath of fresh air – someone who is thoroughly enjoying her moment in the spotlight.

It’s little wonder that many of her contemporaries couldn’t be happier for her. 

“Hannah is a phenomenon – as an actress, a singer and at presenting award shows,” Birds Of A Feather star Lesley Joseph tells Fabulous.

“Her success is so thoroughly deserved and has proved that just because you work in one aspect of the business, it doesn’t mean you can’t do everything else, too.”

While EastEnders and Friday Night Dinner star Tracy-Ann Oberman tells us that Hannah’s journey is empowering for all women in the showbiz industry.

“It is a success that has been a joy to watch,” she says.

“A grown woman, glamorous and brilliant at what she does, achieving the heights of success. It’s like she’s doing it for all of us.”

‘Overnight success’

Hannah is someone who believes in the power of manifesting – putting out into the world what you would like to achieve.

But, she admits, even she could never have imagined how much her dreams would be exceeded. 

“I am a 31-year overnight success – that’s a comedy in itself,” she told the Willie Geist podcast.

“What has happened to me is ridiculous. It is lovely, but incredible. I am a firm believer in manifestation and I feel like I have been chucking things out there and someone has really been listening. 

“I finished The Fall Guy, got back to London, unpacked my cases, repacked a smaller case, flew to meet Tom Cruise. He met me on the tarmac and said: ‘Let me take your bag [off] you.’ It was mental. We flew in an Osprey [helicopter] over the sea and landed on a ship with 4,500 people waiting for us. 

“There have been so many pinch-me moments. All my dreams come true. But I know that I worked hard for this. For a long time, I had no life, so I don’t take any of this lightly.”

Hannah never had a plan B – she told her parents at just four years old that she wanted to act.

Her mother Melodie Kelly was an opera singer, as were both of her maternal grandparents, and she was in theatres from a very early age. 

It was just a foregone conclusion that I would do it

Hannah on going into the world of performance

“I don’t recall thinking I would do anything else,” Hannah has said.

“The force was very strong. I would sit there watching the amazing directors for hours on end like it was my childcare. There was no planned-out stream of consciousness – it was just a foregone conclusion that I would do it.”

Like her mother, Hannah is a talented singer with a four-octave vocal range and, after leaving drama school, made her West End debut in Saucy Jack And The Space Vixens at the Queen’s Theatre in 1998.

She may have been largely unknown to the wider world, but quite quickly she climbed to leading lady positions in the West End, creating the role of Christine Warner in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s The Beautiful Game.

And she is a three-time Olivier Award nominee for her work in Spamalot, A Little Night Music and Kiss Me, Kate.

It was when Hannah was in Spamalot on Broadway in 2008, she realised that for American actors at least, there was a way of being a star in musical theatre and TV. 

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage...Mandatory Credit: Photo by Apple TV/Everett/Shutterstock (14219886b)..TED LASSO, from left: Hannah Waddingham, Jason Sudeikis, 'Two Aces', (Season 1, ep. 106, aired Sept. 4, 2020). photo: ©Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection..Everett Collection - 04 Sep 2020
The British star on Apple TV hit Ted Lasso with co-star Jason Sudeikis
Hannah snapped with daughter Kitty

“On Broadway, I could see things were different. People would ebb and flow in and out of the two mediums and be respected for it, while in the UK it was: ‘Are you this or are you that?’” she says. 

“I actually parted company with an agent when they said: ‘Well, what would you like us to market you as?’ I said: ‘If we are having this conversation, then I’m jogging on.’ There was a feeling at the time of being greedy. But I knew I needed to have a little stretch. I had been indoctrinated to stay in my lane and now I realised I didn’t have to.”

Just like various other West End stars, she had a chorus role in the 2012 film Les Misérables and it was to be an important lesson.

Fed up with the way the theatre actors were being treated, she told off the film’s director Tom Hooper when he asked someone to tell the West End actors to tone down their performances. 

“We had a gentle falling out. I heard what he said and I’d had enough, and because I only had one scene, I thought: ‘I have to say something.’ It was like that scene in Jurassic Park when the nice dinosaur starts screaming.

“I’d had enough of feeling that I should be grateful for a small scene here and there. So I said to Tom: ‘Do you realise that this girl here is playing Fantine in the West End? And this girl is playing Elphaba in Wicked? We are all here doing one scene for this movie, but can I remind you that you wouldn’t have a film to direct unless people like us were in the West End? So if you want us to take it down, ask us and we will.’” It could have got her fired, but Tom – fortunately – appreciated her candour. 

“Thankfully, we laughed about it and he would joke around and say things like: ‘Waddingham, can we go again?’ I was just so sick and tired of people writing off musical theatre actors.” 

When she won her Emmy in 2021, she said in an impassioned speech: “West End musical performers need to be on screen more. Please give them a chance, because we won’t let you down.”

It was the comedy Benidorm – which still feels a long way from Tom Cruise – that helped Hannah get her big break on screen.

Writer Derren Litten, who was a fan of her theatre work, pushed against producers who said they wanted a television name.

“I’m very grateful to him,” she says of the role of no-nonsense firecracker Tonya Dyke. 

From that came a small but pivotal role in Game Of Thrones as Septa Unella – the nun who accompanies Cersei Lannister in her famous walk of shame.

Hannah’s nine-year-old daughter Kitty, from her relationship with Italian hotelier Gianluca Cugnetto, was just 10 weeks old at the time.

In later scenes, when Cersei gets her revenge, Hannah had to endure 10 hours of waterboarding, which she says has left her claustrophobic to this day.

Game Of Thrones creators, David Benioff and DB Weiss, helped her get the role in Ted Lasso, after some of the show’s producers turned their noses up at casting an “unknown” in the key role of Rebecca, the club owner who aims to deliberately sabotage the team’s chances as revenge against her ex-husband.

History of troubled relationships

But Rebecca, it seems, was a part she was born to play. 

In this role as the tough boss with the vulnerable centre, she could see her own history of troubled relationships. 

“I could feel [Rebecca] rippling through my bloodstream – it was such a small adjustment to play her, because of previous experiences I’ve had,” Hannah has said about the part. 

“People wouldn’t have expected someone of my height and build and front-footedness to have [had] a verbally abusive relationship with someone, but I have. And so [the role] was hugely cathartic to play. There were times in that first season when I would ask: ‘Have you got cameras in my house?’, because it was freaky how many similarities there were.”

Hannah has never revealed who her verbally abusive relationship was with, but says she gets on with ex Gianluca, who she split from when Kitty was two and a half. 

The actress had decided, aged 39, that she wanted a child, but was told that her fertility was too low and that she’d have “no chance” of conceiving.

In typical fashion, she proved the doctors wrong, becoming pregnant just months later and bringing her baby home from hospital on her 40th birthday.

But aged three, Kitty fell ill and was subsequently diagnosed with Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP), a painful autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and bleeding in the blood vessels, leading to rashes and sore joints. 

Hannah asked her agent to find her a role in the UK – which was to be Ted Lasso – and she also decided to cut toxic men from her life.

Today, she is keen to only have positive people in her life – and that means being very careful around who she lets into her world. 

“It became clear, very quickly, I couldn’t cope with my daughter’s sudden illness and the toxic male dominance in my life at the time,” she said in an interview last year.

“I had to pull her close on that dustbin lid and say: ‘Do you know what, my girl? This is it. You and me. Just us little chickens.’”

While Hannah was rumoured to be dating singer Alfie Boe a year ago, at the start of the year she said she was single on the Reign With Josh Smith podcast. 

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin Parry/Shutterstock (13911123ch)..Eurovision hosts Hannah Waddingham and Graham Norton at The Eurovision Song Contest 2023 Grand Final..Eurovision Song Contest - grand final, Liverpool, UK - 13 May 2023
Hannah presenting Eurovision alongside Graham Norton last year
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 12: Hannah Waddingham attends as The Empire State Building and Christian Siriano present NYFW at The Empire State Building on February 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)
The stunning actress posing in blue on top of the Empire State Building in NYC

“My primary function is being a single mama,” she told him.

“There’s an awful lot of ‘misogs’ – miserable old gits – out there. I don’t need them. 

“I don’t go much on stereotypical cutie-pie, whatever, sexy, whatever. I want a guy that scoops me up and goes: ‘I’ve got you. I don’t care if you’ve got your make-up on or not, I’m happy to lie in bed with you and have Marmite on toast and just be a lovely, positive, charismatic soul.’”

Until that happens, she says she’s happy to be single: “At the whiff of somebody bringing me down, I think: ‘Next! Goodbye!’”

Hannah has learned her lesson the hard way, but has proved that she can overcome the negativity.

And for anyone who doesn’t see her fabulousness – they can bog off, too. 


Hannah made the BAFTA headlines with this gorgeous black dress[/caption]


Hannah arrives for the 75th Emmy Awards in this green flowing dress[/caption]


Hannah looked super-chic in this Self-Portrait two-piece[/caption]


The actress sparkled in this Tom Ford green evening dress[/caption]

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