How Hannah Waddingham FINALLY hit the big time

How Hannah Waddingham FINALLY hit the big time: Ted Lasso star, 48, who was pigeon-holed as a musical theatre actress and says ‘being a single mum’ is her most important job has emerged as Eurovision’s biggest winner

  • Waddingham was dubbed ‘a bigger winner than Sweden’ after she won legions of fans while hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest
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If Graham Norton has long-been the successor to Terry Wogan’s Eurovision hero crown, then Saturday night offered up a shiny new heiress apparent in the shape of Hannah Waddingham. 

The 48-year-old host’s eternal joie de vivre saw fans of the singing contest, which aired on Saturday night to a global audience of 160 million, declaring ‘my douze points go to Hannah Waddingham’. 

The 5ft 11in Ted Lasso star, from London, presenting alongside Norton, Alesha Dixon and Julia Sanina, left audiences at home and in Liverpool swooning at her mastery of French, lively dancing and witty banter. Her Instagram followers have since leapt to a healthy 667,000.

Celebrity fans even gushed on social media; Carol Vorderman wrote: ‘Can I just vote for Hannah Waddingham to be on everything on the telly at all times please?’

Nigella Lawson announced: ‘Just need to say I love Hannah Waddingham with every cell in my being.’   

In a press conference ahead of the final, a journalist casually asked about her ‘next plan for world domination’, to which she modestly replied: ‘Oh my God! Can I just digest that for a moment please?!’

Wind back the clock just three years ago and the actress, who was born and raised in South-West London, might not have quite believed the current adoration she’s currently basking in would ever happen.

A match made in Eurovision heaven? Hannah Waddingham pictured alongside Graham Norton at the singing competition finals on Saturday evening; the 48-year-old star proved a huge hit with fans – and even celebrities, with Nigella Lawson saying: ‘Just need to say I love Hannah Waddingham with every cell in my being.’

With decades of experience as a jobbing West End and telly actor, Waddingham has played Tonya Dyke in ITV’s hit series Benidorm, toured the UK with Spamalot and was cast as a police officer in ITV drama Murder, They Hope.  An appearance on Pointless Celebrities came in 2017. 

However, in 2019, with Wadddingham in her mid forties, the star finally got the long-awaited big break that would see her become a household name both in the US and the UK – the show’s won 11 Emmys – and she’s more than run with the opportunity since.

Waddingham, who shares a daughter with her former love Gianluca Cugnetto but is apparently happily single, bagged the role of Richmond FC owner Rebecca Welton in the hit Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso. 

Two Supporting Actress Emmy wins and a trip to the White House to meet President Joe Biden have followed since – but hosting Eurovision could be the Wandsworth-born stars smartest move yet – exposing her talent to one of the biggest single television audiences out there. 


From Benidorm to Liverpool! The star appeared in a series of hit comedy Benidorm before her big break in Ted Lasso came 

Here, FEMAIL looks at how the star rose from theatre classes in Wandsworth to the toast of Eurovision…

EARLY LIFE: PRIVATE SCHOOL AND A LOVE OF DRAMA

Born and raised in South-West London, Hannah attended private girls’ school Streatham and Clapham High School before going on to study at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts.

Her father was a businessman but her maternal grandparents and her mother, Melodie Kelly, were all opera singers. Growing up in Wandsworth, South London, with her brother (who’s not in showbiz) she spent much of her time at the Coliseum, home of English National Opera, in London’s West End, where her mother sang for 27 years in the chorus.

‘My life was sitting in the stalls, watching the greats – Lesley Garrett, Bryn Terfel – this extraordinary music falling on my ears. But there was nothing la-di-da about us, we were a grounded, normal family – we saw how hard Mum worked.’

Attending a local private girls’ school, it never occurred to her that she’d go into anything other than showbusiness. ‘The force has always been strong. I remember thinking, “If your job isn’t singing or dancing, what do you do?” I never had a plan B – not in an arrogant way, but that was my vocation.’

Sure enough, she went on to study at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, bagging leads in West End and Broadway musicals and receiving Olivier nominations for her performances in Spamalot, Kiss Me, Kate and A Little Night Music. Yet when she tried to broaden into working in TV and film, she encountered downright snobbery.

The daughter of opera singer Melodie Kelly, Waddingham’s career on the stage (pictured in Spamalot in 2007) was assured early on – but she says she hated people thinking that musical theatre stars couldn’t take on other roles elsewhere

She told You Magazine: ‘People think musical-theatre actors are all jazz hands. There was so much pooh-poohing. I remember asking my agent if they were going to bring casting directors to see me in something and they said, “Oh no, they’re not going to come to a musical.” I found it deeply offensive. 

‘There are so many brilliant, brilliant actors in musical theatre who aren’t doing it for fame or money, it’s because they love playing great characters – but in other fields they can’t get arrested.

One of her first jobs was in the interactive dinner show Joni and Gina’s Wedding – where audience members take on the role of wedding guests and are invited to engage with actors.

Speaking to uInterview in 2022, Hannah credited the improvisation show for allowing her to grow as an actress.

She said: ‘It really let me cut my teeth because you have to be quick-witted and on it and go with whatever someone else has said and keep it positive.

‘And that’s probably what got me into the worlds of comedy and drama… being able to mix and ebb and flow through each other.’

FERTILITY STUGGLES, BEING A DEVOTED SINGLE MUM AND HER EX-FLAME

Health: The Ted Lasso star, 48, was left terrified five years ago when her daughter Kitty, who was three years old at the time, suddenly fell ill with HSP and had to be hospitalised 

Ex: It is not clear when Hannah parted ways with the father of her child. She is pictured with her former partner, hotelier Gianluca Cugnetto

Hannah’s most significant recent relationship appears to have been with hotelier Gianluca Cugnetto. The couple share daughter, Kitty, eight, together.  

The star seems to be currently staying very much single but posted a gushing tribute this week to her close friend Nick Todisco on social media, calling him ‘my beautiful (and I mean crrraaaazy beautiful, inside and out) devoted champion, protector and partner in crime.’

Waddingham has also spoken in the past about fertility issues and announced she was pregnant in 2015, saying: ‘I don’t mind saying it, I know plenty of women go through it, but they kept telling me that my fertility was so low and that it might not happen,’ she said at the time.  

Rebecca Welton, the character she plays in Ted Lasso is childless and Waddingham has said she felt great empathy having had her own struggles. 

She said: ‘I was 38 when a doctor told me bluntly, “That ship [her fertility] has sailed”. It was absolutely vile. But I thought, “No it hasn’t, mate”.’

The star appears to be staying single but posted a gushing tribute this week to her close friend Nick Todisco, calling him ‘my beautiful (and I mean crrraaaazy beautiful, inside and out) devoted champion, protector and partner in crime’

Using techniques such as acupuncture, she proved the doctor wrong, but the experience again fed into the shattering scene when Rebecca, who missed the chance of motherhood because Rupert refused to have a baby with her, learns his new, younger girlfriend is pregnant.

On being a mother to her own daughter, she says: ‘It’s incredible how it hits you suddenly. It’s taken my breath away; I’m so pleased.’

She told You Magazine earlier this year: ‘I’m a single parent, which in many ways is wonderful because you can mould the little being as you would want them to be, but at times like this there’s also an overwhelming responsibility to serve them as well as you can.’ 

The star said the huge appeal of the Ted Lasso role was that it was filmed close to wear she lives  in South London – making life as a single parent much easier. 

When her daughter was three, she fell seriously ill with a rare autoimmune disease – known as Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) – and Hannah had to dash home quickly from where she was filming in Belfast. 

After finally getting to see Kitty the following day, Hannah said she informed her management in both the UK and LA that she could no longer be away from her child.

‘I am first and foremost a mum, and more importantly a single mum,’ she told her agents over a conference call.

JOBBING ACTOR: TREADING THE BOARDS IN BENIDORM AND SPAMLOT

Hannah played a diverse array of smaller roles across stage and screen for more than two decades.   

In 2000, Hannah released the single Our Kind of Love – which was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his musical The Beautiful Game – to commemorate the composer’s 50th birthday.

Hannah pictured with her on-screen family after being cast as Tonya Dyke in ITV’s hit series Benidorm

After this, Hannah appeared in a 2002 production of Space Family Robinson before going on to star as Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, which earned her an Olivier Award nod. 

The show – which was both a West End and Broadway hit – went on to be nominated for seven Laurence Olivier awards in 2012. 

However, the actress was left furious when the production failed to walk away with a single award that year.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Hannah said: ‘I don’t begrudge the best actor or best actress award at all but I really do begrudge the fact we didn’t win best new musical.

‘I’m totally p****ed off we didn’t win that. I’m actually angry. Surely if you are nominated in seven categories there is a reason for that and at some point that should be acknowledged.’

Hannah pictured playing Rebecca Welton in Ted Lasso – the owner of fictional football club Richmond FC

In 2021, Hannah appeared in an episode of Murder, They Hope – where she played a police officer

Hannah was cast as Jackon’s mother Sofia in Sex Education in 2019 before going to bag her Ted Lasso role

Later that year, Hannah starred in a production of Kiss Me, Kate and was nominated for her third Olivier.

Alongside her growing stage presence, Hannah also started auditioning for more and more TV and film roles -having made her big screen debut in 2008’s How To Lose Friends and Alienate People.

In 2014, Hannah was cast as Tonya Dyke in the hit ITV series Benidorm and later opened up about her her frustrations on set.

In an interview with The Mirror, Hannah said: ‘I’d never been groped in my life, but I was groped three times in one week in Benidorm.

‘To get on set, I had to walk through the hotel dressed as Tonya in some non-existent bikini and high heels with blokes gawping at me… or rather groping me.

‘I had to stop myself doing what I’d instinctively do – knock their blocks off – because I was working.’

Hannah (pictured in character as Septa Unella in Game of Thrones) appears in the infamous scene which sees Cersei perform the walk of atonement as Hannah’s character yells ‘Shame!’

A Games of Thrones appearance also won her a new fanbase, as she took on the role of Septa Unella in Game of Thrones. And she also regularly appeared in Netflix’s Sex Education as Jackson Marchetti’s mother.

Speaking to the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye in 2021, Hannah explained how she signed for mainly U.S. productions shot in the UK because she felt mainstream British TV shows were biased against actors from musical theatre.

In 2016, she hit the big-time when she was cast as Septa Unella in the fifth season of Game of Thrones.

The devout follower of the High Sparrow featured in the infamous scene which sees Cersei perform the walk of atonement as Hannah’s character yells ‘Shame!’

However, Cersei gets revenge on Septa in a later episode by waterboarding her.

During an appearance on Collider Ladies Night, Hannah opened up about the challenging filming process.

She said: ‘Other than childbirth, it was the worst day of my life. Because Lena (Headey, who played Cersei Lannister) was uncomfortable pouring liquid in my face for that long, and I was beside myself.’

THE BIG BREAK: HOW THE ROLE OF REBECCA WALTON IN TED LASSO CHANGED EVERYTHING

‘From the moment I auditioned for Rebecca, I just felt her ripple through me,’ Waddingham told You Magazine about the role that saw her acting career fork in a new direction. 

She said: ‘I knew who she was – I knew her acerbic bark, her dry wit, the way she’d suffered controlling, verbal abuse from a partner. I’ve been through that myself, so playing her brought me great catharsis.’  

No messing: Hannah Waddingham plays Richmond FC owner Rebecca Welton in Apple TV+ comedy Ted Lasso

Her team had persuaded her team to try out for the role of Ted Lasso and keen to be close to home for daughter Kitty, who had been ill, the stars aligned. 

She told The Ellen DeGeneres Show that being cast in the Apple TV+ comedy felt like fate, saying she had silently ‘asked the universe’ for roles close to home. 

She said: ‘I’m going to ask the universe for something, which is probably unreasonable but, I’m going to say, “Thank you for making my little girl better,” she told Ellen.

Hannah pictured with the Ted Lasso castmates at the Emmy Awards in September 2021

‘Can I thank you for what you’ve given me already, but can I just ask you for something that is close to home so I can do my main role, which is to be mama.

‘And also can I ask that it’s something that really shows what I can do [as an actress]. And I hope that’s not asking too much.’

The role has transformed her career, catapulting her to fame in the US. 

When she won an Emmy, she told the show’s writer and main star Jason Sudeikis: ‘Jason you’ve changed my life with this… and more importantly my baby girl’s.’

Waddingham also recently revealed to PEOPLE that she was so overwhelmed with emotion when filming for the third season (which is reportedly the final instalment) that she asked Sudeikis not to hug her.

As she recalled how the actor had tried to ‘give her a squeeze’, she said: ‘I was like, ‘Don’t. Don’t! Because I will literally start crying. Go away. Give me a squeeze and then I’ll say ‘See you later’ and we’ll go for dinner somewhere.’

 The star says she can relate to the toughness of Rebecca, who was treated badly by her ex partner

Hannah plays the role of ice cool Richmond FC owner Rebecca Welton. 

Welton takes control of the club, based at fictional Nelson Road Stadium, as an act of revenge against her cheating ex-husband Rupert – and her raison d’etre becomes trying to run the club into the ground.

However the arrival of US coach, Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), alters her plan and success becomes her number on ambition, as the pair quickly become a team – not romantically – that transforms the club. 

Following the astonishing success of the show, where she is thought to have earned upwards of $150,000 per episode, she has urged Hollywood to make use of West End stars, tellin the Emmy audience after her win: ‘One more thing… West End musical theatre performers need to be on screen more. Please give them a chance, because we won’t let you down.’

LIFE AFTER TED: WHAT SUCCESS HAS THE ACTRESS HAD SINCE THE SHOW? 

Following two Emmy wins for best supporting actress for her role as Rebecca Welton, the movie roles came thick and fast for Hannah. 

Hannah Waddingham pictured as The Witch in Hocus Pocus 2, which was released in September 2022

She played Lady Bellaston in the Tom Jones mini-series and was seen in the sequel to Hollywood blockbuster Hocus Pocus 2, playing The Witch.

Off-screen, Eurovision has won the star new fans – and she even enjoyed a visit to The White House, discussing mental health with her co-stars from Ted Lasso including Sudeikis, Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt and Toheeb Jimoh. 

She revealed afterwards that she’d spoken to President Biden about the importance of talking about mental health.

When Waddingham was announced as one of the co-hosts for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, she took to Twitter to express her joy at landing the gig.

The actress wrote: ‘Couldn’t be more thrilled to be joining the Eurovision family this year of all years. #IStandWithUkraine.’

In recent months, Waddingham has been spotted on set of The Fall Guy in Sydney, Australia, starring Hollywood big hitters including Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

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