Mum’s the word as comedian talks to David Johns about taking over from Claudia Winkleman as host of the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee – and why he is prouder than ever to be a true Brummie
Joe Lycett admits he was “lost for words” when he was asked to take over from Claudia Winkleman as host of the upcoming series of the Great British Sewing Bee. The offer to front the popular BBC Two show was so left-field that even the Hall Green comedy king was initially flummoxed.
“I didn’t know the first thing about sewing or dress-making, or darts, or hems, or anything like that,” said Joe. “But the show has always been one of my mum’s favourite programmes – so I knew that I daren’t turn it down – and I learned loads, too. Now, I can sew!”
The Great British Sewing Bee airs in May and we talked to Joe as he was putting the finishing touches to the series, recording final voice-overs. He says filming and meeting the show’s needlework contestants was ‘a blast’. “They are all so talented and lovely people.” All he’s waiting for now is mum’s official approval that he has done a good job when she tunes in to watch. “It’s always been a hit with mum – I just hope it will still be!” he said.
WATCHDOG WITH JOKES
The Sewing Bee is the latest in a line of very different challenges for Joe. Fans of Strictly Come Dancing will doubtless have seen him fronting BBC’s new Saturday night game show The Time It Takes with fellow Brummie and Birmingham Living cover star, Alison Hammond. “I’m delighted the show seems to have been really popular with viewers,” said Joe. “And it was a joy to work with Alison – she is just so brilliant.”
As we spoke, Joe was already well into planning his next TV project. Clearly unable to say too much before the event, he was prepared to reveal it is a Channel 4 series which is “a comedy consumer show – a kind of Watchdog with jokes”. He is due in the studio for production this month and next.
Joe is best known as a stand-up and regular on some of TV’s biggest comedy shows – from Live At The Apollo and 8 Out of 10 Cats to Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Would I Lie To You? He’s a passionate Brummie who says he only ever bases himself away from his home in Kings Heath when work demands – most often in London. Mum and dad still live in Hall Green and his sister is in Solihull.
TAKING THE PISS?
Joe attended King Edward VI Five Ways School and says: “I didn’t feel like I was particularly funny when I was at school but I was voted as such by the other kids.” Having studied drama and English at Manchester University, Joe visited the city’s Comedy Store to watch a show. “Someone asked ‘Does anyone in the audience want to come up on stage and give it a go?’ I was pissed to be honest and I thought ‘Why not!’ Later, when I had sobered up, I thought to myself that I enjoyed it and could maybe do comedy.”
After winning various awards, including a Student Comedian of the Year title, Joe made his stand-up debut in 2012 and was nominated for Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. He has since become a household name and one of the country’s best and most popular comedians.
He admits that juggling stand-up with TV is tricky. “Stand-up takes a long time to put together,” he says. “But it is really cool. There is nothing like a live audience and you have so much creative control with stand-up. No one is telling you what you have to do and every night you can change things around if you want to suit the different audiences. Being in Birmingham is also great with the logistics of stand-up. You’re right in the centre of the country, so it’s easy to get to places, perform and get back.”
Joe is immensely proud of his home city. “Getting off the train at New Street station is one of my favourite things,” he says. “I’m back home and Birmingham is such an exciting place to be right now. People are really investing in the city. The Birmingham I grew up in was just kind of plodding along but now it is racing ahead, vibrant and exciting. There’s a real buzz.”
Joe applauds the rise of Birmingham’s foodie scene with its multi-Michelin star chefs and huge variety of cuisine to suit all tastes. But he adds: “Culturally it is proving more difficult. I think historically that Birmingham people are a bit risk averse. It’s hard to get an act in front of a lot of people if they haven’t seen it on the telly first. They like to know what they are getting. We need to change that way of thinking – although I know that there is some amazing stuff happening in Digbeth these days!”
With such a busy 2019 TV schedule, Joe says he just hasn’t got the time to tour right now. He is planning to “do a bit of stand-up” in Australia. “I’ve been to Oz on and off a few times over the years and it’s a cool place to go. The gigs are good over there and the weather is nice and hot, too. So I can do a bit of work but have a break and relax too.” He says he’s waiting on a few projects to happen, including “pitching an idea to Channel 4 that involves and centres around Brum”. We can’t wait for that one to happen!