We speak to Pointless star Richard Osman about growing up in Essex
PUBLISHED: 12:06 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:00 06 February 2018
As inquisitive, leftfield and quirky thinking goes, few can rival that of TV frontman Richard Osman’s take on the world. But can trendy Billericay really take all the credit? Danny Bowman puts the question to the Pointless star
It’s all very well being labelled a ‘giant of light entertainment’, but if your stature is more that of a racing jockey you’re going to struggle to pull it off visually once you return to the stables. Luckily for Richard Osman, he is a giant… I struggle to suffix that with the word ‘literally’, but at 6ft 7 it’s close enough. He also doesn’t like horses.
‘I think “giant” is a bit strong!’ chimes Richard, as the notion is floated. ‘In the modern era of television there are a lot of faces who are very “present”, if you understand what I mean by that. I think it’s more the case now than ever before, but we are so exposed by who we see, because it’s not just on the telly as it was when I was a kid growing up in Billericay, it’s on social media, on the covers of magazines… the lot.’
Not that Richard necessarily regards celebrity exposure as a bad thing. Why would he? A fair veteran now of more than 1,000 Pointless quiz shows – you know, the one where contestants strive to seek out the least popular correct answer – the 47-year-old has extended his considerable reach to take in several other mainstream projects, from Have I Got News for You and QI to Dragons’ Den and Child Genius.
‘I think for me it comes down to feeling thrilled and excited by something,’ he offers. ‘If there’s a book or a show or a presenting job that strikes a chord with me, I’ll usually need a pretty good reason not to get involved.
‘I’ve always had an inquisitive mind and am lucky enough, I suppose, to get paid for exploring that. I think I’d be this inquisitive even if I was doing all this in my spare time, as I’ve got a mind for facts and information, and if it means I get to make [Pointless host] Alexander Armstrong look stupid in the process, then that’s got to be worthwhile!’
Embarrassing privately-educated presenter, actor and comedian Alexander is easier said than done, yet while the show’s host can trace his aristocratic relatives back to William the Conqueror, Richard’s roots are rather more subdued. Born in Billericay, his dad walked out on the family when he was nine, with he and his brother being raised by their single-parent mum.
Both overcame that setback to court national headlines, with his elder, Mat, best known as the bassist for hugely successful indie band Suede, who scored three number one albums during the 1990s.
Richard’s route took him via Trinity College, Cambridge, where he met Alexander Armstrong, but it wasn’t until a year shy of his 40th birthday that he made his television bow with Pointless, although as a producer and executive director at Endemol, he had certainly served his apprenticeship behind the camera.
What makes Richard so endearing is a passion for the quirkier aspects of life, and over the last 18 months this appetite was no better satisfied than when he fronted a Twitter project to determine the true global champions of chocolate, crisps and biscuits. ‘I couldn’t believe that the plain old chocolate digestive won the battle,’ he says.
‘Think of all those quality biscuits that lost out – all that style, all those fillings, all that sugar!’
But with over 3million Twitter voters compounding our confectionary assumptions, Richard took the idea forward a further stage and is now presiding over the release of a rather more ubiquitous The World Cup of Everything.
‘It’s a book that takes 32 varieties of popular products, shows and services, inviting you to banter with friends and family until you get to the crunch of what is really the best dog, the best sitcom, the best band. And although this started as a project on social media, what’s great about this is all you need is a pencil and an opinion – just like in the good old days.’
Not that Richard has much time to look back – he has two teenage children in his life, for starters. That said, he does offer his time in Essex a generous nod. ‘There were of course tough times in my childhood, but I look on the setbacks as markers where I have gone on to achieve something I might not have otherwise done.
‘We ended up moving to West Sussex, but it’s difficult to think of another county that has cultivated such a strong image as Essex. It’s pretty unique in its people and its spirit, but it’s also beautiful in parts with long sweeping fields, yet attached at the other end to the capital.
‘Even my old home town is undergoing an incredible regeneration in the form of the football team, Billericay Town,’ Richard continues. ‘They are courting national headlines and have ambitions of playing my beloved Fulham on an equal footing one day, although they might have to wait a while!’
What defines Richard is that he’s one of those people genuinely fascinated by life and by what’s going on around him. He’s a mass of contradictions – a working-class lad who went to Cambridge, a country music fan who adores Mary Berry.
‘I just like to soak it all up,’ he says. ‘Being clever has never been that popular – I think we’re afraid of clever people as it makes us feel self-conscious, and yet we migrate around funny or good-looking folk. I think genuine intelligence isn’t about the stuff you study at university though; it’s about having an interest and investment in day-to-day things, and being able to contribute.
‘We can end up down some pretty dull rabbit holes with celebrity culture if we allow ourselves to be sucked in by it all. I don’t think that’s the stuff that really matters. Whether a bourbon trumps a custard cream, or if Greggs should get in ahead of Nando’s – clearly that does!’