Hannah Waddingham On Emmys, Eurovision And Her Wildest Year Ever, There’s Just This Wave Of Love!

Hannah Waddingham: When she was a child, Hannah Waddingham would from time to time go to work with her mother, a mezzo-soprano in the English National Opera, which was based at the Coliseum in London. “That building and the people in it were like my babysitter,” she says. “I was just left to run around, in all the nooks and crannies.”

She once got stuck in the orchestra storage room and took fright looking down from the upper circle boxes. But it was a magical place for a child. “If I had stood on that stage at eight, and my older self-had whispered in my ear: ‘You’re going to have your own Christmas special here,’ I would have passed out.”

Hannah Waddingham, That special, Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas on Apple TV+, is a festive feast, crammed with musical numbers, glam costumes and skits featuring her Ted Lasso co-stars. It feels like a joyous celebration which, for Waddingham, it is. This has been her year.

The theatre star found huge fame relatively late in life when she was cast in Ted Lasso, the US comedy about a failing English football team. She had been in other shows – including Game of Thrones, playing the “shame nun” – but it was her role as the football club owner Rebecca Welton that brought Waddingham to a wider audience and won her an Emmy.

Hannah Waddingham On Emmys, Eurovision And Her Wildest Year Ever

Hannah Waddingham

Hannah Waddingham, Where, people began to ask, had she been all these years? “Knocking about!” she says. “And not being able to get on screen.” When Waddingham was approached to be on Eurovision earlier this year, her first response was to ask if someone else had dropped out – but she proved an inspired choice. It was widely agreed that Waddingham stole the show, no small thing given the competition:

Hannah Waddingham, Croatian punks stripped to their underpants, a man in inflatable green sleeves, and pyrotechnics that could be seen from space. She grinned, sang, danced, played air guitar, spoke French and looked as if she was having the best night of her life. “If I could rewind to one part of the year,” she says, “it would be to that week of Eurovision.”

Hannah Waddingham, Waddingham with Alesha Dixon, Julia Sanina and Graham Norton at the Eurovision grand final in Liverpool earlier this year.

Waddingham with Alesha Dixon, Julia Sanina and Graham Norton at the Eurovision grand final in Liverpool earlier this year. Photograph: Adam Vaughan/EPA

Her Christmas special feels like the crowning achievement of an amazing year. “I’ve been afforded the luxury of incredible moments this year,” she says. “So 2024 is going to have to go some!” Did she love being back on stage? “I’ve missed it a lot. I haven’t been on a stage for 10 years.” At the start, she rises through the floor, looking every inch of her statuesque height. “There’s just this wave of love coming my way. I was really overwhelmed.”

Hannah Waddingham, From the start, Waddingham wanted the special to be very personal. “I didn’t want it to be showy for showy’s sake, or famous for famous’s sake. I didn’t want people to think: ‘Oh look, because she’s moving in different circles means she’s got a load of famous people.’ Every single person that’s in it, and the location, has been very carefully chosen, very close to my heart.”

Hannah Waddingham

It features the London Gay Men’s Chorus, which Waddingham has been patron of for many years, and the Fabulous Lounge Swingers, duo Patrick Davey and Scott Baker, “who are not as known, but by no means less important. I kept saying that at every single turn – that you have to bring people along with you. They’re brilliant at what they do.” They’re also godparents to Waddingham’s daughter.

Even the starry names have a connection: Luke Evans, the actor, singer and now a film star, is someone Waddingham has known for 20 years through the theatre. And she invited Leslie Odom Jr at the request of her nine-year-old daughter, who is obsessed with the musical Hamilton. Odom Jr was in the original Broadway cast.

Hannah Waddingham, “She was far more interested in him being there than me,” says Waddingham. “His voice is just utter smooth class. That’s the moment where I look like I’ve won a competition.” Sam Ryder appears, too, in a nod to Eurovision – he was last year’s UK entry – as does much of the cast of Ted Lasso.

Waddingham with Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso.

Hannah Waddingham, Waddingham’s mainstream success in her mid and late 40s, after years of hard work, has been inspiring for anyone still hoping to achieve their dreams. Although she has faced frustrations, she is glad “all of this didn’t happen in my 20s or 30s”. It would have been overwhelming. “I haven’t changed – I’ve just tried to keep up with it. Some people change towards you, I think, because they find it so odd and jarring. I understand that, but I wouldn’t know how to change. I am who I am.”

Hannah Waddingham, The special’s most personal moment comes when Waddingham introduces her parents and daughter, seated in the audience, before singing with the ENO Chorus. “It was very much a love letter to them – and to my daughter.” Her family’s presence meant everything, she says: while Waddingham was filming the end of Ted Lasso, her father was undergoing heart surgery, and her mother has Parkinson’s. “I was just thrilled they were there. I had to make them proud of me.”

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