Rachel Riley is the numbers expert on Channel 4’s long-running quiz show Countdown and a resident team member on the hit Channel 4 comedy show 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
Rachel has appeared on Room 101, Top Gear and Would I Lie To You (BBC). She co-presented It’s Not Rocket Science for ITV and has appeared on several TV quiz shows raising money for charity including: Celebrity Mastermind, Pointless Celebrities (BBC 1), The Chase (ITV), The Bank Job, Million Pound Drop and Fifteen to One (Channel 4).
Rachel is an avid Manchester United fan. She presented Fantasy Football Club and Friday Night Football on Sky Sports in 2016-17 and has appeared on Football Focus (BBC 1), Soccer AM (Sky Sports) and Follow the Football (BT Sport) and she’s also presented shows on MUTV as well as featuring on BBC Radio 5 Liveand talkSPORT radio.
Brought up in Thorpe Bay, Essex, Rachel graduated with a degree in Mathematics, covering Quantum Theory, Fluid Mechanics and Applied Maths from Oriel College, Oxford.
Rachel has a keen interest in promoting maths and science to young people and has been involved in a number of national numeracy initiatives. She is involved with Premier League Primary Stars, an initiative designed to help develop children’s skills and ambition both on and off the sports field.
Rachel also hosts awards ceremonies and fronts PR campaigns including the recent uSwitch energy-saving campaign. She is a complete inspiration and it’s a pleasure to interview her on the blog.
1. Describe a typical day for you
No two days are ever the same for me which is one of the best things I love about my job. When we’re filming Countdown we record 5 shows a day for three days at a time. Our studios are up in Salford so I travel up from London having rolled out of bed at the last possible moment (I’ve never been a morning person) and the brilliant makeup girls paint me to look presentable (which is not how I arrive)! When I’m at home, I’m much lower maintenance and love going out on my bike or cooking up different dinners with vegetables I don’t even recognise from our veg delivery boxes!
2. What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
I think my maths degree is probably my proudest achievement as I had to work so hard to get it! I never knew anyone who’d been to Oxford so it felt like a bit of a shot in the dark even applying and the level was totally overwhelming when I got there. Before I went back for my second term, I was feeling so out of my depth about a test I’d have to take that I was crying at home before I left, that wasn’t really like me so I think I worried my Mum a little. It’s funny thinking about that now as I actually ended up winning a prize for my marks in that test! I think that’s a girl thing. I’ve since learnt how much psychology plays a part in girls’ and women’s achievements and try to encourage others (especially girls in maths and science) to go for the things they want without doubting themselves.
3. What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
I’m way too addicted to my phone so I’d normally have a mobile charger on me and the usual stuff like a hairbrush and lip colour. I always carry my BubbleBottle around too and often a coffee cup, they’re great because you can fill them up anywhere and don’t have to use extra plastic.
4. What are your ambitions in life?
I don’t think I have any ambitions as such, I never did this far and I’m enjoying the ride. I like taking any opportunity that presents itself even if it scares me. A childhood dream would have been meeting a Manchester United player and I’m lucky enough to have interviewed my idols like Giggs, Beckham and Sir Alex through work. I put the same effort into everything I do whether it’s on telly in front of millions or with a bunch of dogs and a handful of people at a charity do, my only ambition is to be able to carry on working like this till I’m too old to carry on!
5. What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
Once you realise everyone in life is busking it, then everything new feels a lot less scary! It took me years before I could put ‘TV Presenter’ in the occupation box on a legal form without feeling like I was an imposter. You learn your trade as you go in any new role whether it’s at work, or as a new parent like so many of my friends at the moment. Feeling under-qualified shouldn’t stop you doing something as you’ll inevitably pick it up as you go, and you can always ‘fake it till you make it’ in the meantime.
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Hopefully still doing Countdown! I’ve watched it since I was a kid and I’d love to stay there as long as they’ll have me. My boyfriend, Strictly dancer Pasha has promised he’ll teach me to dance one day, at the moment we do a bit of salsa whenever we’re on holiday but maybe in 5 years time he’ll have had time to teach me…
7. What advice would you give a budding TV presenter?
Some of my favourite TV presenters I’ve worked with are people like Chris Packham, Clare Balding and Jeff Stelling – they’re absolute experts in their fields and that’s what makes them so engaging to watch. I’d encourage anyone to follow their passion whether that’s sport, animals, music, science or whatever. Learn all you can about your chosen area to give yourself a niche to stand out from others and have the potential for some longevity in your career. I wouldn’t advise trying to be on TV just for the sake of it, it’s probably not always as glamorous as you think.
8. Finally, happiness is…
Being outdoors, preferably in the sunshine, surrounded by nature with my boy and some animals to cuddle. A glass of wine doesn’t hurt either.
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