Eurovision's stand out star: Who is Hannah Waddingham?

Hannah Waddingham pictured in 2022
Hannah Waddingham pictured in 2022 Copyright Copyright Invision
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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While the 'Game of Thrones' and 'Ted Lasso' star is already popular in some circles, it's likely that her star turn hosting the Eurovision Song Contest will propel her to further fame.


While Eurovision typically catapults some participants to instant stardom - see 2021’s winners Måneskin and last year’s runner up Sam Ryder as examples - more often than not, the contest’s hosts are not so memorable. 

That’s not the case this year, though, and among all of the presenters, Hannah Waddingham has become a fan favourite thanks to her infectious energy and obvious enthusiasm.

Copyright 2023 The AP
Waddingham's (R) personality shines through on the Eurovision stage with co-hosts Alesha Dixon and Julia SaninaCopyright 2023 The AP

The British actress hosted the Eurovision semi final heats alongside fellow Brit presenter Alesha Dixon and Ukrainian singer Julia Salina. The three then took to the stage on Saturday 13 May with mainstay Graham Norton - who is known for his witty and snarky commentary for BBC audiences at the annual event.

While 48-year-old Hannah Waddingham has been acting in stage productions and, more recently in television and film, for over two decades, Eurovision is the first time many viewers will have caught a glance of the charismatic host.

Hannah Waddingham was born in London in 1974 and spent many of her formative years in theatres thanks to her mother Melodie Kelly, who was a singer with the English National Opera.

This clearly inspired the young Hannah, who became a star of the stage in her 20s, playing lead roles in productions in London’s West End and Broadway in New York City. During her theatre career, she's been recognised for her impressive singing voice as well as acting skills and won three Olivier nominations, for ‘A Little Night Music’, ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ and ‘Spamalot’. 

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Hannah Waddingham with Monty Python star Michael Palin at the opening of 'Spamalot' in London in 2006Copyright Getty Images

In 2014, she transitioned to the small screen, with an acclaimed role in cult British comedy Benidorm and, the year after, was given a wider audience after being cast as Septa Unella - or the ‘Shame Nun’ in the hugely popular US series Game of Thrones. The scene in which her character follows Cersei Lannister ringing a bell and shouting "shame!" is one of the most iconic and memorable moments of the entire show, spawning countless memes and influencing pop culture ever since.

Waddingham has spoken of how challenging it is to make the leap from stage to screen acting in the UK, explaining how she had no choice to move to the United States to be taken seriously in the role. 

In 2021, she spoke on the White Wine Question Time, saying: “You see the same faces constantly, I think, on British television and that was my frustration… I had to jump over to the other side of the pond in order to get recognised. And I don't think that's right, personally".

In 2020, she joined the cast of smash hit US football drama-comedy Ted Lasso in a lead role as Rebecca, the owner of Richmond AFC, the fictional club which is the focus of the series. 

While the show is filmed in London, it’s hugely popular in the States and has propelled Waddingham to fame there; she’s won a Primetime Emmy and a Critics’ Choice Award for her performance as the magnetic boss.

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Waddingham accepting the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2021Copyright CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

Last year, she spoke to the Plot Twist podcast about her star rising so fast at a relatively late stage, saying: “You don't think your career is going to rev up during your 40s… being a mother, you think it's going to slow down a bit". 

Even without her star turn at Eurovision, though, that seems unlikely. She was a stand out as the Witch Mother in last year’s Hocus Pocus 2 and has upcoming roles in films including Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part Two, Garfield and The Fall Guy.

Twitter has been collectively impressed by Waddingham’s fluent French speaking during the Eurovision heats, but it’s no surprise to die-hard fans, who’ll also know she speaks Italian perfectly, too.

In the past, she’s said she would have liked to have worked as an interpreter if she hadn’t been an actress, explaining, “I love languages”.

While Eurovision fans in attendance in Liverpool and social media have lauded Waddingham for her quirky facial expressions, self-confidence and dance moves, she’s proven she’s more than worthy of her hosting role, especially as a representative of the UK, whose citizens are notorious for their lack of multilingual skills. After giving instructions to viewers in perfect French, she teased: “You see, Europe, some of us Brits do bother to learn another language," receiving rapturous cheers from the audience.

Although this isn’t Hannah Waddingham’s first presenting job - she hosted last month’s Olivier awards, garnering rave reviews - Eurovision will no doubt launch her to even wider stardom and popularity.

More than 160 million viewers worldwide tuned into the song contest, and although some of the performances have no doubt already been forgotten, Waddingham will likely stay present in Europe's collective mind for years to come - as a true icon for the Eurovision ages.

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