“Having fun, being silly, doing jokes and enjoying ourselves”
Sandi talks knitting, lockdown survival and why she’s desperate to get on the road again with her new live show NEXT SLIDE PLEASE…
It won’t be a surprise to Sandi Toksvig fans that the polymath QI presenter owns an Encyclopaedia of Flintlock Weaponry and a tome titled Knitting with Dog Hair. “I collect books where I think, ‘Why would anybody publish that?’” she admits. “So you should never challenge me as chances are I will have a book about it.” A dozen or so such titles will crop up in her new stage show, Next Slide Please, among many other quite interesting topics.
Her first national tour since 2019’s National Trevor can’t come soon enough. “I want that sense of joy when we hear people laughing, meeting strangers, having a drink and just being glad to be out for the evening.” In National Trevor, pre-pandemic, she had “weirdly” focused on death and why we don’t talk about it enough… Her new show, Next Slide Please, will be about “having fun, being silly, doing jokes and enjoying ourselves”. Phew. She also wants more chat than usual from the audience. “I want to hear what they have to say, I want people to feel they’re being heard.”
Toksvig is talking over Zoom from the house she and her therapist wife Debbie, her dog Mildred and her vast library have just moved into. Her family — which includes three children from her relationship with Peta Stewart, plus two grandchildren, all “fabulous” and clearly adored — are coming for lunch there at the weekend, and she couldn’t be more thrilled. She didn’t see them during the various lockdowns, just did video calls. “That was the most painful thing. That first lockdown Christmas without them was really hard. Much though I adore my wife, I missed the noise and raucous laughter of Christmas.”
But lockdown had an odd upside. She and Debbie would set out when it got dark for their allotted hour’s exercise: not just a simple walk but a Toksvig guided tour, street by street, of the totally deserted City of London. “We made it our business to learn the history of every single street in the Square Mile. I would bore Debbie with the information I had gathered— every street corner has something where you go, ‘I didn’t know that, that’s amazing.’ We loved it. Quite a nerdy thing to do.”
Did lockdown make us nicer and kinder too? Not really, she says, clarifying that she thinks the British were already a nice and kind nation before the virus arrived; now we just look out for these qualities and comment on them more.
She learned from the past two years how much she enjoys the simple things in life, explaining how she has started saying no to evenings out more, though will continue to lend time and support to the Women’s Equality Party and is visibly proud that the five candidates the WEP could afford to field in the 2016 general election, all survivors of sexual abuse, targeted five male MPs facing allegations of sexual impropriety, none of whom is sitting now. “We didn’t win the seats, but we won the battle.”
For Next Slide Please she has been doing more research, ready for the tour. “It’s a ‘brown-sign tour’,” she explains. “Anywhere there is a stately home and a cup of tea.” Her schedule will be arranged so she can spend time at the local historic sites. But she will also devote part of the new show to the history of the town or city she is in and wants the audience to tell her what’s amazing about it. Her nocturnal City walks have taught her every inch of a place comes with a story attached. She wants people to see she’s made “the best effort I can, I’ve been doing my homework”.
There is something endearingly old-school decent about Toksvig, which is part of her appeal as a performer. You can tell she doesn’t love doing interviews as they are all about her, “which is boring, and bad manners”. And she is like a model Victorian in her industriousness. Asked which television series she binged during lockdown, the answer is: none. She confesses readily that she doesn’t watch much TV. Her off-duty hours, when not spent reading, are filled with making things — weaving, craft projects, embroidery, woodwork, knitting. (She will occasionally do the latter with the 10pm news on, she admits, having just knitted a doll for her granddaughter that way.) And she knits with wool, not dog hair.
How on earth does she find the time for all those projects, alongside her programme-making, writing, and performing? “That’s what I do when other people are binging on box sets”…” Touché!
Does she ever think about slowing down or even giving up? She admits she has a “fantasy” — and stresses that’s all it is — of becoming a teacher in a New England liberal arts college, “wearing a slightly shabby sweater and looking a little bit vague and sitting around discussing Catcher in the Rye or some other great piece of writing”. She loves talking to people younger than her, she says. “But I’m fully booked, dahling, for the next year.”
And besides, she finds the world too interesting. “Every turn of every page I learn something…” She starts to giggle at the memory of an Extraordinary Escapes episode she had completed for season two of the Channel 4 series. “Even taking a gong-bath with Sarah Millican. Not a good idea, it made us laugh too much…” A gong-bath? “You lie in the woods, and somebody plays a gong.”
She isn’t done with “something new”, she insists: “NEXT SLIDE PLEASE will be full of new discoveries, new adventures, new ideas. Otherwise you become a dinosaur.” Curiosity is key, her top recommendation to her fellow humans. “Don’t be certain of too much. I am challenging people to have their answers questioned.”
SANDI TOKSVIG NEXT SLIDE PLEASE tours to 43 towns in April, May & June 2022. For tour schedule and booking see www.sanditoksvig.com
Photos by Steve Ullathorne