Rachel Riley

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Rachel Riley
Rachel Riley 2011.JPG
Riley in 2011
Born (1986-01-11) 11 January 1986 (age 34)
Rochford, Essex, United Kingdom[1]
Alma materOriel College, Oxford
OccupationTelevision presenter
Years active2009–present
EmployerChannel 4, Sky Sports
Jamie Gilbert
(m. 2012⁠–⁠2013)
(m. 2019)

Rachel Annabelle Riley [2](born 11 January 1986[3]) is a British television presenter and mathematician.[4][5] She co-presents the Channel 4 daytime puzzle show Countdown and its comedy spin-off 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. A mathematics graduate, her television debut came when she joined Countdown aged 22. With an interest in popularising mathematics and the sciences, she has since co-presented The Gadget Show on Channel 5 (2013–14) and It's Not Rocket Science on ITV (2016). She was also a contestant on the BBC celebrity dance show Strictly Come Dancing in 2013.

Early life and early career[edit]

Born in Rochford, Essex,[6] she identifies as Jewish, saying: "My family came over in the pogroms."[7] Riley was raised in the Thorpe Bay area of Southend-on-Sea and was educated at the independent Thorpe Hall School, and Southend High School for Girls[8], a grammar school, where she obtained four As at A-Level.[9] She then studied mathematics at Oriel College, Oxford, gaining an upper second-class honours degree.[10][11]

During a university vacation, Riley considered a career in the financial sector, and completed an internship at Deutsche Bank in the City of London. The experience put her off; she found the extreme behaviour of city traders wearing, and she disliked the early morning train commute.[12]

Television career[edit]

Riley's television debut came in January 2009, when at the age of 22 she joined the Channel 4 letters and numbers game show Countdown.[13] Riley had received no training for working in television and had no other experience with the media industry, leading to descriptions of her landing this role as a baptism of fire, given its status as a "jewel in the broadcasting crown", according to one media commentator.

She later branched out into other roles, co-presenting 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and The Gadget Show although her profile was significantly boosted by her appearance as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, which "catapulted [Riley] onto the A-list" and opened up the doors for new television roles, according to another commentator.[12] In 2014, two years before her role on It's Not Rocket Science, she said, "I'd love to present a popular science programme because it's something I feel very passionate about."[12]


On Countdown, Riley replaced the long-serving Carol Vorderman. Like Vorderman, Riley's role is to handle the placement of tiles on the board for the letters and numbers rounds and to find an exact solution in the numbers rounds if the contestants are unable to do so.[13]

Riley's appointment to Countdown was announced at the same time as the announcement of a new main host, Jeff Stelling, replacing Des O'Connor; the duo of Stelling and Riley was in place for the new series beginning in January 2009.[13] Although she had no ambition to be a television presenter, she was encouraged to apply by her mother, and decided to do so because she was interested in the numbers part of the game. Having beaten 1,000 applicants for the role, she commented, "There's only one cool maths job around and I was lucky enough to get it so I'm absolutely thrilled".[13]

Riley takes the role of solving the numbers round so seriously that if she cannot solve it on the show, she takes it away with her to finish, commenting "I'm really OCD about it. I have to get it. I like puzzles – that's what I do, that's why I applied for the job, that's why I used to watch Countdown when I was younger. I like solving stuff." She has attributed this compulsion to a nervy and flustered start in the role which resulted in her making some errors, although she says she has since got the hang of it and the task is now a matter of routine. In contrast, on account of her "really immature sense of humour" she has some difficulty in maintaining her composure during the words round whenever rude words appear.

Riley frequently encounters close media and public scrutiny of what she wears on the show, with her wardrobe choices attracting intense social media comment on Twitter and YouTube and even national headlines. Working with a wardrobe consultant, she obtains most of the clothes from High Street stores, although some are purchased from a small boutique near her home in Southend. While trying to please everybody with varied choices, she nonetheless takes a phlegmatic approach to the attention, commenting, "even with the same outfit you'll get polar-opposite views, so you can't win. You’ve just got to learn that you can't please everyone all of the time". The number of episodes means wearing some outfits more than once is inevitable—she donates items she no longer requires to charity, some being auctioned by her mother.

On 11 January 2019, Riley celebrated ten years of being on Countdown. To mark the occasion she showcased some of the ruder words that she has come across during her time on the show.[14][15]

8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown[edit]

Since it was first broadcast on 2 January 2012, Riley has also performed her Countdown role on the comedy crossover spin-off version, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, alongside comedian Jimmy Carr as host. While Countdown is seen as a straight light entertainment show, in explaining the difference between the two, Riley sees Countdown as the role she is happy for her grandmother to see, while Cats Does Countdown is the more risqué, cheeky role which she shows to her friends. Some of the running gags used on the show are made by Carr at Riley's expense, aimed at her lack of dancing ability and a supposed frosty relationship with Vorderman, while in return Riley is often given jokes which mock Carr's supposed desires on herself and his tax avoidance. Due to scheduling conflicts with filming for It's Not Rocket Science, Riley was replaced by Claudia Winkleman for two episodes in series nine (broadcast 3 and 10 March 2016).

Strictly Come Dancing[edit]

From September 2013, Riley appeared in the eleventh series of the BBC One ballroom dancing programme Strictly Come Dancing with professional dancing partner Pasha Kovalev. She was eliminated in week 6 of the show, on 3 November, after losing out in the dance-off against Abbey Clancy and Aljaž Škorjanec, who went on to win the series.

According to Riley she lacked a natural talent for performing, so instead sought to frame each dance as that of a character.[12] For the first five weeks, Riley suffered from stage fright, commenting that "As soon as the music would start, I would have a fuzzy brain and it was like an out-of-body experience"; after seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist she was able to control her breathing, and so was only able to truly enjoy the show for what proved to be her final appearance.[16]

The Gadget Show[edit]

From 2013 until 2014, Riley co-presented on the Channel 5 programme The Gadget Show with Jason Bradbury.[17] She presented three series of the show and was later replaced by Amy Williams.[18]

It's Not Rocket Science[edit]

In 2016, Riley was part of the three-person presenting team for ITV's six-part series, It's Not Rocket Science, billed by the network as an entertainment series celebrating science.[19] Her co-presenters, Ben Miller and Romesh Ranganathan, similarly had a background in science and maths. Explaining the purpose of the show as popularising science and making it seem less intimidating, she said "It's showing that you can't separate the world of science from the world we live in". She added that while her background is in mathematics, "You can't separate them either. Maths is the language of science." A key part of the show was a weekly challenge where one of the presenters "risked their lives" to prove a scientific theory – in Riley's case she cycled on a tightrope and zip-lined through a ring of fire.

Sky Sports[edit]

In August 2016, it was announced that Riley would join Sky Sports to present Friday Night Football alongside her former Countdown co-presenter Jeff Stelling and Fantasy Football Club with Max Rushden and Paul Merson.[20] She left Friday Night Football in 2017.[21]

Personal life[edit]

In August 2012, Riley married Jamie Gilbert, whom she had met while they were both studying at the University of Oxford. It was announced in November 2013 that they were separating.[22] The split has been cited as an example of the Strictly curse.[23] She began dating her Strictly dance partner, Pasha Kovalev, soon after the show ended in December 2013.[24] In May 2019, Riley announced that she was pregnant with the couple's first child.[25] In June 2019, Riley and Kovalev married in Las Vegas.[26] On 15 December 2019, Riley gave birth to a daughter, Maven Aria.[27]

Riley is a keen supporter of Manchester United, like her father who was originally from Salford.[28][29] In October 2010, Riley presented a programme on the club's television channel, MUTV, featuring a tour of their Trafford Training Centre in Carrington. She has also hosted episodes of An Audience with... on the channel. To mark her 1,000th episode of Countdown (aired on 25 June 2013), United player Ryan Giggs presented her with a signed team shirt, Giggs himself having celebrated his 1,000th game for the club the same year.[29][30] In her appearance as a contestant on the BBC quiz show Celebrity Mastermind, broadcast on 4 January 2012, her specialist subject was a limited (13 year) history of the club; she eventually finished in joint second place.[31][32]

In 2017, she was the co-winner with Idris Elba of the Rear of the Year award.[33]

Antisemitism campaign[edit]

Riley identifies herself as of Jewish heritage and as an atheist.[7][34] Since 2018, she has campaigned against the way the Labour Party has handled allegations of antisemitism. She said she decided to speak out after seeing "Israel is a racist endeavour" posters on London bus stops.[35][36][37] In September 2018, after criticising Jeremy Corbyn over the ongoing antisemitism row, she stated she did not have "any party loyalties".[38] In January 2019, Riley made a speech at a Westminster reception for the Holocaust Educational Trust and addressed what she described as the "hideous abuse" she had received.[39]

In Jewish News, Riley was quoted:

In the name of Labour I've been called a hypocrite, lying propagandist, a tits-teeth-and-arse clothes horse dolly bird, weaponiser of anti-Semitism, fascist, right-wing extremist, Nazi sympathiser, Twitter cancer, thick Tory, brainwashed, an anti-Semite, white supremacist, hate preacher, Zio political trollster, not a real Jew, a child bully, conspiracy theorist, a paedo-protector minion puppet who my dead grandfather would be disgusted by.[40]

In February 2019, Riley and fellow campaigner Tracy Ann Oberman instructed a lawyer to take action against 70 individuals who had shared a critical blogpost for libel or harassment.[41] In May 2019, a High Court judge ruled the post defamatory but in July 2020 Riley and Oberman dropped the libel action. At the withdrawal of the action the defendant stated: "Ultimately, despite press reports which suggested as many as 70 people might face legal action, I was the only person who was sued." Oberman and Riley agreed to contribute towards the defendant's legal costs.[42][43]

In February 2019, it was reported that she had been involved in talks to set up a breakaway Labour party.[44][45] According to Jewish News in April 2019, Riley backed the Stop Funding Fake News campaign.[46]

In July 2019, the Durham Miners' Association called a tweet from Riley "damaging" after she said that playing an Israeli folk song, "Hava Nagila", at the Durham Miners' Gala was "as tasteful as showing Black Panther at a Klan rally". According to the association, the tune had been played by a community brass band at the gala for many years. They said she had caused "great hurt to good people" with her comments.[47]

In November 2019, Riley posted an image on Twitter of herself wearing a shirt with an edited image of Jeremy Corbyn carrying a sign bearing the caption "Jeremy Corbyn is a racist endeavour". The tweet was condemned by some for erasing the struggle against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, the original subject of the sign, to make a political point, with some users calling for Riley to be fired.[48] The professional photographer who took the original shot, Rob Scott, also publicly declared his displeasure, stating she had "illegally manipulated and printed" the picture to "cynically promote her agenda", adding "I am appalled by the abuse of property, moral rights and change of anti-racist message to anti-Corbyn one."[49]

Other work[edit]

Riley's mathematics background and love of football has seen her assist bookmakers in preparing betting odds for football tournaments; based on her analysis she predicted Chile would win the 2014 FIFA World Cup, despite appreciating fans would see it as an unlikely outcome (Chile was ultimately knocked out in the Round of 16).[12]

Riley has visited schools to enthuse pupils on the "joys of applied maths, quantum mechanics and time travel and so on".[12][16] A blog, written by University of Surrey academic Julia Percival and hosted by The Guardian, which argued that Riley's looks and figure would work against any aim to increase female participation in the sciences, was described by The Daily Telegraph as unfair and a case of Riley being damned if she did and damned if she didn't.[12][50]

In June 2019, Riley was criticised by environmental groups and accused of greenwashing for her promotion of the "future energy solutions" of Shell.[51]


Year Title Channel Role Notes
2009–present Countdown Channel 4 Co-presenter With Jeff Stelling (2009–2011) and Nick Hewer (2012–present)
2012–present 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown Co-presenter With Jimmy Carr
2010 The IT Crowd Herself Cameo in in-show countdown
2013–2014 The Gadget Show Channel 5 Co-presenter With Jason Bradbury
2013 Strictly Come Dancing BBC One Participant 5th celebrity to be eliminated
2014 Memory Slam Watch Presenter
2016 It's Not Rocket Science ITV Co-presenter With Ben Miller and Romesh Ranganathan
2016–2017 Friday Night Football Sky Sports Co-presenter With Jeff Stelling
Fantasy Football Club Co-presenter With Max Rushden and Paul Merson
2019 Celebrity Countdown More4 Co-presenter With Nick Hewer
Guest appearances

She has also made brief appearances in such shows as The IT Crowd, Dispatches, Britain's Brightest and 1001 Things You Should Know.


  1. ^ Worsdale, Jim (27 July 2011). "I really love Countdown... trust me, it is not being axed". Echo. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  2. ^ England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916–2007
  3. ^ Countdown, 11 January 2011.
  4. ^ "The Metro". Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  5. ^ "Derbyshire Times". Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  6. ^ Campaign can count on Rachel Riley's support Archived 31 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine Evening Echo, 5 August 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2013
  7. ^ a b "Rachel Riley of Countdown finds her Jewish roots to take on the Corbynistas". The Times. 26 January 2019. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  8. ^ "More Success for Rachel Riley". Thorpe Hall Website.
  9. ^ "Rachel Riley - Biography". Hello Magazine.
  10. ^ She then completed a Master of Arts degree. Riley's nickname at university was, she revealed on crystal maze, the 'angry chav'. "I really love Countdown... trust me, it is not being axed". Southend Echo. 27 July 2011. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  11. ^ "New hosts Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley Debut on Countdown". The Tart. 16 January 2009. Archived from the original on 3 March 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2009.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Rachel Riley: 'Strictly magnified the fault lines in my marriage' Archived 20 June 2014 at the Wayback Machine Daily Telegraph, 18 June 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d "Sky host Stelling joins Countdown". BBC News. BBC. 21 November 2008. Archived from the original on 18 December 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2008.
  14. ^ Forsey, Zoe (11 January 2019). "Rachel Riley shares Countdown's rudest words from the last 10 years". mirror. Archived from the original on 11 January 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  15. ^ Deen, Sarah (12 January 2019). "Rachel Riley marks 10 years of Countdown with all the rude words". metro.co.uk. Archived from the original on 13 January 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  16. ^ a b "Rachel Riley returns to the dancefloor". Archived from the original on 17 September 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  17. ^ "The Gadget Show | Meet The Gadget Show's new presenter: Rachel Riley! by The Gadget Show". Gadgetshow.channel5.com. Archived from the original on 25 May 2013. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  18. ^ The Gadget Show’s new presenter is an Olympic champion! Archived 26 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "It's Not Rocket Science Episode 1". Archived from the original on 25 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  20. ^ Unbelievable Jeff! Rachel Riley joins Sky Sports Archived 9 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Houghton, Rianne (14 June 2017). "Countdown star Rachel Riley quits Sky Sports job after receiving 'hideous personal abuse'". Digitalspy.com. Archived from the original on 6 August 2017. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  22. ^ Carter, Claire (29 November 2013). "Rachel Riley in split from husband". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 30 November 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  23. ^ Philipson, Alison (29 November 2013). "The curse of Strictly: romances that have crumbled under pressure of the danceflloor". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 12 January 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  24. ^ Rajani, Deepika. "Why is Pasha Kovalev leaving Strictly? Professional dancer quits BBC show for 'new challenge'". i. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  25. ^ Hards, Shannon (24 May 2019). "Rachel Riley pregnant and expecting first child with Strictly star Pasha Kovalev". Cornwall Live. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  26. ^ "Countdown's Rachel Riley marries Strictly's Pasha". 1 July 2019. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  27. ^ "Rachel Riley gives birth to baby girl - Maven Aria Riley Kovaleva". The Jewish Chronicle. 18 December 2019. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  28. ^ Me a sex symbol? It just doesn’t add up, says Rachel Riley Archived 6 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine Southend Echo, 22 January 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  29. ^ a b Media Monkey (24 June 2013). "Countdown: Rachel Riley red-faced over Ryan Giggs". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 31 August 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  30. ^ Ryan Giggs to appear on Rachel Riley's 1,000th 'Countdown' episode – TV News – Digital Spy Archived 27 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "Strictly Come Dancing 2013: Rachel Riley". Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  32. ^ "Episode 7, 2011/2012, Celebrity Mastermind – BBC One". BBC. Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  33. ^ Kale, Sirin (20 August 2019). "Behind the times? The strange, sad story of rear of the year". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  34. ^ "Rachel Riley: People are grateful I've spoken out about antisemitism". Jewish News. 16 March 2019.
  35. ^ "Rachel Riley of Countdown finds her Jewish roots to take on the Corbynistas". The Times. 26 January 2019. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  36. ^ Dimmock, Joel. "The Rachel Riley Twitter row over antisemitism is just another glimpse of Team Corbyn's flawed and fatal logic". The Independent. Archived from the original on 13 January 2019. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  37. ^ "Ways to change the world – Rachel-Riley-interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy". Channel 4 News. Archived from the original on 11 January 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  38. ^ "Rachel Riley called 'thick' for criticising Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism row". The Telegraph. 12 September 2018. Archived from the original on 10 January 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  39. ^ Riley, Rachel (23 January 2019). "Why I spoke out about Labour's anti-Semitism shame". The Spectator. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  40. ^ Millis, Joe (22 January 2019). "Rachel Riley: 'Antisemitism is a national scandal'". Jewish News. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  41. ^ Waterson, Jim (21 February 2019). "Rachel Riley and Tracy Ann Oberman to take legal action after Twitter abuse". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  42. ^ "Tracy-Ann Oberman and Rachel Riley drop defamation case". www.thejc.com.
  43. ^ "Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman drop libel claim over retweet". the Guardian. 29 July 2020.
  44. ^ Devlin, Kate (11 February 2019). "Countdown star Rachel Riley attended breakaway Labour party meeting". The Times. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  45. ^ Clinton, Jane (11 February 2019). "Rachel Riley among backers looking to launch centrist breakaway party from Labour". inews. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  46. ^ Frot, Mathilde (3 April 2019). "How a group of friends are fighting fake news – with a hand from Rachel Riley". Jewish News. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  47. ^ Havery, Gavin (17 July 2019). "Countdown presenter said Jewish song at miners' gala was "as tasteful as showing Black Panther at a Klan rally."". Northern Echo. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  48. ^ Embury-Dennis, Tom. "Rachel Riley edits out anti-apartheid message in attack on Jeremy Corbyn". The Independent. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  49. ^ Speare-Cole, Rebecca (26 November 2019). "Photographer hits out at Rachel Riley for wearing t-shirt with 'illegal' version of his picture of Jeremy Corbyn". Evening Standard. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  50. ^ Julia Percival (28 May 2014). "No George Osborne! Girls will not follow pretty role models into science". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 27 March 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2017. Studies published in 2013 by Diana E. Betz and Denise Sekaquaptewa looked at the impact of different types of female role models on girls' opinion of their own ability to succeed at a Stem subject. They found that typically feminine Stem role models not only decreased girls' interest in Stem subjects, but also decreased their belief in their own ability to succeed at those subjects – and the likelihood of studying them. ... I can sympathise with these students. Rachel Riley, the mathematician who appears on Countdown, is a great Stem ambassador, but even someone like me, with a first degree and PhD in chemistry, feels like a failure in comparison to her, because she is slim and pretty – and I'm not.
  51. ^ Snaith, Emma (28 June 2019). "Rachel Riley accused of 'greenwashing' for promoting oil company Shell". The Independent. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  52. ^ Celebrity Fifteen to One SERIES 1 – EPISODE 4 Archived 30 June 2014 at the Wayback Machine Radio Times
  53. ^ "Celebrity Squares". Archived from the original on 5 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.

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