Sandi Toksvig

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Sandi Toksvig
Sandi Toksvig in 2009.jpg
Sandi Toksvig in 2009
BornSandra Birgitte Toksvig
(1958-05-03) 3 May 1958 (age 60)
Copenhagen, Denmark
CitizenshipBritish (from 2013)
Alma materGirton College, Cambridge
OccupationComedian, author, radio and television presenter, co-founder of Women's Equality Party
Political partyWomen's Equality Party
Debbie Toksvig (m. 2007)
Parent(s)Claus Toksvig[1]
Julie Anne Toksvig (née Brett)

Sandra Birgitte Toksvig, OBE (/ˈtɒksvɪɡ/, Danish pronunciation: [ˌsandi ˈtʌɡsviːˀ]; born 3 May 1958)[2] is a British-Danish comedian, writer, actor, presenter and producer on British radio and television, and political activist.

On 21 October 2016, Toksvig took over from Stephen Fry as host of the BBC television quiz show QI. She was the host of The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4 from 2006 until June 2015. She also presented the quiz show 1001 Things You Should Know on Channel 4 television in 2012–13, and began hosting a revived series of the same channel's game show Fifteen to One on 5 April 2014.

She is joint founder of the Women's Equality Party (established in March 2015), was installed as Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth in October 2012, and is the current president of the Women of the Year Lunch.

On 16 March 2017, Toksvig was announced as the new co-presenter of The Great British Bake Off, alongside comedian Noel Fielding.[3]

Early life[edit]

Toksvig was born in Denmark. Her father, Claus Toksvig, was a Danish journalist, broadcaster, and foreign correspondent, so Toksvig spent most of her youth outside Denmark, mostly in New York City. Her mother, Julie Anne Toksvig (née Brett), is British.[4] She attended Tormead School, an independent girls' school near Guildford, when her father was based in London. Her first job was a position as a follow spot operator for the musical Jesus Christ Superstar at the age of 18.[5][6]

She read law, archaeology and anthropology at Girton College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class degree and receiving two prizes for outstanding achievement (The Raemakers and the Theresa Montefiore Awards).[7] One of her law supervisors was Lord Denning.[8]


When I see comedian—and ‘comedienne’, of course I hate it—I think ‘Oh, really?’ because I think of myself as a writer and broadcaster. Sometimes it's funny but I’ve just done a piece for Radio 3 all about Mary Wollstonecraft, and there's not a joke in it.

The Times[9]

Toksvig performing in 2008


Toksvig began her comedy career at Girton College, Cambridge University, where she wrote and performed in the first all-woman show at the Footlights. She was there at the same time as fellow members Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery, and Emma Thompson, and wrote additional material for the Perrier award-winning Footlights Revue. She was also a member of the university's Light Entertainment Society.

She started her television career on children's series, presenting No. 73 (1982–1986), the Sandwich Quiz,[10] The Saturday Starship, Motormouth, Gilbert's Fridge, and on factual programmes such as Island Race and The Talking Show, produced by Open Media for Channel 4.

In October 2012, in the wake of allegations about the behaviour of Jimmy Savile, and claims that during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, there was a culture within the BBC which tolerated sexual harassment, she says she was groped by a "famous individual" on air in the 1980s.[11][12] Toksvig said the allegations of inappropriate behaviour at the BBC "did not surprise me at all".


In the comedy circuit, Toksvig performed at the first night of the Comedy Store in London, and was once part of their Players, an improvisational comedy team.[13]

In television, she appeared as a panellist in comedy shows such as Call My Bluff (a regular as a team captain), Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Mock the Week, QI, and Have I Got News for You, where she appeared on the very first episode in 1990.[14] She was also the host of What the Dickens, a Sky Arts quiz show.

On radio, she is a familiar voice for BBC Radio 4 listeners, having appeared on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, The Unbelievable Truth, and as the chair of The News Quiz, where she replaced Simon Hoggart in September 2006, but left in June 2015 in order to enter politics to champion women's rights. Her final show was first broadcast on 26 June. She presented Radio 4's travel programme Excess Baggage until it was axed in 2012. [15]

Drama and factual[edit]

In 1993, Toksvig wrote a musical, Big Night Out at the Little Sands Picture Palace, for Nottingham Playhouse, co-starring with Anita Dobson and Una Stubbs. In 2002, it was re-written, with Dilly Keane, for the Watford Palace Theatre, in which they appeared with Bonnie Langford.[16]

Toksvig and Elly Brewer wrote a Shakespeare deconstruction, The Pocket Dream, which Toksvig performed at the Nottingham Playhouse and which transferred to the West End for a short run. The pair also wrote the 1992 TV series The Big One, in which she also starred. She has appeared in a number of stage plays, including Androcles and the Lion, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Comedy of Errors.

In 1996, she narrated the Dragons! interactive CD-ROM published by Oxford University Press and developed by Inner Workings, along with Harry Enfield.[17] The software was primarily aimed at children and featured songs and poems about dragons. She also narrated the Winnie the Witch CD-ROM. She appeared in the Doctor Who audio drama Red by Big Finish Productions, released in August 2006. In December 2006, she hosted and sang at the London Gay Men's Chorus sold-out Christmas show, Make the Yuletide Gay, at the Barbican Centre.[18] Over Christmas and New Year 2007/2008, she narrated the pantomime Cinderella at the Old Vic Theatre. In October 2011, she narrated the new musical Soho Cinders at the Queen's Theatre, London. In 2011 she hosted a second season of BBC Two's Antiques Master.

Toksvig wrote a play entitled Bully Boy which focused on post-traumatic stress among British servicemen. The play premièred at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton in May 2011, and starred Anthony Andrews.[19] The play then launched the debut season of St James Theatre in September 2012, the first new West End theatre to open in 30 years.[20]

In the 2013 Christmas Special of BBC's Call the Midwife, Toksvig made a cameo appearance as grumpy ward nurse Sister Gibbs.[21][22]

Toksvig was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to broadcasting.[23]

On 28 April 2015, it was announced that Toksvig would leave BBC Radio 4's The News Quiz in June at the end of the 28th series, which was scheduled to begin on 15 May of that year. She said: "I have decided it is time to move on and, of course, I feel sad but I think it's the right moment. The show is in great shape and, like a good house guest, you should always depart when people still wish you'd stay a bit longer." The BBC said Toksvig had made the "difficult decision" to leave in order "to embark on a new and exciting stage of her career".[24] On 30 April 2015, Toksvig announced that her decision to quit The News Quiz had been made in order to allow her to help set up a new political party named the Women's Equality Party.[25][26]

In November 2015, Toksvig was a guest of BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. Her choices included Joe Nichols ("What's a Guy Gotta Do"), Gustav Winckler, The Weather Girls, Barbra Streisand, and Bonnie Langford. Her book choice was The Ashley Book of Knots, and her luxury item was an endless supply of the Daily Mail.[27]

Her most recent play Silver Lining opened at the Rose Theatre Kingston on 11 February 2017, before touring to Portsmouth, Oxford, Cambridge, Ipswich, Keswick, York, and Salford. It's about five elderly ladies and a young carer in a retirement home which is about to be flooded by a storm. It stars Rachel Davies, Keziah Joseph, Maggie McCarthy, Joanna Monro, Sheila Reid, and Amanda Walker. Toksvig's son, Theo Toksvig-Stewart, made his professional stage debut in the play.[28]


She has written more than twenty fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults, starting in 1994 with Tales from the Norse's Mouth, a fiction tale for children. In 1995, she sailed around the coast of Britain with John McCarthy, who had been held hostage in Beirut. In 2003, she published Gladys Reunited: A Personal American Journey, about her travels in the USA retracing her childhood. She writes regular columns for Good Housekeeping, the Sunday Telegraph and The Lady. In October 2008, she published Girls Are Best, a history book for girls.[29]

In 2009, her collected columns for The Sunday Telegraph were published in book form as The Chain of Curiosity. In 2012, she published her latest book, Valentine Grey, a historical novel set in the Boer War.[30]

Television presenter[edit]

In 2012–13 Toksvig presented 1001 Things You Should Know for Channel 4 daytime.

Toksvig began presenting the revival edition of the daytime game show Fifteen-to-One in April 2014.[31] It is an hour long instead of the original half-hour edition presented by William G. Stewart. After two series had been broadcast, in June 2015, Channel 4 announced that a further three would be made, hosted by Toksvig.[32] Toksvig took over from Stephen Fry as host of QI; she hosted the first episode of the show's series "N", which was broadcast on 21 October 2016.[33] In September 2018, Toksvig reported that she was only paid 40% of what Fry, her predecessor, had received. Toksvig had earlier told the Radio Times it would be “absurd” if she did not receive the same salary as Fry for chairing QI.[34]

On 16 March 2017 she was announced as the new co-presenter of The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4 alongside Noel Fielding. They replaced the previous hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.

Politics and activism[edit]

Toksvig was part of Red Wedge's comedy tour in the 1980s which actively supported the Labour Party. She was later a high-profile political activist supporting the Liberal Democrats.[35][36] She both introduced frontbencher Menzies Campbell at the party's 2004 conference and was named as a possible parliamentary candidate.[citation needed]

In 2003 she stood as a candidate in the election for the Chancellorship of the University of Oxford, supporting a campaign against student fees.[37] She was defeated in the first round of voting, achieving 1,179 first-place votes out of about 8,000 cast.[38] The election was won by Chris Patten.

In 2011, some MPs urged Ofcom to investigate an "obscene joke" after Toksvig said on BBC Radio 4's The News Quiz that the Conservative Party had "put the 'N' into cuts" to child benefit.[39] In 2012, she said in an interview that "I don't think there's a party that represents anything I believe in".[40] Toksvig supports the charity and pressure group Liberty, hosting its 2012 awards ceremony.[41] Toksvig attracted further criticism in 2015 for a joke on the subject of UKIP leader Nigel Farage having lost a testicle to cancer.[42] She was appointed president of the Women of the Year Lunch.[43]

Women's Equality Party[edit]

In April 2015, Toksvig chaired the first, informal, conference of a new political party, the Women's Equality Party,[44][45] and she subsequently left her job as presenter of The News Quiz to become co-founder of the party.[25][26] She later explained that she had decided that it was "not too late to fight the good fight, after all".[46] In September the same year she announced the dates for a comedy tour to raise funds for the party.[47][48] The party's full set of policies were launched at Conway Hall, 20 October 2015.[49][50]

Personal life[edit]

As an eleven-year-old, Toksvig was present with her father, a leading Danish foreign affairs journalist, at NASA Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas during the first moon landing.[51][52] In an appearance on BBC 1 show The TV That Made Me, she stated she held the hand of Neil Armstrong's nervous secretary to calm the woman down during the final moments. She also revealed she had a lifetime fear of children's television puppet Basil Brush, although, ironically, she had written a 2002 episode of The Basil Brush Show entitled "Molly Christmas".

I wouldn’t care if they came from Tesco. I don’t care about the blood thing. They call me Mummy and I earned it. We love each other. You can’t do better than that. Lots of families don’t.

Toksvig commenting on her children in The Times[53]

Toksvig is the mother of two daughters (Megan and Jesse) and a son (Theo).[54][55][56] The children were carried by her then partner, Peta Stewart, from whom she separated in 1997,[53] and were conceived through artificial insemination by donor Christopher Lloyd-Pack,[9] younger brother of the actor Roger Lloyd-Pack.[57][58]

She lives on a houseboat in Wandsworth[59] with psychotherapist Debbie Toksvig,[54] whom she joined in a civil partnership in 2007.[60] They renewed their vows on 29 March 2014, the day same-sex marriage was introduced in England and Wales,[61] and in December 2014, their civil partnership was converted into a marriage.[62]

In 1994 the charity Save the Children dropped her services as compere of its 75th anniversary celebrations after she came out,[9] but following a direct action protest by the Lesbian Avengers,[63] the charity apologised.[64]

An atheist and humanist, Toksvig is a patron of Humanists UK.[65] In October 2012 she succeeded Sheila Hancock as Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth.[66]

Toksvig became a British citizen in 2013.[67]

Toksvig describes her "posh" accent as being the result of a deliberate attempt to copy the voice of Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, after being ostracised at boarding school for having an American accent.[27]

Awards and honours[edit]


Books for children[edit]

  • Toksvig, Sandi (2009). Girls Are Best. London: Red Fox. ISBN 978-1-86230-429-1.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2008). The Littlest Viking. London: Yearling. ISBN 978-0-440-86830-9.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2006). Hitlers Canary. Vlaardingen, Holland: Valerius uitgeverij. ISBN 90-78250-02-X. (Dutch translation)
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2005). Hitler's Canary. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-60889-6.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2000). The Troublesome Tooth Fairy. Transworld. ISBN 0-552-54663-1.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2000). Super-Saver Mouse to the Rescue. Transworld. ISBN 0-552-54541-4.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (1999). Super-Saver Mouse. Transworld. ISBN 0-552-54540-6.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (1998). If I Didn't Have Elbows. Deagosti. ISBN 1-84089-048-7.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (1997). Unusual Day. Transworld/Corgi. ISBN 0-552-54539-2.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (1994). Tales from the Norse's Mouth. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-40358-6.

Books for adults[edit]

  • Toksvig, Sandi (2012) Valentine Grey. Virago. ISBN 9781844088317
  • Toksvig, Sandi, (illustrated by Sandy Nightingale) (2012). Heroines & Harridans – A Fanfare of Fabulous Females. The Robson Press. ISBN 978-1849-54-3385.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2006). Melted into Air. Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-86117-0.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2003). Gladys Reunited: A Personal American Journey. Little, Brown. ISBN 0-7515-3328-9.
  • Toksvig, Sandi & Nightingale, Sandy (2002). The Travels of Lady Bulldog Burton. Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-86007-7.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (2001). Flying Under Bridges. Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-85635-5.
  • Toksvig, Sandi (1999). Whistling for the Elephants. Transworld. ISBN 0-593-04480-0.
  • McCarthy, John; Toksvig, Sandi (1995). Island Race: an Improbable Voyage Round the Coast of Britain. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-37053-X.
  • Toksvig, Sandi; et al. (1994). Great Journeys of the World. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-37050-5.


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External links[edit]

Party political offices
New political party Co-founder of the Women's Equality Party
With: Catherine Mayer
Succeeded by
Sophie Walker
as leader
Media offices
Preceded by
William G. Stewart
Host of Fifteen to One
2014 – present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Stephen Fry
Host of QI
2016 – present
Succeeded by