Hannah Waddingham reveals drama teacher’s insult that spurred her on to be TV star

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Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham has spoken about how a drama teacher once told her she would never succeed in TV because of her appearance.

“I had one drama teacher that said to the whole class: ‘Oh Hannah will never work on screen because she looks like one side of her face has had a stroke,'” the actress said.

The insulting comment only spurred her on, Waddingham said.

“I thought, I will do. Come hell or high water, I will work on screen.”

Waddingham has won an Emmy, a Critics’ Choice Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for playing Richmond FC owner Rebecca Welton in Apple TV+ comedy Ted Lasso.

The star, from south London, has also been in Game of Thrones and Sex Education, and was a fan favourite when she co-hosted last year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Before making her breakthrough on screen, she was a leading lady on stage in the West End and on Broadway.

The drama teacher’s comment “gave me a complex for years”, she told BBC Radio 2 podcast Michelle Visage’s Rule Breakers.

“This is why, in my Emmys speech, I made a point – the one thing I said to myself [was], if this weird moment comes and I get this award, and I get my foot in this door, I’m going to rip it off its hinges for music theatre people, or theatre people, to follow.”

The teacher cannot have thought the comment “was helpful or positive or aspirational”, she said.

“I would say that was my biggest rule break ever – to go, ‘You know what? I’m just going to see.'”

She worked so hard to prove them wrong that “I used to knacker myself senseless”, she said.

“I used to be doing a [theatre] show at night and I used to literally take anything to get myself on screen.”

However, she eventually decided she wasn’t getting the TV roles she deserved.

“It got to the point where I realised I was only getting one scene in this, or one ep[isode] in that. And I went, do you know what? I think I’ve done enough… This isn’t cool any more. Why should I be constantly feeding into someone else’s storyline?

“So I said to my agents at the time, ‘I’m not doing it any more… If it’s one scene, I’m not doing it any more, and you shouldn’t be putting me up for it because it’s insulting. I’ve been a leading lady for 22 years. I’m not doing it any more. I’d rather be in a world where I’m appreciated.’

“So I fully stepped back. And then Game of Thrones happened.”

The fantasy series gave Waddingham her first major screen role, as Septa Unella, better known as the Shame Nun, joining in season five.


The actress recalled that a school headteacher also stood in the way of her acting ambitions because she thought Waddingham was wasting her academic abilities.

“My headmistress… said: ‘You’re bright enough to read drama’, and I said: ‘I don’t want to read drama, I want to do drama’.

“She refused to give me a reference, so I managed to get a scholarship for the drama school I went to and I walked back in, put it on her desk and left the room without shutting the door.”

Waddingham added: “She was always dismissive of me because, it wasn’t that I wasn’t academic, [but] I knew what I wanted to do so it annoyed her that I turned my back on the academia. So she would purposely put everyone else in the school plays and have me understudy.”

Asked by Visage for her advice for others with ambitions, Waddingham said: “Chance it. Put your foot down and be brave. And if it doesn’t work, truly live in where you find yourself and embrace it. But you have to try.”

Listen to Michelle Visage’s Rule Breakers on BBC Sounds.