How Hannah Waddingham’s career took off in her 40s! As the Ted Lasso star bags Eurovision presenting role, FEMAIL reveals how she went from minor West End actress to Hollywood darling

  • Mother-of-one, 48, will co-host Eurovision alongside Graham Norton in May
  • The actress only got her big break in Ted Lasso three years ago 
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She may have started out in the London theatre scene in her early 20s – but three years ago, Hannah Waddingham finally got her big break. 

At the age of 45, the actress, from London, bagged the role of Richmond FC owner Rebecca Welton in the hit Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso – which has earned her two Emmys for Best Supporting Actress. 

This morning, it was announced that the mother-of-one will co-host this year’s Eurovision – which takes place in Liverpool in May – alongside Graham Norton, Alesha Dixon, Rylan and Claire Sweeney.

Following the announcement, the star – who was previously most recognisable for her minor Game of Thrones role –  opened up about what the upcoming job meant to her on Twitter.

She gushed: ‘Couldn’t be more thrilled to be joining the Eurovision family this year of all years. #IStandWithUkraine.’ 

Hannah Waddingham, 48, poses with her Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in September 2021

Here FEMAIL reveals how Hannah’s career has sky-rocketed in her 40s – taking her from relatively unknown West End actress to Hollywood darling. 

Born and raised in South-West London, Hannah, 48, attended private girls’ school Streatham and Clapham High School before going on to study at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts.

Following her graduation, Hannah – who is the daughter of opera singer Melodie Kelly – concentrated on making it as a theatre actress.

One of her first jobs was in the interactive dinner show Joni and Gina’s Wedding – where audience members take on the role of wedding guests and are invited to engage with actors.

Speaking to uInterview in 2022, Hannah credited the improvisation show for allowing her to grow as an actress. 

She said: ‘It really let me cut my teeth because you have to be quick-witted and on it and go with whatever someone else has said and keep it positive.

‘And that’s probably what got me into the worlds of comedy and drama… being able to mix and ebb and flow through each other.’ 

In 2000, Hannah released the single Our Kind of Love – which was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his musical The Beautiful Game – to commemorate the composer’s 50th birthday.

This morning, it was announced that Hannah Waddingham will co-host Eurovision alongside Graham Norton, Alesha Dixon, Rylan and Claire Sweeney 

Undated photo shows Hannah Waddingham starring in a West End production of the musical Lautrec

Hannah Waddingham with Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Ben Elton in 2000 after she was chosen to perform their song Our Kind of Love

Hannah pictured playing the Lady of the Lake in  2006 production of Spamalot – a production which earned seven Olivier nominations

After this, Hannah appeared in a 2002 production of Space Family Robinson before going on to star as Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, which earned her an Olivier Award nod. 

The show – which was both a West End and Broadway hit – went on to be nominated for seven Laurence Olivier awards in 2012. 

However, the actress was left furious when the production failed to walk away with a single award that year.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Hannah said: ‘I don’t begrudge the best actor or best actress award at all but I really do begrudge the fact we didn’t win best new musical.

‘I’m totally p****ed off we didn’t win that. I’m actually angry. Surely if you are nominated in seven categories there is a reason for that and at some point that should be acknowledged.’ 

Later that year, Hannah starred in a production of Kiss Me, Kate and was nominated for her third Olivier.

Hannah Waddingham pictured in a 2008 production of A Little Night Music on London’s West End

Hannah pictured with her on-screen family after being cast as Tonya Dyke in ITV’s hit series Benidorm

Hannah later revealed that she was groped several times a day while filming the ITV series Benidorm (pictured)

Alongside her growing stage presence, Hannah also started auditioning for more and more TV and film roles -having made her big screen debut in 2008’s How To Lose Friends and Alienate People.

In 2014, Hannah was cast as Tonya Dyke in the hit ITV series Benidorm and later opened up about her her frustrations on set.

In an interview with The Mirror, Hannah said: ‘I’d never been groped in my life, but I was groped three times in one week in Benidorm.

‘To get on set, I had to walk through the hotel dressed as Tonya in some non-existent bikini and high heels with blokes gawping at me… or rather groping me. 

‘I had to stop myself doing what I’d instinctively do – knock their blocks off – because I was working.’ 

Hannah Waddingham also appeared alongside Brian Cox in the 2016 TV movie The Entire Universe

Hannah (pictured in character as Septa Unella in Game of Thrones) appears in the infamous scene which sees Cersei perform the walk of atonement as Hannah’s character yells ‘Shame!’

Speaking to the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye in 2021, Hannah explained how she signed for mainly U.S. productions shot in the UK because she felt mainstream British TV shows were biased against actors from musical theatre. 

In 2016, she hit the big-time when she was cast as Septa Unella in the fifth season of Game of Thrones.

The devout follower of the High Sparrow featured in the infamous scene which sees Cersei perform the walk of atonement as Hannah’s character yells ‘Shame!’

However, Cersei gets revenge on Septa in a later episode by waterboarding her. 

During an appearance on Collider Ladies Night, Hannah opened up about the challenging filming process.

She said: ‘Other than childbirth, it was the worst day of my life. Because Lena (Headey, who played Cersei Lannister) was uncomfortable pouring liquid in my face for that long, and I was beside myself.’

Hannah was cast as Jackon’s mother Sofia in Sex Education in 2019 before going to bag her Ted Lasso role

In 2021, Hannah appeared in an episode of Murder, They Hope – where she played a police officer

Eurovision hosts revealed: (L-R) Sam Quek, Mel Giedroyc, Rylan, Julia Sanina, Graham Norton, Hannah Waddingham, Alesha Dixon, Scott Mills, Rylan and Timur Miroshnychenko

However, the recognisable role certainly put Hannah on the Hollywood map – leading her to then be cast as Jackon’s mother Sofia in the hit Netflix series Sex Education in 2019. 

Two years later, Hannah’s career reached all new heights when she bagged a starring role as warm-yet-icy football club owner Rebecca Welton in Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso. 

At the time, Hannah’s daughter Kitty – whom she shares with hotelier Gianluca Cugnetto – had recently been diagnosed Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP).

After receiving the terrifying call while filming the Warner Bros series Krypton in Belfast, Hannah wasn’t sure how she would be able to continue working.

HSP, an autoimmune disorder, is a condition that involves swelling of small blood vessels, often affecting children between ages two and six. In most cases, children will make a full recovery, but can be left with kidney problems.  

Finding herself unable to fly home from Belfast, while her daughter lay in a hospital bed with ‘giraffe splats of brown’ across her, that turned out to be ‘capillaries bursting over her little leggies’ the actress vowed to make a change. 

Hannah pictured playing Rebecca Welton in Ted Lasso – the owner of fictional football club Richmond FC

Hannah pictured with the Ted Lasso castmates at the Emmy Awards in September 2021

After finally getting to see her daughter the following day, Waddingham informed her management in both the UK and LA that she could no longer be away from her child. 

‘I am first and foremost a mum, and more importantly a single mum,’ she told her agents over a conference call.

Recounting the story in the US while appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last year, the star revealed how she then ‘asked the universe’ for a dream role that would enable her to be close to her daughter.

‘I’m going to ask the universe for something, which is probably unreasonable but, I’m going to say, “Thank you for making my little girl better,” she told Ellen.

‘Can I thank you for what you’ve given me already, but can I just ask you for something that is close to home so I can do my main role, which is to be mama. And also can I ask that it’s something that really shows what I can do [as an actress]. And I hope that’s not asking too much.”‘

Precious: Hannah is seen with her daughter Kitty, who she welcomed in 2016 with then-partner, hotelier Gianluca Cugnetto

Hannah Waddingham pictured with her former partner, hotelier Gianluca Cugnetto, in March 2015

Waddingham ended the moving story by revealing that it was just ‘two months later this meeting came up’ for the Ted Lasso role, which is just a half hour drive from her home.

Despite fearing that her theatre background would put casting directors off, Hannah previously told the Daily Mail that it worked to her advantage with Ted Lasso. 

She says her stage experience was one of the things Sudeikis and his team were attracted to when ‘the little girl from Wandsworth Common’ auditioned. 

She explained that getting the Ted Lasso role ‘was like the universe going, “You’ve done your hard grafting, you’ve done your running around . . . here you go: you can have both”.’

Hannah Waddingham pictured as The Witch in Hocus Pocus 2, which was released in September 2022

Appearing on Kate Thornton’s White Wine Question Time podcast last year, Hannah highlighted how there’s much more crossover between the theatre and TV worlds now.

She said: ‘I think casting directors here are now far more open to musical theatre people stepping in front of the camera, but certainly back then we’re talking eight to 10 years ago. It was absolutely impenetrable.’ 

 Discussing the difficulties she’s faced in her career, Hannah added: ‘It’s like there was] a reluctance to kind of let me in. For a long while, I was thinking: “Okay, they can’t see past the fact that I’ve done theatre”.

‘Whereas in America, if you do theatre and certainly musical theatre, they think: “My god, they’re a triple threat!”

Later this year, Hannah will appear in the highly-anticipated third season of Ted Lasso and is currently filming the movie The Fall Guy opposite Hollywood heavy weights Aaron Taylor Johnson, Emily Blunt and Ryan Gosling.

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