Rick Edwards looks back: ‘I don’t know what my dad said to make me smile like that’


Born in Enfield, north London, in 1979, Rick Edwards is a TV presenter turned podcaster, author and radio presenter. A Cambridge University graduate, he studied maths for one year before switching to natural sciences. After graduating, he became a poster boy of mid-noughties hangover TV, as a host on T4 and E4 Music. Since then he has diversified with political shows, quizzes and now BBC Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show and a science podcast, Eureka!, which he co-hosts alongside Dr Michael Brooks. He is married, to the actor Emer Kenny, and they have a baby boy.

Before Bake Off ‘showstoppers’ existed, my mum was churning out impressive cakes. This one, for my eighth birthday, is one of many magnificent creations she produced: it’s a depiction of a moonscape. I’m not entirely sure why she went with blue icing, and it has a union jack flag on it, which is quite patriotic but frankly inaccurate. It is lovely, however, and solid evidence of my interest in space and science stuff. It would have been one of those “close your eyes” cake reveal moments, and while my mum took the photo my dad was making me laugh from behind the camera. I look as if I can’t quite contain myself. This is the face of unvarnished, unadulterated joy.

I’m an only child, so I got a lot of attention growing up. There were cakes until I went to university, in fact. As well as the baked goods, they insisted I had a Christmas stocking until I was 41. My dad would sneak in when I was asleep and put the stocking at the end of my bed. When my wife came to visit with me one Christmas, I had to say: “Well, Emer is going to be in bed, too, I’m a 40-year-old man, I think it might be best to not go with the stocking thing, Dad?” He said: “Well, we’ve already got the stuff now,” so he did it anyway. I’ve since insisted: “Please stop with the stockings. I love you. It’s been a great run, but we don’t need it any more.” Now they’ve got a grandson, they can funnel all of that into him. I can finally pass the baton on.

This photo would have been taken at our house in Portsmouth. We moved there as my dad got a job in a garage selling tyres and doing MOTs. I never visited the garage when I was little, but I was obsessed with vehicles in general. I had big posters of sports cars on my walls and wanted to know everything about the size of the engines, how rack and pinion steering worked. It’s reasonably embarrassing, actually.

I was quite clearly a nerd, but at school I was a troublemaker. In the end I got kicked out. The teachers had had enough

I was good at tests and quite clearly a nerd. But at school I was a troublemaker. I wasn’t well behaved. We didn’t have much money, but I was spoiled with time and love instead, so when I went to school I was so used to being the centre of everything that I expected the same in classes. I wanted people to find me funny at any cost. Fun for me, but disruptive for the teachers and pupils. There was one particular parents’ evening when my mum got so upset that she cried and then didn’t go to another for several years. She was confused that her boy at home was also capable of being so disruptive at school. My dad would always defend me to the hilt. “He’s just bored!” he’d say, “that’s why he’s playing up – you’ve just got to stretch him more!” It was nice that he had a defence ready for me, but in truth I was being terrible. In the end I got kicked out before my GCSEs. They let me sit the exams, but I didn’t go back to revise. The teachers had had enough.

Because I was OK at tests, I managed to get into Cambridge to study maths, a subject I found endlessly fascinating and beautiful. But studying at that level was too difficult and I quickly stopped enjoying it. Plus I didn’t work very hard. What I did enjoy was the Cambridge Footlights, because I had a legitimate outlet to stand up in front of people and try to make them laugh. I had to audition for the president and vice-president to get in, so it turned out two of the first people I did any comedy in front of were Richard Ayoade and John Oliver, who were just two older, funny men at the time. And to my surprise they said: “You seem fine, you can come and do it.” It was there that I met a lot of my good friends, comedians such as Alex Horne, Tim Key, Mark Watson and Tom Basden.

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They were all better than me at comedy, obviously, but Footlights gave me a sense that something performative might work in the future. I’d never met anyone who worked in TV, so I had no idea how to get into the industry, but after graduating I was tutoring Ruby Wax’s kid for maths and science to pay my rent, and I got on quite well with her. One day she said: “What are you doing with your life?” I told her I didn’t know, but I had a sort of vague inkling. She told me to apply for a graduate trainee scheme, which I did, and that got me in as a junior researcher and gave me the opportunity to do some on-screen stuff.

I was in my early 20s when I became a full-time presenter for E4. As an attention-seeker, I thought I’d relish being recognised, but it quickly became apparent that I didn’t like it very much. Two paths diverged in front of me, so I focused on trying to do the work but not really any of the attendant stuff that gets you in the papers. I did a podcast quite recently with my ex-girlfriend [author and podcaster Elizabeth Day] from that time, and we talked about our relationship during that period. She said she thought that being on TV changed me. I trust her opinion: initially it was exciting, but trying to be cool is really exhausting and it is quite a nebulous concept that you end up grasping for. Eventually I thought: “No. That’s not quite me.”

My parents know absolutely nothing about the world I ended up in, but they were always incredibly supportive even if it must have been disappointing that I had a science degree from a good university and didn’t go on to work in the blue-chip professions. The thing that has nagged at me for years is not having any outlet to talk about science, which I am still genuinely very geeky about. That was partly why when I first met Michael Brooks there was an alchemy. Science can actually be quite funny, so I feel glad that I finally managed to bring my love of having a laugh and nerdiness together. Four years at university was not wasted. And I’m no longer getting told off!

The main similarity I have with the eight-year-old version of me is that I still value being funny and being with funny people above anything else. It doesn’t sound like an important thing but to me it’s everything. I don’t know what my dad said to make me smile like that, but I still get the same euphoric high when I’m hanging out with them or anyone who makes me laugh. The only thing that has changed is my horizon. Back then I didn’t have great aspirations. What I didn’t realise was that if you have your parents’ encouragement, you can do anything.