Once upon a time, we used to have to choose a word to describe our occupation on our passport. So – what would be multi-talented Alexander Armstrong’s chosen word?
Entertainer perhaps? “No,” he says, “because it lays you open to people saying: ‘I’ll be the judge of that’.”
How about actor? “I could, but my most demanding acting role recently was voicing Danger Mouse, a role I inherited from David Jason, although his mouse is rather naughtier than mine.”
Musician or singer? His 2015 album, A Year of Songs, topped the classical charts, much to his delight and mild amazement. “I didn’t see that one coming.”
Now comes Upon A Different Shore, a collection of tracks across the musical spectrum which embrace everything from a reworking of Richard Harris’s ‘totally crackers’ MacArthur Park and Sting’s Fields of Gold to folksongs and The Stranglers’ Golden Brown.
Nor is Xander – as he’s known to family and friends – a TV face who occasionally likes to sing in the shower. He’s a classically trained baritone who won a music scholarship to Cambridge. “I’ve been singing since I was a seven-year-old chorister.”
Comedian maybe? He started making people laugh via the undergraduate Footlights Revue at Cambridge. Meeting fellow fledgling comic Ben Miller sealed his fate. They took their double-act to the Edinburgh Festival in 1996 and then appeared on TV in the sketch show series, Armstrong and Miller. “No,” he decides at length, “I think I’d have to now describe myself as Gameshow Host.” And we all know why. Pointless has changed the landscape of his life out of all recognition.
“It’s meant that I’m in people’s homes all year round with the exception, I think, of Wimbledon and Christmas.”
It started in 2009, early afternoon on BBC2. After two series, it had been promoted to teatime. “And then, when Stephen Fry got behind us – he said publicly that it was one of the finest shows ever made – we really got lift-off. And that’s when I started getting recognised in the street. But then I’m not playing a part on the quiz – I’m me, dressed in my own clothes.”
And it’s been a revelation.
“If I’d ever been tempted to take a jaundiced view of my fellow man, the contestants on Pointless and the fans I meet out and about – a phenomenally broad cross-section of people – are all, without fail, absolutely lovely. We’re such a nice country full of such nice people.”
Part of the success of the show, of course, is the easy banter between Alexander, 46, and resident boffin, Richard Osman, something that has been described as a ‘bromance’. He smiles.
“Well, we’ve known each other more than half our lives. No one makes me laugh more. As anyone who’s ever been to the filming of an episode will confirm, the cameras have to be stopped repeatedly while I recover from yet another laughing fit. I make a noise that comes from my stomach in such an alarming way that the audience, instead of laughing with me, is slightly scared. Richard, on the other hand, is the king of deadpan, a master of self-control.”
Everyone loves Pointless. Well not quite, it seems, as Alexander explains. He once sang an aria from the St Matthew Passion – “one of my party pieces” – at the memorial service of an uncle. “Afterwards, a relation came up to me at the wake and said: ‘If you sing like that, why on earth do you bother making that silly quiz programme?’ The answer, apart from the fact that it pays the bills, is that I love Pointless and I’m pleased and proud to present it.”
Take Alexander's Pointless quiz!
Comedians and their characters
Here is a list of a dozen famous comedy characters. Can you tell us the names of the comedians who played them and work out which one the fewest of our 100 people knew?
- Alan Partridge
- Fred Scuttle
- Lauren Cooper
- Randy Mandy
- Mrs Overall
- David Brent
- Vicky Pollard
- Theophilus P Wildebeeste
- EL Wisty
- Sid Snot
Here are five questions about Elvis Presley.
Can you give the answers and work out which answer the fewest of our 100 people knew?
- His middle name
- Song which was a UK Number One single in 2002 for ‘Elvis vs JXL’
- Name of the mansion he bought in 1957
- Airport which was the site of his only visit to the UK in 1960
- First name of the woman he married in 1967
Words and interview by Richard Barber
- There's more star chat in every issue of Yours Magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday
Comedians and their characters:Steve Coogan 41%, Benny Hill 5%, Catherine Tate 32%, Dick Emery 0%, Julie Walters 12%, Ricky Gervais 39%, Matt Lucas 60%, Harry Enfield 30%, Lenny Henry 5%, Peter Cook 1%, Kenny Everett 14%
Elvis: Aaron 47%, A Little Less Conversation 21%, Graceland 62%, Prestwick Airport 10%, Priscilla 52%