She has been a familiar face on our television screens since her nervous first appearance on Countdown back in 1992, yet Susie Dent has revealed she twice rejected the chance to audition for the show that has turned her into a star.
The first and only celebrity etymology and lexicography in the UK, Susie sat down with FemaleFirst for an exclusive interview at the launch of a new McDonald's campaign entitled 'The Word' alongside rapper Lethal Bizzle, as she gave us the lowdown on working alongside Jimmy Carr, Rachel Riley and how she deals with social media trolls.
Why did you get involved in the McDonald's campaign with Lethal Bizzle?
This McDonald's campaign appealed to me as it was all about playing around with words and it also gave me a chance to meet Lethal Bizzle, who single-handedly got a word into the English dictionary with his word Dench. It was great to meet someone who got a word into the dictionary because that is such a tough thing to do. Maybe we can get him in Dictionary Corner for one of the Eight Out of Ten Cats shows.
Lethal Bizzle and Susie Dent go head-to-head in a word association battle to create a word that describes the feeling of getting a great deal: “GET-CHING”
When you look back at your first appearance on Countdown now, how do you feel about it?
Embarrassed! It is bizarre that I have been on this show for so long. I started in 1992 and never imagined I would still be doing it now, but this is a unique television show. I know people like to think they are part of something special when they are on a long-running TV show, but this is a genuinely unique programme.
How did you get the job?
I was working at Oxford University Press and was asked by my boss whether I wanted to go and audition for Countdown and I said no twice because I was too nervous to appear on TV. Then he said I really should go and do it, which meant I had no choice whatsoever and had to do it!
Looking back on that first appearance now is so embarrassing because I look so nervous, sitting next to Rula Lenska in Dictionary Corner, who had lots of red hair so I just tried to hide behind her.
Countdown has been a fantastic show for empowering women with Carol Vorderman, Rachel Riley and yourself all given prominent roles. Has that been a positive spin-off from the show?
I think so. Carol, Rachel and I are all on there to promote intelligence and that is wonderful. Countdown has women in leading roles for all the right reasons. I feel you genuinely learn something every day on the show, whether it is a new word or finding a new route to work the numbers game.
You are known for your word skills, but have you cracked the numbers game on Countdown?
I always used to have a problem when 75 came up because multiplying that big number is not easy, but I cracked that and Rachel was very pleased with me! Sometimes I get the numbers game the contestants don't get, but I think I will stick to the words.
Rachel Riley appears to have a very thick skin as she gets a lot of criticism on Twitter and still puts herself out there on issues she believes in. Do you respect her for that?
Rach is a really strong character. She is not afraid to put herself out there and be open to criticism and I respect her for that. She knows who she is and she knows what she stands for and she makes maths incredibly cool. Especially for women, who maybe didn't feel the need to embrace maths as a topic they needed to consider in their working lives, she has completely flipped that and brought so many people into it and she deserves all the credit for that.
Do you get trolls attacking you on Twitter?
It was a tricky decision for me to sign up for social media because I am a really private person and I don't like to have too much attention, despite my job on TV. I live my life, love what I do and my Twitter account is very much about celebrating language and offering up words of the day. You get some criticism in there and it is not nice, but I love interacting with people about a topic I have a passion for.
How do you deal with the nasty Twitter messages?
Abusive messages are interesting because people send off something crazy and often if you then interact with them, they will backtrack. Then you realise then that there is a real person behind that initial tweet.
It is that whole keyboard warrior thing, where people don't realise the hurt they can cause by sending out a message without thinking too much about it. When it comes to real trolls, those people who just send vile messages, I think ignoring is the only way to deal with them as responding gives them the confrontation they are looking for.
How much have you enjoyed the Eight Out Of Ten Cats does Countdown version of the show and working with the host Jimmy Carr?
I used to get really nervous for Eight Out of Ten Cats because I am not a comedian and I didn't know how I was going to cope with that format of the show. You look at the introduction and it is laughter, laughter all the way with mascots coming out, Jimmy and the guests cracking jokes and then he comes to me and it is daunting to think I need to say something funny, but I am not there to get the laughs. I'm there to put ensure the words are in place and I now feel a lot more comfortable in that environment and find it a joyous alternative to the regular Countdown show.
Is Jimmy as fun offset as he is on it?
He is such a professional and has a wonderful talent for putting the guests at ease. If one of the guests is not happy with what they have said or done, he just stops and says: fine, let's do it again and he genuinely seems to love the game and the show.
He is just so quick, so brilliant with the lines he comes out with. He has to be born with that quick-wittedness because it is a wonderful talent and I can't ever see myself being as funny as those guys.
As a vegetarian, do you think fast food outlets offer enough choice?
You know what, McDonald's are actually very good for offering vegan and vegetarian options now. Non-meat choices are going mainstream and that should be celebrated. It is a huge step in acknowledging that not all of us want to eat meat and it is also very important to help the battle against climate change.
Susie Dent has teamed up with McDonald’s to celebrate the 24 deals in 23 days, available exclusively through the My McDonald’s App until 26th January. The My McDonald’s App can be downloaded for Apple or Android phones here: spr.ly/MyMcDonaldsApp