Airing Sunday 1 January is what is now becoming an annual event, a New Year’s Taskmaster one off special, this year five non comedians – Amelia Dimoldenberg, Carol Vorderman, Greg James, Sir Mo Farah, and Rebecca Lucy Taylor (AKA Self Esteem) are up for the challenge. Here the Taskmaster himself Greg Davies and his faithful companion Little Alex Horne spill the beans about what we can expect.
Is there a different vibe to the show when it’s not comedians?
Alex: The first show of every series is a little like that, when everyone is new. There’s a slightly different vibe, not massively so. But with Vorderman and Greg James, you’re with such pros, so we’re never worried that it’s going to be dry or awkward. They’re less competitive than comics, I’d say. They were less competitive than comics.
Greg: Compared to a lot of groups we’ve had in the past, the distinction I’d draw is that they seemed less guarded out if the gate. They were just up for going for it throughout.
A: The fact that it’s a one-off means it’s just a laugh. It’s a one-off, it’ll never happen again.
G: Put it like this. The end of my night, as I was leaving, I ended up wrestling on the floor with Self Esteem and Carol Vorderman. I think that’s indicative of the tone throughout, really.
A: You kept shouting at me “One more drink.” I succumbed once, and then I left, and I’m sad about that now. Would I have been in the wrestle, I wonder?
Let’s talk about the contestants. You had Sir Mo Farah. Have you ever had a Knight of the Realm on the show before?
G: First knight!
Have you ever had a contestant who’s enjoyed themselves so much?
A: He was like that on the task day as well. He was just smiley from start to finish. Even Rebecca, Self esteem, stopped the show at one point and said: “This man’s energy is just so amazing.” Witnessing it close up, you sort of realise why that Super Saturday at the Olympics happened. It was ten years ago, but it feels like we had that rubbing off on us a bit.
G: You’ve got to say that Mo’s natural competitive spirit didn’t naturally carry over from the world of long distance running to Taskmaster.
A: No, he did not care.
G: There was one task where I was surprised he’d produced anything by the end of it. I just saw Mo having a good time.
A: He’s one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.
G: He’s a joyful presence.
Alex, you literally made Mo cry with joy at one point.
A: I think I was probably crying as well. It was such a happy moment. And he’s got no self-awareness, he’s never guarded. He just lets it all out. I know him a bit, I did the Peter Crouch programme with him, where he was with his kids, and I think he’s like that with the kids as well. He’s just a completely natural human.
Greg, the moment when you stand next to Mo in the studio is remarkable!
It’s quite something to think that we’re the same species.
Another contestant who seemed thrilled to be on the show was Rebecca. She’s a big Taskmaster fan, isn’t she?
A: Yes. She was very competitive. She and Greg [James} have talked about Taskmaster in the past, and have always talked about going on.
G: I think she really wanted to win, but she did so in a very joyful way.
A: Afterwards a lot of people were talking about her. A lot of pop singers are quite dull, or give the appearance of being quite dull. She didn’t hold anything back.
Watching her felt like you were watching a comedian.
A: Yeah. But her songs are funny. She is smart. Her and Greg [James] know each other well. It helps to have two people who have a thing going on already.
G: A Bit of friendly rivalry is a nice thing to have running through it.
She wasn’t afraid to give it back. She had a go at you a couple of times, Greg. Do you like it when contestants get feisty?
G: Yeah, I’m all for that, I really am. It’s quite wearing, being witheringly patronising and cruel to people, so it’s quite nice when they fight back.
A: If all five of them did that, it would be a disaster, but if one or two do, it’s brilliant, it’s what we need.
G: It’s better if they’re genuinely annoyed.
A: Amelia was the opposite, she was quite contained. That’s her thing anyway, that’s her schtick.
G: She’s very dry, Amelia.
A: Very funny. There’s more to unpack from her. She could have easily done a whole series.
G: Yeah, I think she could. Still waters run deep with Amelia.
Carol Vorderman brought a mixture of glamour and gravitas to the show.
A: I think there were a lot of surprises with her. I think there’s no replacement for Greg, ever, but I think Carol could step in for an episode.
G: So there is a replacement for me.
A: I thought she was absolutely brilliant. I really liked her.
G: I think Carol is very much someone who lives life on her own terms. I think that came across in everything she did last night. She’s such a tonic.
A: Yeah, she’s smart and fearless.
Then there was Greg James. Greg, how did you feel about having another tall man called Greg on the show?
G: It felt great, and I was delighted to learn that Greg gets the same thing as me, with people calling him Greg Davies, because I often get Greg James. Sometimes after I’ve posed for several pictures I’ll get Greg James, and it’s at that point I want to erase the photographs. But I thought Greg was great.
A: There was a bit where you called him a ‘perfect boy’.
He remarked at one stage “It’s Taskmaster, it’s not supposed to be fun.” Do you feel you’ve finally found a contestant who understands the nature of the show?
G: Yes, yes I do. It’s always interesting what people perceive winning taskmaster means. And I think Greg has got a good handle on that, and the best way to approach winning it.
A: I think he could have won every task, if he wanted to. He’s good at everything. He’s clever, physical, and he understands escape rooms and stuff. He played it for fun, which was the right thing to do.
G: What are you trying to say? He’s a perfect boy?
We’ve already mentioned Amelia, but she seemed to find a number of the tasks quite bewildering, didn’t she?
A: Yeah, she found everything bewildering. I think her ‘thing’ is to be bewildered.
G: Yeah, it’s difficult to tell. If you watch Chicken Shop Date, she does bewildered very nicely, and it’s often quite well-placed, conscious bewilderment. That’s why I’d have liked to have more time with her on the show.
A: But I don’t think she was ever acting. You can’t really pretend like that on the show, people will see through you if you’re doing a character. She was really confused at times.
Alex, were you not tempted to help her out at all?
A: Never! No! There are certain people… I would have helped Carol out.
G: Yeah, apparently you love her.
A: Big fan of Carol. You’ve got to let people make their own mistakes. I think Greg would be too cross with me if I helped people out. And the other contestants would as well. There was one task where she kept shouting “I don’t like it anymore.”
G: There was one task where she just stood still, staring at the sky for a long time. I asked someone in production how long, and they said she was doing it for 14 minutes. That’s a long time.
How do you think the group gelled as a whole?
G: Amazingly well.
A: They only met for the first time half an hour before the show, but they got on so well.
G: It felt like a school reunion – they felt like a group of people who have history.
A: They were a pleasure to be around. There was a real camaraderie, instantly.
G: It’s just nice when people are unguarded in that way because, despite the dynamic between Alex and I, it’s never our intention to actually humiliate people. We always strive for inclusivity beneath the pantomime.
The programme’s billed as a New Year Treat. How will you guys see the New Year in?
A: I guess Greg and I will meet up as usual, won’t we, Greg?
G: On every key event, you can assume Alex and I will be together. We just haven’t agreed where it will be. But rest assured, it will be Alex, me. And no-one else.
A: Yeah. It’s actually my wedding anniversary on January 1st, but I’ve not seen her on our anniversary since I met Greg.
G: You send a card!
A: I do send a card. But you don’t let me send it until after the date.
G: No, no. We’ve got celebrating to do, haven’t we?
Airdate: Sunday 1 January 2023 at 21:00 on Channel 4.
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