Broadcaster Alexander Armstrong, 52, on his charity, the gig that gives him sleepless nights, and who’ll co-host Pointless in the future
What are you up to today?
I’m on the way to record voiceover for CBeebies show Hey Duggee.
You’ve also voiced Danger Mouse and been in Peppa Pig. What’s your fave gig?
It’s probably Hey Duggee. I love it. It’s the sweetest, most beautifully put together, funny thing. Though a number of parents will probably never forgive us for the Stick Song. I also love doing Classic FM. That’s enormous fun. It’s my two favourite things: playing music and banging on. If someone with a magic wand said, ‘You can do anything for three hours,’ that’s what I’d choose. The dream job.
You’re a patron of Family Links — what’s that?
Family Links is a delightful, informal way of helping people to love bringing up children, which is something we are never taught how to do. There are various bossy sorts of handbooks you can get but to some degree we all struggle. It’s not easy. I bet even the best parents in the world — if such people exist — would admit that they have some hairy or challenging moments. Family Links holds parents’ hands and gives them a structured approach to a healthy family life.
Why pick that charity?
This one really meant a great deal to me and to my wife — we’re joint patrons. We’re the parents of four children, all boys, now aged between seven and 15. That in itself means we had a lot to learn from Family Links. I remember somebody telling us, before we had our first baby, ‘When they go to nursery school, that’s when you’re going to make all your friends,’ and thinking, ‘Ha! Not us, thank you very much — we’ve got all the friends we need.’ Then you turn up at nursery and, sure enough, through your family you make these lifelong friends. Family becomes the bedrock of your social life and community.
What’s your top parenting tip?
My parenting tip to myself is be more in the moment. Because I have a schedule, that means, if I’m not careful, my head is never in the parenting space. It’s easy for me to go, ‘Well, I’ve got to get up early to do Classic FM’, then I come home late and I’m aware we’ve fallen into a bad pattern of me ducking administrative responsibility for the children and falling out of the loop. So that’s my tip: don’t do what I do. Make sure you engage with your children, one at a time, as often as you can.
Ever get stage fright?
I always have a few sleepless hours before doing Have I Got News For You. I don’t know why but it always retains a nervous frisson for me. The annoying thing is that, like everything in life, you’d do a far more cracking job of it if you’re weren’t scared out of your wits. It’s always about halfway through the show, when I can think ‘nearly there’, that I actually start to enjoy it.
What’s your go-to karaoke number?
Up Where We Belong. My wife, Hannah, and I have been known to belt that out.
How did you get your kids to like classical music?
I’ve never forced it. I listen to a lot of music at home. I hate silence. But I’ve been quite tactical about it. When the kids were all at the same school, if I was picking them up on a Friday afternoon and driving out to our farm, I would always put on the Enigma Variations. I just hoped that would therefore always remind them of driving home on a sunny Friday afternoon. That’s why I really love classical music. It’s just packed with lovely associations and they get stronger as the years go by. It’s the most efficient scrapbook you’ll ever have. It’s the repository for all your memories and feelings.
Who’s replacing Richard Osman as your co-host on Pointless?
We’ve got lots of them. So far we’ve had Sally Lindsay, Stephen Mangan, Lauren Laverne, Konnie Huq and Alex Brooker. And we still get Richard back on Saturdays, so he’s still around.
Is it an audition?
Well, no one’s told me yet exactly what it is. The last thing I want is for all of them to try to be Richard because, you know, Richard is Richard. Last week he and I went to Wimbledon and he said how he’s been writing solidly. He’s now on his fourth book. He could never have done that if he hadn’t given up Pointless. So it’s great he’s had a chance to knuckle down and get on with his takeover as world’s bestselling author.
Are you competitive?
As I get older, less so. Actually, that’s such a lie! I’m desperately competitive, even if the only things I really compete in these days are after-dinner family games.
Ever collected anything?
I collected two-pound coins. I was once told that if you can find one where the Queen’s imprint is wearing a necklace, they’re incredibly rare, so I went through a phase where every time I came across one, I put it in a special box. I’ve got no idea where that special box is now.
■ Visit familylinks.org.uk