How do you feel about hosting such an iconic show as Countdown?
“I was very flattered to even be considered – I’m not nearly as polished as past presenters such as Jeff Stelling or Des Lynam. They are seasoned professionals; I’m just an old geezer who’s done none of that. I suppose I’ll bring an affectionate clumsiness to the show.”
Are you really good at maths and spelling?
“One of the reasons I took the job was because I used to be able to spell words like Chrysanthemum, but now I can’t. I know I’ll be looking at the jumbled up letters, the Countdown clock will be ticking away and I’ll be panicking – and I’m not even a contestant!”
We’re used to seeing you as Lord Sugar’s right-hand man on The Apprentice. How does it feel to have your own show?
“I was anxious about getting involved in The Apprentice at first because I was wary of being in the limelight. But it’s certainly been life-changing and has given me the confidence to do this. Lord Sugar has been supportive about me doing Countdown. He said: ‘Go for it… just make sure you’re free to do the next series of The Apprentice’!”
You’ve got your own sidekick now, in resident maths wizard Rachel Riley. What’s it like working with her?
“If anything, I’m her sidekick! She’s a charming girl and the speed with which she calculates sums makes your eyes water. Maybe former Apprentice aide Margaret Mountford could come into Dictionary Corner. She’s very good at spelling, particularly if it’s in either Latin or Greek!”
You’ve worked for Lord Sugar for 27 years overall – do you think you can match Richard Whiteley’s 23 years as host of Countdown?
“I’ll be here for as long as they want me. It’s a very demanding schedule, but if I’ve got the stamina then I think it really is a fantastic job to have at my age. In fact, I’d say life’s really not bad at all.”