Emma Willis has spent the last few years quietly charming the nation with her unassuming, down-to-earth presenting style, breathing new life into both Big Brother and The Voice UK.
Her latest project, adrenaline-fuelled BBC1 game show Prized Apart, sees contestants pushed to their physical, mental and emotional limits as they take on extreme challenges in Morocco, and it’s a perfect fit for people-person Emma.
TV Times talks to Emma about balancing family life with being the TV’s most in-demand host – and why she’s such a scaredy cat…
Prized Apart is very different from the shows you’ve hosted before. What made you take it on?
“It’s exactly my kind of job. Real people who aren’t normally on telly are just brilliant to be around. I thrive off supporting them as they’re pushed out of their comfort zone and encounter once in a lifetime experiences – it’s the same on The Voice UK.
“I love hugging too and I always give good cuddles, so this show is just another great day at work – hugging!”
You did previously compete in ITV2’s daredevil series Adrenaline Junkie. What was that like?
“It was the most daunting thing I’ve ever done apart from giving birth! We abseiled into a deep cave in Mexico and then I had to spend three hours pulling myself out with Craig David ahead of me, sweating. That was physically hard, but the most terrifying part was climbing up a rock face.
“We were sleeping up there and the most intense storm arrived, but we couldn’t move until it was light, so we were just strapped to a rock on broken beds held together by gaffer tape. I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
So are you still up for stomach-churning adventures?
“There’s no way you’d catch me taking on a stunt like that these days, especially now I’m a mum to Isabelle, six, and Ace, three.
“In my brain I’m fearless and I will jump into anything, but in reality I think I would poo my pants! When I was younger and I didn’t have kids I’d try anything. Now I just think, ‘What am I doing? I’ve got a family, what if something went wrong?'”
“All of this stuff goes through your head and although I’d definitely give everything a go I think I’d panic. I suppose that’s why Prized Apart got so tense at times, there’s such jeopardy.”
If you and your husband Matt were to compete on the show, who do you reckon would be the one staying at home answering questions and who would brave the physical challenges?
“We’d fight it out to do the adventure stuff because we’re both terrible at general knowledge and quizzes, but I think he’d probably make me stay in the studio.”
The challenges take place in Morocco. Wouldn’t that tempt you?
“Matt’s pretty buff so I think he’d be brilliant over there. I’d love to do it though, I was itching to go out to Morocco.”
So were you jealous of your co-host Reggie Yates spending weeks filming in Africa?
“Filming abroad means leaving my family, so I was very happy to stay in England and be at home every day. I miss my kids when I’m at work, but these days I only have to go to Manchester and Elstree and I’m only doing Fridays on Big Brother now, which frees up much more time to be at home.”
What’s Matt been up to?
“Matt’s been away so much on tour, but now he’s doing housework while I’m at work!”
You are currently one of the most sought-after presenters on TV, so how do you choose what projects to take on?
“Family life plays a part in it, but I’m very aware of overexposure too and I don’t want to annoy everyone. I only want to do shows that I genuinely love. Prized Apart was a no-brainer for me because I’d never hosted a quiz show and I’d wanted to be part of a programme like this for a long time.”
As a female presenter anchoring shows while your male co-stars take on secondary roles, are you conscious of paving the way for female hosts of the future?
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a new thing, women being more than the sidekick or the companion. Davina McCall has been doing it for a long time, and Cilla Black, who is one of my favourites.”
“What I do think is lovely is the fact that two women get to do Strictly Come Dancing together, which is something that doesn’t happen. It was lovely to see Holly Willoughby and Christine Bleakley present This Morning together for a little while too and I’m glad that Zoe Ball is around more again, I love her.
“I’m definitely pro chicks on telly. Reggie is allowed as well though!”