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10 things we learned from Jack Whitehall’s Desert Island Discs

Jack Whitehall is an award-winning stand-up comedian, actor and writer. His work includes a string of sell-out stand-up tours, writing and acting in the hit sitcom Bad Education and appearing in the upcoming Good Omens series.

"The fact that my dad used to look after Christopher Biggins doesn’t necessarily help me get stage time."

Unusually, he has made numerous television series with his father as an onscreen double act, such as the chat show Backchat and the travel show Travels with My Father.

Here are 10 things we learned from his Desert Island Discs…

1. His stage persona wasn’t always posh

Jack’s stand up is well known for being a bit posh. While it’s now recognised as one of his selling points, it took him time to find that voice: “There were various incarnations of early me on stage which were as varied as me going on and literally talking like I was Danny Dyer…there’s some footage on the internet of me in the early days and I’m talking like that and my dad was horrified. He was like, 'why do you keep dropping all your consonants? Why did I send you to school and you go on and you embarrass me like this?'”

2. There was an unusual amount of formal wear at his birth

Jack reveals that his godfather, Nigel Havers, turned up to witness his birth in a dinner jacket: “He’d been trying on a dinner jacket at Piero De Monzi and my mother was taken to hospital. My father who is best friends with Nigel Havers and his agent called him up and said ‘oh, the baby’s coming.’ Nigel arrived in his dinner jacket, but also the gynaecologist that was delivering me had been that night speaking at a gynaecological convention and so he was also in a dinner jacket.”

3. One of his favourite bits of material is a completely true story

Jack says that, “sometimes you write a routine and you have to embellish it, [other times] something just comes to you and it’s gift-wrapped and perfect and ready and you just repeat it. One of my first routines and one of my favourite routines is directly something [my father] said.”

“We were watching the news together as a family. It was a report about Robert Mugabe and my dad was ranting and raving at the television and in a moment of like, lapse, he dropped the C bomb in front of my mum… My mum went absolutely berserk, she was like, 'how dare you use that word, you can’t say that in front of my babies'. I was sixteen at the time, but you know what mums are like, she’s like, 'you can’t use that horrible word in this house', and my dad turned to my mum, and I’ll always remember, he went, ‘this is typical of you Hilary, you are always defending Mugabe.’”

4. He loved dressing up as a kid

Confessing that he “was obsessed with dressing up”, Jack’s love of the show Thunderbirds led to a very singular demand.

It’s a puppet. I can’t make your hair look like a puppet.

He says: “I wanted my mum to make me look like Scott Tracy and if she couldn’t get my hair to look like Scott Tracy before I went to school then I would cry. She was like, ‘It’s a puppet. I can’t make your hair look like a puppet.’ She’d be spraying, gelling it and trying to get it to look like Scott Tracy. No wonder they wanted me to go off and act, it was a day off.”

5. His audition for the part of Harry Potter didn’t go well

Jack says, “I looked like Harry Potter and they did an open audition at my school and my dad was like, ‘That’s a complete waste of time, no one ever gets cast from those kind of things so I have some contacts’. Here’s where the nepotism kicks in, ‘I can get you in the door and you’ll go to the casting director’s house and you’ll have a one on one with her’. So I went there and did it, but I hadn’t read the book and there were a lot of questions about the book in the audition and obviously having not read it, I slightly let myself down and didn’t get the part. Obviously.”

6. While he liked his time at boarding school, he was initially against it

When he first discovered his parents were sending him to boarding school, Jack wasn’t happy. “I was eleven, I remember when they told me, I just remember being in my mum and dad’s bathroom in floods of tears. They were like you’re going to boarding school and I was like I don’t want to leave all my friends behind and it’s going to be horrible and I was terrified. My dad was great. He was like, 'you’re gonna be fine and if you don’t like it after a term, you can come back.'”

Fortunately it turned out that Jack did like it, as his father subsequently told Jack that what he’d said, “was a complete lie, that I was there and I was staying there.”

Jack Whitehall: ‘I was obsessed with dressing up’

Jack Whitehall, comedian, on his early love of Robin Hood & Thunderbirds.

7. He hates holidays

Jack loves “doing stuff and creating stuff” and has a very busy work life, but he confesses that it’s “sometimes probably to my detriment.” He highlights how, “I never go on holiday. I’ll go away for a weekend or something, but I can’t sit and do nothing. I have to be doing stuff. Every time I’m not doing that, I feel like it’s time wasted. I feel like it could all go away tomorrow and I could suddenly be out of vogue and not be able to be creating stuff all the time and doing shows.”

8. It pains him when he hears that he owes his success to his father

While Jack has taken advice from his father on his career, he says that “the thing that really hurts is when they’re like, ‘oh he’s only got to where he is because of his dad'. The fact that my dad used to look after Christopher Biggins doesn’t necessarily help me get stage time, but that’s the bit that really needles me.” However he admits that, “now I’ve said it, people will needle me with it even more.”

9. He loves his on-screen relationship with his dad

Jack has worked with his father on a few programmes and thinks that the appeal comes from the interplay between the two. He says, “My relationship with him is something that people can recognise in their relationships with their fathers. The way they bicker and the way he puts me down, and the way I wind him up is very relatable and, whilst he says glibly he never wanted it and ‘Why am I doing this?’, he loves it and I love it.”

10. He makes time to see his family

At one point, Jack’s work life was taking a toll on his family time. “I’d come to life when I was on a show and I’d be upbeat and fun and then when I was with them I was twitchy and on edge and anxious about work. I’d see them for an hour for lunch and bugger off. I just wasn’t giving them the best version of myself and that really upset me.” Since then, Jack has made, “a conscious effort to see them… I need to spend more time with them and be careful that I never do that and I never take advantage because I’m so close to my family and they’re so supportive”.