Britain's favourite Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq: 'We were the show that made it OK to be a geek'
The former Blue Peter presenter looks back on her time on the show, and explains how she went from bubbly Blue Peter to bleak Black Mirror
For more than ten years Konnie Huq bubbled away on Blue Peter, staying positive and chirpy while swimming with sharks and chasing dogs around the studio and conjuring masterpieces out of sticky-back plastic and empty yoghurt cartons.
Since leaving the children's show in 2008, her career has taken her into very different territory, from podcasts and presenting to scriptwriting on the dark and dystopian Black Mirror.
But now all the little boys and girls who ran home to watch her after school have delivered the ultimate “thank you” by voting her Britain’s favourite Blue Peter presenter.
The TV star, who hosted the BBC children’s show between 1997 and 2008 and became Blue Peter’s longest-serving female presenter, won the RadioTimes.com poll of 7,000 readers with 30 per cent of the vote.
Viewers clearly still look back on her time on the show with fondness – and Huq, too, is in a nostalgic mood when we ring to tell her the good news.
"It was such fun," she says of her time on Blue Peter. "I think that's why I didn't leave, because if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I was enjoying it so much that I stayed on it for ages and ages and ages because I just loved doing that job."
Since Blue Peter, Huq has done everything from writing short film Ahmed & Mildred to presenting The Xtra Factor to serving as a presenter on the One Show. But it all comes back to her years on the BBC children's show.
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"It's really weird. Everything that you do is like a bit of Blue Peter," she explains. "Since I've left Blue Peter I've presented all sorts of different things. I've done a music show, for instance, and Blue Peter had music on it. I've done a politics show, but on Blue Peter I interviewed the Prime Minister. I've done travel stuff where I've gone abroad, but Blue Peter had that within it as well.
"The brilliant thing about Blue Peter is the variety of the stuff you do and the experiences that you have, just amazing experiences. Because Blue Peter can get you access to places – if you go to somewhere like Nasa, you don't just see what most people see, you can get a lot of behind the scenes access. You can talk to an astronaut."
Huq is married to writer and broadcaster Charlie Brooker, whose dark sci-fi drama Black Mirror sits well beyond Blue Peter's wholesome horizons. In fact, in 2011 she teamed up with him to co-write the episode Fifteen Million Merits.
Creating Black Mirror is an especially difficult task in 2017, with incoming US president/Twitter obsessive Donald Trump about to enter the White House. No wonder the 10 o'clock news is beginning to seem like an actual Black Mirror episode.
Asked what a more "dystopian" world could mean for the next six episodes – due on Netflix by the end of the year – Huq tells us: "It makes them much less far-fetched, doesn't it?"
She adds: "So many people have said about several different episodes, 'Oh my gosh, did Charlie know something?' It's bizarre, the parallels you could draw with the world at the moment – with Trump, or a certain David Cameron incident that occurred not that long ago."
Huq and Brooker’s two sons Covey and Huxley may not be old enough yet to watch Black Mirror (they’re only four and two), but their mum is hoping it won't be long before she can sit them down in front of Blue Peter.
So what's behind the enduring appeal of the show famous for sticky-back plastic, badges, pet tortoises, time capsules and "here's one I made earlier"?
"I think because it doesn't just bow to the trends," Huq explains. "I think being a bit square and geeky and being a bit more intelligent is in now, and it was the first show that was actually [like that]. It was safe for parents to put their kids in front of it, because kids actually become educated as well as being entertained."
Huq, 41, began her career with a little fib about her age, turning up to audition for a job as a TV presenter when she was still a school kid. It paid off.
"I was actually going to be an engineer, and I had done Physics, Maths and Chemistry A-levels at school," she reveals.
"And then I saw this article in Time Out magazine for TV presenters, so I went along with my sisters and we did this audition. It was open auditions, it was just a fun day out, but there were maybe 600 people there or something. It was just crazy.
"I was just going for fun, for a laugh with my sisters – I think maybe that helped, in that when I did my audition I wasn't nervous or anything, I was just having fun.
"And then I ended up getting this job, having lied about my age and said that I've left school and everything. I was only 16 and I still had a second year of A-Levels to do."
Whoops. Despite this, producers let her take on the job, arranging surreal schooldays where she'd be in chemistry class one minute and then whisked off to interview Take That in her free period. "It was really surreal and I think it really brought me out of my shell a bit," she says.
Next up was Cambridge, but Huq carried on presenting during university with a youth show on Channel 5. Then she joined Blue Peter, the show that made her a household name – and enjoyed it so much she stayed for over a decade.
The groundswell of support in the RadioTimes.com poll left Huq touched.
“It’s really nice! It's nice to think that people have fond memories of my time on the show,” she says.
“What's funny is, because I was on it for so long, is that now I've got to the point where I meet people and think they're my peers, and they're like, ‘I grew up with you!’ And then I remember: I'm really old now.
“I think I presented probably with 10 different presenters. It was quite an innings. But it was worth it. I feel like it's all been worthwhile now.”
Konnie Huq presents the Penguin Podcast and is eco ambassador for Mitsubishi PHEV