My Life In 20-ish Questions: Rachel Riley
TELEVISION presenter Rachel Annabelle Riley was born in Rockford, Essex, to Londoner Celia and Mancunian Chris. The 34-year-old, who has a brother Alex, is married to dancer Pasha Kovalev, with whom she has a daughter, Maven Aria.
Rachel, who has a masters in mathematics from Oriel College, Oxford, is best known for being the maths genius on Channel 4’s Countdown, as well as appearing on the comedy spin-off 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
She has co-presented The Gadget Show on Channel 5 (2013–14) and It’s Not Rocket Science on ITV (2016), and was also a contestant on the BBC celebrity dance show Strictly Come Dancing in 2013.
Rachel also presented Friday Night Football on Sky Sports.
More recently, Rachel has become a key figure in the fight against antisemitism, having given her first interview on the topic to the Jewish Telegraph, shortly after visiting Auschwitz in 2018.
I used to be called the ‘angry chav’ in my uni football team. Thankfully, not any more!
2. Best and worst things about your job?
Best things — no two days are the same, I get to meet very interesting people, I have a platform to help causes I care about. Worst thing — social media!
3. Favourite musician?
I prefer comedy, Bill Bailey has some tunes!
4. Favourite film?
5. Football team?
Manchester United. Marcus Rashford is my favourite player.
6. What would you call your autobiography?
The Sum of My Parts.
7. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully still working on Countdown, doing more work promoting maths to kids, especially girls, continuing to fight discrimination and with a happy family.
8. Biggest worry?
Liverpool winning the Premier League again.
9. Last time you cried?
Watching The Eichmann Story on Amazon Prime; you can’t listen to survivors’ testimonies without crying.
10. Last book you read?
Bari Weiss’s How to Fight Antisemitism.
11. Last film you saw?
Hotel Transylvania 3.
12. Favourite TV show?
The best thing I’ve watched recently was The Morning Show on Apple TV+.
13. Favourite holiday destination?
We love wildlife travelling — going to the Galapagos was very special.
14. Favourite dish?
I love the Russian dish selyodka pod shuboy (herring in a fur coat), but we make a vegan version with tofu instead of herring these days.
15. Favourite drink?
A mezcal margarita.
16. Earliest memory?
Winning a colouring competition with McDonalds, and getting a fire alarm and tour of the fire station as a prize.
17. Of what are you most proud?
My beautiful baby daughter, wonderful husband and my Warrior for Truth award for fighting antisemitism.
18. Most embarrassing moment?
Accidentally head-butting Pasha in front of Stephen Hawking while doing a run through of a Strictly dance.
Sir David Attenborough is a living legend for all his environmental work. And Bari Weiss is an inspiration — she’s so articulate, informed and composed.
20. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Pre-Covid, I enjoyed travelling, seeing wildlife and trying different foods. Post-Covid coincides with having a baby, so now we enjoy going to the park and feeding the ducks!
21. How would you like to be remembered?
A loyal friend, a laid-back but principled person.
22. What’s top of your bucket list?
To swim with manta rays, we got close in the Maldives when we saw some mobula rays which was incredible.
23. What is your most treasured possession?
My Manchester United shirt signed by Sir Alex Ferguson and the team from 2013.
24. Who in history would you most like to meet?
I’m part way through Winston Churchill’s autobiography and he’s fascinating.
25. Something people might not be aware of about you.
I can speak some Russian. I’ve been learning as Pasha’s mum doesn’t speak English and we’re hoping Maven will grow up to be bilingual.
26. Describe yourself in 240 characters (or fewer).
I’m an Essex girl turned maths geek who loves animals. My mum is Jewish and my Dad is Manchester United and I’m a mix of that! I love travel, food, comedy and my gorgeous husband and daughter.
27. What does being Jewish mean to you?
It’s always been a part of my identity, I’ve been brought up to be proud to be Jewish, enjoying Ashkenazi spreads and calling my grandad Zeida, even though not being brought up as religious I found it confusing when I was younger. Becoming involved in speaking out against antisemitism has brought me much closer to the Jewish community and having lots of new friends is something I hope will help me in teaching my daughter about her heritage as she grows up.
28. Sum up your career in three words.
Surprising, enjoyable, worthwhile.
29. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Only worry about the things that might affect you in five years. In other words, try to let the little things pass and zoom out to focus on what’s important.