Hannah Waddingham was told she would ‘never work on screen’ due to her looks

Hannah Waddingham has said a drama teacher told her class at school that she would “never work on screen because she looks like one side of her face has had a stroke.”

The 49-year-old British actress, who plays Rebecca Welton in Ted Lasso, has had an extensive career on stage and screen and is also a skilled presenter, having co-hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2023.

Discussing her childhood on BBC Radio 2 podcast, Michelle Visage’s Rule Breakers, the theatre and TV actress said: “I had one drama teacher that said to the whole class ‘Oh Hannah will never work on screen because she looks like one side of her face has had a stroke.’

Glamour Women of the Year Awards – London
Hannah Waddingham arrives for the annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards (Ian West/PA)

“And I thought, I will do, I will do. Come hell or high water, I will work on screen and it gave me a complex for years.

“And this is why, in my Emmys speech, I made a point.

“The one thing I said to myself, ‘If this weird moment comes and I get this award, and I get my foot in this door, I’m going to rip it off its hinges for musical theatre people or theatre people to follow’.”

Waddingham won an Emmy in 2021 for her role in comedy series Ted Lasso, and her speech included a shout-out to professional musical theatre performers.

In it, she said: “West End musical theatre performers need to be on screen more. Please give them a chance because we won’t let you down.”

Also in the podcast, Waddingham said the headmistress at her school had discouraged her from pursuing a career in the arts when she refused to give her a reference.

“I remember saying to my headmistress… She said, ‘Oh, you’re bright enough to read drama’, and I said, ‘I don’t want to read drama I want to do drama,” she said.

“She refused to give me a reference.

“So I managed, thank God, to get a scholarship for the drama school I went to and I walked back in, put it on her desk and left the room without shutting the door.”

Royal visit to Singapore – Day Three
Hannah Waddingham walks with the Prince of Wales as he arrives for the 2023 Earthshot Prize Awards Ceremony (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Reflecting on her time at school, she added: “She (headmistress) was always dismissive of me, because it wasn’t that I wasn’t academic, I knew what I wanted to do.

“So it annoyed her that I turned my back on my academia.

“So she would purposely put everyone else in the school plays and have me understudy just to punish me.”

The Emmy award winner received the entertainer gong at the Glamour Women of the Year awards 2023 and over the festive period she fronted her own holiday special and musical event, called Hannah Waddingham: Home For Christmas, at the London Coliseum.

Waddingham also won the best supporting actress in a comedy series gong at the Critics Choice Awards in 2022 for Ted Lasso and has made appearances in HBO fantasy series Game Of Thrones, Netflix series Sex Education and ITV drama Tom Jones.

Michelle Visage’s Rule Breakers is available to listen to on BBC Sounds.