The shock departure of Sue Barker and co from Question Of Sport

Be careful, all television presenters… Paddy McGuinness could be after your jobs. ‘I’ll give you the exclusive,’ he announces. ‘I’m taking over Match Of The Day. Gary doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll be fine.’

He jests, of course. Gary Lineker can breathe easy, but it would be a brave person who put money on exactly what role Paddy will land next. He certainly seems to have form when it comes to securing big TV presenting jobs – especially those ones where he seemed to bypass the shortlist.

Three years ago, it was Top Gear. When Jeremy Clarkson et al departed the hit BBC car show, there was much debate about who could continue the programme’s success. Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc both left after short presenting stints, and then… step forward Paddy. 

No one had the comedian and Take Me Out presenter down as a petrolhead, never mind a presenter of such a flagship show, but he got the job, and (once people had got over the shock) proved a popular choice.

Paddy McGuinness, 48, revealed what to expect from the new episodes of BBC1 quiz show Question Of Sport, as he replaces Sue Barker on the show, alongside team captains Sam Quek and Ugo Monye (pictured)

Now he’s scored again, out of nowhere. He is taking over from the legendary Sue Barker at the helm of the iconic BBC1 quiz show Question Of Sport. Who knew he was even in the running?

‘It was kind of the same as when I got the call about Top Gear,’ Paddy, 48, admits. 

‘I thought, “Blimey, I didn’t think I’d be in the mix for this.” You know when something like that comes up, all the newspapers do a sweepstake about who will get it. It’s not even a question of me having rubbish odds – my name’s not even on the list. It happened again with this.’

And controversially so. It was not known that Question Of Sport was in line for a revamp, but last September it was announced that veteran presenter Sue Barker, who had hosted the show for 24 years, was leaving. 

So too were the team captains, retired rugby union player Matt Dawson and cricketer-turned-TV personality Phil Tufnell.

And by all accounts, they were just as stunned as the viewers, who complained in enough numbers that the show’s bosses felt they had to respond, effectively pointing out that the call for ‘new balls, please’ was simply part and parcel of the show.

‘Question Of Sport has been airing on BBC1 for 50 years, and its longevity is testament to the show’s ability to reinvent its format and change its line-up,’ a BBC spokesperson said in defence of the move.

Brutal for the departing team, but such is the way of it in the world of television, particularly with shows that have been around for as long as Question Of Sport.

‘It happens with a heritage show, doesn’t it?’ says Paddy. ‘A change of the guard, and this was the time they were doing it.’

A BBC spokesperson said the longevity of Question Of Sport is testament to its ability to reinvent its format and change its line-up. Pictured: Sue with her team captains, Matt Dawson (left) and Phil Tufnell

A BBC spokesperson said the longevity of Question Of Sport is testament to its ability to reinvent its format and change its line-up. Pictured: Sue with her team captains, Matt Dawson (left) and Phil Tufnell

Interestingly, he says he’s deliberately adopted a fingers-in-many-pies approach to his own TV career for exactly this reason. No job is safe in TV, he points out.

‘I did Take Me Out [the ITV dating game show] for ten years, and it came to an end,’ he says. 

‘That’s TV. I didn’t sit with my head in my hands saying, “Oh my God, what’s going on?” TV moves, all the time – you cannot take things too personally.’

It was suggested that ex-footballer Alex Scott would be the new host, a rumour seemingly confirmed when Gary Lineker congratulated her on Twitter. Not so, though. She has denied that she was approached.

The full, confirmed team is in place today, though, for our photoshoot. Joining Paddy are former England hockey captain Sam Quek (who not only has an Olympic gold medal, from Rio, herself, but who comes fresh from her last job presenting from Salford on the Tokyo Games) and Ugo Monye, retired England and Lions rugby star turned sports commentator.

TV moves on, you can’t take things personally – Paddy McGuinness 

Sam and Ugo are the new team captains, who will appear every week, battling it out against each other alongside guest team-mates.

They haven’t actually started filming yet, and Paddy warns that we shouldn’t be fooled by the lighthearted banter and warm exchanges that are going on today.

‘It’s all nicey-nice at the moment, but you know what these sportspeople are like,’ he jokes. ‘I think it’s all going to get quite competitive, quite quickly. They will want to take each other’s heads off when we actually get started.’

Sam, who became a mother five months ago, said becoming the first female team captain shows how far we've come. Pictured: Sam, Paddy and Ugo

Sam, who became a mother five months ago, said becoming the first female team captain shows how far we’ve come. Pictured: Sam, Paddy and Ugo

Both Sam, 32, and Ugo, 38, grew up watching the show, and both have previously appeared as guests, so their excitement at the permanent posts is palpable.

‘In my book you knew you had reached the pinnacle of sporting success when one of two things happened: a) you became a Panini sticker, or b) you were a guest on Question Of Sport,’ says Sam. 

‘It’s a national institution. Getting an invite on it was one of the things I was most looking forward to after Rio – and it was one of the first offers that came in. I’d arrived! 

‘Now I’m the first female team captain, which is something I’m so, so proud of. It shows how far we’ve come, that I can be captain of a team, with potentially two men on either side of me.’

Being a guest on the panel is a pinnacle of sporting success – Sam Quek 

She’s big on the female empowerment message here, and who can blame her. It’s also significant that she’s landed the job at a point in her career where, a generation ago, women would have been having to make difficult choices.

Just five months ago, Sam became a mother. It was a difficult journey because she had previously lost a baby, in January 2020. Her daughter Molly’s arrival in March was fraught too, involving an emergency C-section.

All through the pregnancy there were tricky professional questions as well. Sam had committed to be part of the Tokyo Games coverage (a dream since Rio). But would the timings work out?

Happily, they did – although she admits that the 2am work wake-up calls were very challenging. She pulled it off, though, and believes that filming Question Of Sport with a tiny baby will now be a breeze in comparison.

Illustrious former Question Of Sport guests include Princess Anne in 1987 (pictured)

Illustrious former Question Of Sport guests include Princess Anne in 1987 (pictured)

‘I think with all the uncertainty over Tokyo there was a moment where I thought, “Will I have a small baby?”’ she says.

‘But there is never a right time to have a child and it was a case of, “What if I do?” It shouldn’t impact – it’s just a case of whether you have a support system and how you put it in place. Obviously I couldn’t have done it without my husband, who has been so supportive.’

Her husband, property entrepreneur Tom Mairs, has been (literally) holding the baby, bringing Molly to see her while she filmed in Salford. Sam says that her bosses on Question Of Sport have been similarly understanding.

‘When we’ve had meetings it’s been a case of, “Can we get a pop-up cot for you. Now, do you need a kettle or a microwave?” It’s been great.’ 

Sam adds that she has been hugely inspired watching fellow athletes juggle sporting careers and motherhood in a way that would have been utterly unthinkable a generation ago.

It’s tough to fill Sue’s shoes

Paddy, Sam and Ugo talk with great reverence about Sue Barker, mindful that loyal fans will feel a sense of loss at her departure as presenter after more than two decades. 

Sam describes her as a ‘trailblazer, not just in tennis, but in broadcasting. She’s always been one of the females who is at the forefront of pushing boundaries.’

Paddy confides that he phoned her when he got the job. ‘She said, “How did you get this number?”’ he quips.

 ‘No, she was lovely. I was nervous, because she’s part of the TV landscape. She was at Wimbledon, which was amazing. Look at me, talking to Sue Barker when she’s at Wimbledon!’

Did you apologise for taking her job?

 ‘No, no. It wasn’t like that. She gave me tips, things like where to put the cards on the table. Sue has never used an autocue, so I was anxious – I’ve always used one.’

‘Previously we may have been told we can’t, but when you see people doing it, you realise you can. That should be the case for every female. You shouldn’t be held back because you have had a child.’

Ugo, who has two young daughters (his four-year-old, Phoenix, told him the other day that she wants to grow up to be ‘the fastest girl in the world’), is another example of a sports star who realised a long time ago that a TV career was a viable option. He retired from professional sport in 2015, and has been steadily making a name for himself in sports commentary. It has been part of a specific game plan.

‘It’s hard to achieve goals if you don’t set them, and the thing about a sports career is that there is an end goal – for me it was that weekly match,’ he says. ‘Once you retire, you have to set your own goals.’

Ugo has an interesting background. He grew up in north London, in quite a tough environment. His father left the family home when he was nine years old. They are still in touch on the phone, but his father lives in Nigeria now so ‘it is what it is’, says Ugo.

He has not seen his dad since he was a child. In many ways, he owes his sporting success to his father’s departure, though. His mum (‘who drove everything’) read about a scholarship to the famous Lord Wandsworth College in Hampshire, which was only open to single-parent families. She applied, and Ugo got in. 

Suddenly, a whole new world opened up. Always sporty, he started to play rugby, ‘and I kept getting picked’. Academic opportunities were boosted too. ‘I went from a class of 35 to a class of 12. You couldn’t not learn.’

Ugo’s a keen campaigner now for such opportunities – in sport and outside it – to be available to all, not just the rich or the lucky.

He is also likely to be the snappiest dresser on the show. His smart suits are often commented on in sports circles. And Paddy reckons that Ugo might have the ladies tuning in too. 

He does point out that when he joined the Top Gear team, female viewership rose by 44 per cent, ‘but I think here they might tune in for Ugo’.

When it comes to the actual questions about sport, we predict Sam is the one to beat. During the Olympic coverage, her co-presenter Dan Walker teased her about the amount of research she put in every day. 

She says that being a geek about sport is just part of her make-up. ‘I love a quiz – not just a sports one. I love The Chase, Fifteen To One – but when it comes to sports, I am a geek. 

‘During the Olympics, we’d have prep meetings, but even if something wasn’t in there, I tended to know it because it’s something I’ve done all my life. I will remember who lifted the FA Cup when, or got a silver medal. 

‘Obviously, doing the Olympics just before this has been great preparation too – I’m bang up to date!’

So how is Paddy on sports trivia? ‘Well, if you ask me a question about a 1,500m runner from Ukraine, I might struggle, but I can get by in football, cricket, rugby, most sports really. I’m a dab hand at darts, but I don’t like to talk about it.’

They wanted a trio who’d produce the best show – Ugo Monye 

He then reminds us that he doesn’t need encyclopedic knowledge. ‘The beauty of my job is that I have all the answers!’

There has been much discussion about the direction the show will take now. With Paddy in charge, the assumption is that the production team are going for a funnier, joke-laden show. Not necessarily, he says, although he does guarantee that there will be more banter.

‘I said I wouldn’t want to do it if it was an entirely new show. There won’t be loads of gags and jokes, I don’t think it’s the job of the host of Question Of Sport to do that, but there’s no two ways about it, I will have a bit more chat with the captains.’

The new captains haven’t escaped controversy either, with much made of the fact that they are a woman and a black man. ‘Woke box-ticking,’ say the critics.

No one here agrees. Ugo picks his words carefully. ‘Someone did say to me the other day, “You are the first black presenter of Question Of Sport.” But I didn’t think about how it might speak to others. 

‘If it does and if it means that it brings in more people to love the show, then fantastic, absolutely fantastic, but I wouldn’t have thought it was part of their [the BBC’s] remit. I think they wanted to find a trio of people that would get on, and produce the best show.’

But there is a drive for all our panel shows to reflect diversity. ‘Yes, and it’s appropriate,’ he says. 

‘I was inspired by people who looked like me, and shared some of the same struggles, upbringing, background. I don’t think that’s unique to the BBC or Question Of Sport, though. We’ve seen an increase in awareness over the past 18 months in all areas.’

Ultimately, changing the entire presenting team is a big gamble for the bosses of Question Of Sport. Will it pay off? ‘That’s for the viewers to decide,’ says Paddy, well aware of how much there is to play for. 

Question Of Sport, Friday 3 September, 7.35pm, BBC1 and BBC iPlayer.