Comedian and TV quiz host Sandi Toksvig on surviving lockdown, knitting and her new show - plus all venues and dates for Next Slide Please tour

It won’t be a surprise to Sandi Toksvig fans that the polymath QI presenter owns an Encyclopaedia of Flintlock Weaponry and a tome titled Knitting with Dog Hair.

By Sue Wilkinson
Monday, 7th March 2022, 1:33 pm
Updated Monday, 7th March 2022, 1:34 pm
Sandi talks knitting, lockdown survival and why she’s desperate to get on the road again with her new live show
Sandi talks knitting, lockdown survival and why she’s desperate to get on the road again with her new live show

“I collect books where I think, ‘Why would anybody publish that?’” she said. “So, you should never challenge me as chances are I will have a book about it.” A dozen or so such titles will crop up in her new stage show, Next Slide Please, among many other quite interesting topics.

Her first national tour since 2019’s National Trevor can’t come soon enough. “I want that sense of joy when we hear people laughing, meeting strangers, having a drink and just being glad to be out for the evening.”

In National Trevor, pre-pandemic, she had “weirdly” focused on death and why we don’t talk about it enough… Her new show, Next Slide Please, will be about “having fun, being silly, doing jokes and enjoying ourselves”. Phew. She also wants more chat than usual from the audience. “I want to hear what they have to say, I want people to feel they’re being heard.”

Toksvig is talking over Zoom from the house she and her therapist wife Debbie, her dog Mildred and her vast library have just moved into.

Her family — which includes three children from her relationship with Peta Stewart, plus two grandchildren, all “fabulous” and clearly adored — are coming for lunch there at the weekend, and she couldn’t be more thrilled. She didn’t see them during the various lockdowns, just did video calls.

“That was the most painful thing. That first lockdown Christmas without them was really hard. Much though I adore my wife, I missed the noise and raucous laughter of Christmas.”

But lockdown had an odd upside. She and Debbie would set out when it got dark for their allotted hour’s exercise: not just a simple walk but a Toksvig guided tour, street by street, of the totally deserted City of London.

“We made it our business to learn the history of every single street in the Square Mile. I would bore Debbie with the information I had gathered— every street corner has something where you go, ‘I didn’t know that, that’s amazing.’ We loved it. Quite a nerdy thing to do.”

Did lockdown make us nicer and kinder too? Not really, she says, clarifying that she thinks the British were already a nice and kind nation before the virus arrived; now we just look out for these qualities and comment on them more.

She learned from the past two years how much she enjoys the simple things in life, explaining how she has started saying no to evenings out more, though will continue to lend time and support to the Women’s Equality Party and is visibly proud that the five candidates the WEP could afford to field in the 2016 general election, all survivors of sexual abuse, targeted five male MPs facing allegations of sexual impropriety, none of whom is sitting now. “We didn’t win the seats, but we won the battle.”

For Next Slide Please she has been doing more research, ready for the tour. “It’s a ‘brown-sign tour’,” she explains. “Anywhere there is a stately home and a cup of tea.”

Her schedule will be arranged so she can spend time at the local historic sites. But she will also devote part of the new show to the history of the town or city she is in and wants the audience to tell her what’s amazing about it. Her nocturnal City walks have taught her every inch of a place comes with a story attached. She wants people to see she’s made “the best effort I can, I’ve been doing my homework”.

There is something endearingly old-school decent about Toksvig, which is part of her appeal as a performer. You can tell she doesn’t love doing interviews as they are all about her, “which is boring, and bad manners”.

And she is like a model Victorian in her industriousness. Asked which television series she binged during lockdown, the answer is: none. She confesses readily that she doesn’t watch much TV. Her off-duty hours, when not spent reading, are filled with making things — weaving, craft projects, embroidery, woodwork, knitting. (She will occasionally do the latter with the 10pm news on, she admits, having just knitted a doll for her granddaughter that way.) And she knits with wool, not dog hair.

How on earth does she find the time for all those projects, alongside her programme-making, writing, and performing? “That’s what I do when other people are binging on box sets”…” Touché!

Does she ever think about slowing down or even giving up? She admits she has a “fantasy” — and stresses that’s all it is — of becoming a teacher in a New England liberal arts college, “wearing a slightly shabby sweater and looking a little bit vague and sitting around discussing Catcher in the Rye or some other great piece of writing”. She loves talking to people younger than her, she says. “But I’m fully booked, dahling, for the next year.”

And besides, she finds the world too interesting. “Every turn of every page I learn something…” She starts to giggle at the memory of an Extraordinary Escapes episode she had completed for season two of the Channel 4 series. “Even taking a gong-bath with Sarah Millican. Not a good idea, it made us laugh too much…” A gong-bath? “You lie in the woods, and somebody plays a gong.”

She isn’t done with “something new”, she insists: “NEXT SLIDE PLEASE will be full of new discoveries, new adventures, new ideas. Otherwise you become a dinosaur.” Curiosity is key, her top recommendation to her fellow humans. “Don’t be certain of too much. I am challenging people to have their answers questioned.”

Tour dates:

APRIL

TUE 5, 7.30PM, CAMBERLEY, Camberley Theatre, 01276 707600

WED 20, 7.30PM, ST ALBANS, The Alban Arena, 01727 844488

THU 21, 7.30PM, BATH, The Forum, 01225 463362

FRI 22, 7.45PM, MALVERN, Forum Theatre, 01684 892277

SAT 23, 7.30PM, GUILDFORD, G Live

MON 25, 8PM, SOUTHEND ON SEA, Cliffs Pavilion

TUE 26, 7.30PM, HIGH WYCOMBE, Wycombe Swan, 0343 310 0060

WED 27, 7.30PM, IPSWICH, Regent Theatre

THU 28, 7.30PM, CHATHAM, The Central Theatre, 01634 338338 BOOK HERE

MAY 2022

SAT 7, 7.30PM, POOLE, Lighthouse, 01202 280000

SUN 8, 7.30PM, DARTFORD, The Orchard Theatre, 0343 310 0033

MON 9, 7.30PM, PETERBOROUGH, New Theatre, 01733 852 992

THU 12, 7.30PM, BRADFORD, St George’s Hall, 01274 432000

FRI 13, 7.30PM, YORK, Barbican

SAT 14, 7.30PM, BUXTON, Opera House, 01298 72190

MON 16, 7.30PM, CARDIFF, St David’s Hall, 029 2087 8444

WED 18, 7.30PM, NOTTINGHAM, Royal Concert Hall, 0115 989 5555

THU 19, 7.30PM, BIRMINGHAM, Symphony Hall, 0121 780 3333

SAT 21, 8PM, COVENTRY, Warwick Arts Centre, 024 7652 4524

SUN 22, 7.30PM, CHELTENHAM, Town Hall, 01242 528764

MON 23, 7.30PM, OXFORD, Playhouse, 01865 305305

THU 26, 7.30PM, YEOVIL, Westlands Entertainment Venue, 01935 422 884

SAT 28, 7.30PM, TORQUAY, Princess Theatre, 0844 871 7615

SUN 29, 7.30PM, READING, The Hexagon, 0118 960 6060

JUNE 2022

SAT 4, 7.30PM, BEXHILL ON SEA, De La Warr Pavilion

SUN 5, 7.30PM, SOUTHAMPTON, Mayflower Theatre, 02380 711811

WED 8, 7.30PM, LEICESTER, De Montfort Hall, 0116 233 3111

THU 9, 8PM, LONDON, Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall

FRI 10, 7.30PM, CRAWLEY, The Hawth, 01293 553636

SUN 12, 7.30PM, KINGSTON, Rose Theatre, 020 8174 0090

MON 13, 7.30PM, BROMLEY, Churchill Theatre, 0343 310 0020

THU 16, 7.30PM, DARLINGTON, Darlington Hippodrome, 01325 405405

FRI 17, 7.30PM, SHEFFIELD, City Hall

SAT 18, 7.30PM, LIVERPOOL, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 0151 709 3789

SUN 19, 7.30PM, SALFORD, The Lowry, 0343 208 6000

WED 22, 7.30PM, BRIGHTON, Brighton Dome, 01273 709709

THU 23, 7.30PM, CAMBRIDGE, Corn Exchange, 01223 357851

SAT 25, 7.30PM, CHESTER, Storyhouse, 01244 409 113

SUN 26, 7.30PM, GLASGOW, Theatre Royal, 0844 871 7615

MON 27, 7.30PM, EDINBURGH, Festival Theatre, 0131 529 6000

TUE 28, 7.30PM, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, Tyne Theatre & Opera House, 0844 2491 000

THU 30, 7.30PM, CANTERBURY, The Marlowe Theatre, 01227 787787