Skip to content Skip to footer

A Song in Her Heart

Ted Lasso standout Hannah Waddingham celebrates the season with her very first Christmas special

Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas merrily takes off with Stevie Wonder’s “That’s What Christmas Means to Me,” and for the Ted Lasso star, there is no question what Christmas means to her. “Exactly what I had [on the show],” she says. “Friends and family around, kicking back, food, good wine, good company, music — I mean, what more could you ask for?”

Apple TV+

With friends like Waddingham’s, not much more. The actress sprinkles the London Coliseum with colleagues from both Game of Thrones — in which she portrayed “shame nun” Septa Unella — and Ted Lasso, where her performance as Rebecca Welton won her a primetime Emmy Award. But although the 45-minute-long holiday special is a star-studded affair, including performances by singers like Sam Ryder and Leslie Odom, Jr., not everyone got an invitation to this party. “There were massive people, they’ll tell you, that I batted away because it’s not about that to me,” says Waddingham. “It’s about creating something authentic and beautiful.”

The authenticity starts with placing the event at the venue where her mother Melodie Kelly, an opera singer for the English National Opera, spent her entire career. This is also where Waddingham grew up, watching her mother perform. In an especially touching segment, Waddingham pays tribute to both her mother and eight-year-old daughter — a moment that threatened to close those famous pipes. “Even now when I talk about them [I choke up],” admits the actress. “I didn’t get into it in the special, but I’m sure everyone can see my mom’s sitting there in a wheelchair because she’s heavily inflicted with Parkinson’s. So, it was very bittersweet. I didn’t know if I would have either of my parents there because both of them have had tremendous ill health, but the fact that they both made it made me think, ‘I’ve got to keep this together and do it for them so that they remember
this always.’ ”

Apple TV+

There were other elements stressing out the musical theatre pro. Having filmed action-comedy The Fall Guy in Sydney, then hosted the Olivier Awards and the Eurovision Song Contest back to back, Waddingham didn’t know if her voice would be up to par. “The biggest challenge was the tiredness in my voice. I was checking in with my musical supervisor and saying to him, ‘I’ve got no voice,’ and trying to have the courage to know that it would come out when it needed to,” she says. “It really was living in a way that I used to when I was doing theatre, which was no alcohol, no late nights. Because in the theatre, I was known for having a large range, and I thought, ‘I’ve been away from the stage for 10 years. I cannot be less than I left.’ I needed to make sure that I brought that range back, and thank God it came out.”

Apple TV+

It perhaps is no surprise that the stage is where Waddingham feels most comfortable. “My comfort zone is theatre. If you slice me open like a tree, you would see music and theatre pouring out,” she says. “TV was getting out of my comfort zone. Thankfully I’ve been finally accepted into that world. But stepping back into being on a stage and being with a band — that runs through my bloodstream.” In fact, when it came to her very own musical hour, Waddingham knew exactly what she wanted. “There was no way that I wasn’t doing that in a theatre. It had to be the centrepiece,” she says. “The fact that I have my mother and my daughter in it, my daughter’s godparents, it was very important for me to have that. To have the English International Opera Chorus there — it wouldn’t have been the same if I’d just had a choir. It was them. The fact that I have the London Gay Men’s Chorus, of whom I’m a patron . . . It had to be real. That’s what makes it different.” And much like the show that made her famous, Waddingham wanted her concert to hit comedic and heart-rending beats throughout. “I wanted to take everyone on a bit of an emotional journey,” she says. “On Ted Lasso, we are known for pulling at your heartstrings and making you laugh in the next sentence. I wanted that, but on stage.”

Now that she can literally do anything, Waddingham reflects on what has changed in her life — and what hasn’t. “What doesn’t change is me as a person and as an artist, whether it’s on camera or in theatre. I make no bones about saying I’ll be 50 next year. I know who I am, I know who I’m not. I know what I can do and what I can’t,” she says. “It’s finding that balance of what people have known me for previously, both on the West End and on Broadway, and the larger light that has shone on me in the last few years.” She knows she’s living the dream — just don’t make her tear up about it. “The first thing that goes is your voice, when you are emotional, you can feel it,” she says. “I had to give myself a real talking to and go, ‘Dude, you have wanted this all your career. Don’t screw it up.’”

Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas, streaming from December 2, on Apple TV+

Leave a comment

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Ritatis et quasi architecto beat

Whoops, you're not connected to Mailchimp. You need to enter a valid Mailchimp API key.