Sheffield’s award-winning comedian Tom Wrigglesworth reflects on returning to the North

Tom Wrigglesworth

Tom Wrigglesworth - Credit: not Archant

Radio 4 host on growing up in Sheffield and his love of the Peak District

If it hadn’t been for a group of mates at university and a former girlfriend’s pestering, Tom Wrigglesworth might be spending today in a radio electronics workshop tinkering with the mobile phone technology of tomorrow.

Thanks to them, though, Sheffield-born Tom is now one of the country’s best-loved comedians, with three series of his own Radio Four show on his CV which also includes television presenting, festivals around the world and a host of prestigious awards.

‘When I was at university I used to drag people along, or sometimes I’d go on my own, to new act comedy nights and I would think that I could be just as bad as the people on stage,’ he said. ‘I didn’t have the guts to do it then. I wish now that I had started then but there’s something quite Yorkshire about feeling you shouldn’t try too much, you shouldn’t get above yourself, so I left it to other people.

‘My mates kept telling me I should do it and I must have been about 26 or 27 and living and working in London when my girlfriend at the time badgered me into doing it. I started then and I have never stopped.

‘One day I realised I could pay the next month’s rent using money from comedy – at that point I was working and doing gigs and was really tired, almost falling asleep at the wheel – so I handed in my notice.’

Tom was the fourth of five children in a busy Sheffield household and initially had dreams of a career in music. After realising he didn’t have the confidence to be a musician, he had wanted to work in sound engineering and studied acoustics at university in Salford before taking a job in telecommunications in London.

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‘My parents had my three older brothers within three or four years and then there was a gap of six years before they decided they wanted a girl. They had another go and they got me, but then a year and half later they had my sister, so it all worked in the end, but they had this extra unnecessary boy,’ he said.

‘I’ve only got happy memories but thinking back it must have been absolute mayhem. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and I guess that without them we would have fallen apart.’

His parents will be familiar to listeners to his Hang Ups radio show – the third series was broadcast towards the end of last year – in which Tom phones home and hears of their latest mishaps and adventures.

‘The first series of Hang Ups was very accurate, almost word for word true, with a few embellishments and some fiction. Most of the things that happened to my parents’ characters in the first series really did happen to them. The second series was more of a mixture of truth and fiction and some of the third series was true, but to be honest, I’m starting to run out now.

‘It was a running joke for weeks that they would come back from shopping or whatever and something crazy would have happened and I could see them telling me and thinking “we’re doing his job for him, here”.

‘The first series was four episodes and I showed my parents the scripts for at least two of them because they were a bit nervous and anxious and I did take some things out at their request because it’s not about embarrassing them. When it came out on the radio they enjoyed it and they found that people were sympathising and sharing their own similar experiences, so I think they found it reassuring. Since then, I’ve thought I’ll just say what I like.’

Tom, who turns 40 in May, married his Danish wife Lulu, a therapist, in Las Vegas in 2010 and the couple now divide their time between East London and a home in the Peak District.

‘It’s somewhere I used to go as a child,’ Tom added. ‘I can remember being dragged around well-dressings and learning about the plague and walking on the moors. As a teenager I would go drinking and getting up to no good on the moors and now I’m re-connecting with the area, even though it’s written through my life.

‘I’m loving it. We go on long walks like grown ups and it’s like being there for the first time, but I know what’s round the next corner.

‘Dividing your life between two places brings a lot of questions but one which we have answered is that you can’t live in two places. Running two fridges is a nightmare, I’m always out of milk and the amount of margarine and ham I’ve thrown away is incredible.

‘I have a lot of work in London but I love living in the Peak District. I love the lower gear that people operate in and the lower stress levels up here generally. Where we live in the East End of London is a very bustly place and you see an awful lot of those witness appeal signs, all for macabre things, muggings, car crashes, assaults in the middle of the night it’s quite chilling.

‘When I was out walking at Surprise View in the Peaks there was a sign on a gate that said “if you find a camera battery, please phone” and the number. I like that hope that it might be found. In London, you’d have just bought another. It was a nice, laminated sign and I really hope someone found it. I took a picture of the sign, so I have his number, I might give him a call and check.’