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Sandi Toksvig: A Gold Standard Icon

I first came across Sandi Toksvig on my TV when she used to present the kids’ show No.73 in the early 1980s. Years later, I met her at an event and asked her if she called it that because she used to live in the capital’s lesbian mecca Stoke Newington, where the No.73 bus winds from the West End. “God no,” she told me. “I’ve always lived in West London.”

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Originally from Denmark, Sandi Toksvig attended Cambridge University and was a reluctant lesbian icon in the beginning. “I’d never been anything but true to myself, never been anything but me,” she commented. But as there were precisely no out female celebrities in the early 90s, no precedent had been set for coming out – so being the first to do so was daunting. “When I had my children though, I knew I had to live honestly to set them an example,” she said.

So in 1994, she courageously emerged blinking into the headlines and promptly received a skipful of bile, death threats and was dropped in her role as ambassador for Save The Children. It was a lonely place to be and over the next few years under such intense pressure, her relationship crumbled.
“I ended up a single mother, thinking about what jobs I could do if my work dried up. I was told it would and I honestly, I have no particular skills,” she said wryly. For Sandi, the personal has always been political though, so she threw herself into LGBT causes, not least the fight for equal marriage and went about her daily life.

And despite the warnings, the work did not dry up. Sandi has had an unparalleled career as an author and playwright, as well as being a radio & TV presenter. She’s probably best known for her work presenting Radio 4’s The News Quiz and being a team captain on Call My Bluff. She’s also a familiar face on numerous TV panel shows including Have I Got News For You, QI & Mock The Week and was the queen of Whose Line Is It Anyway. This year she’s also hosting the revival of the TV quiz show Fifteen To One and is currently writing a musical. Her play Bully Boy was a West End hit in 2012 and Sandi has written over 20 books and counting. Frankly, I’m tired just writing it all down.

As for love, that rose from the ashes for her too. When she was at a particularly low ebb, a friend invited her to a dinner party and on the doorstep, she met her future wife Debbie. That was 14 years ago.

“It was as near being struck by lightning as is humanly possible,” Sandi stated. “Debbie reached in and hung a string of lights around my heart. And anybody who’s ever watched Desert Hearts will know what I mean.” The pair formed a civil partnership a few years back and renewed their marriage vows on the day the Same Sex Marriage act came into force on March 29th. The event was attended by their family and friends, the London Gay Men’s Chorus and over 2,000 well wishers at London’s Royal Festival Hall where Sandi is a regular contributor.

“I never thought equal marriage would happen in my lifetime, it’s overwhelming,” Sandi stated. She’s a beautifully talented tour-de-force in the UK entertainment industry and LGBT rights wouldn’t be where they are today without people like her.

Clare Lydon’s book London Calling is out now.

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