|Alma mater||Oriel College, Oxford|
|Employer||Channel 4, Sky Sports|
(m. 2012; div. 2013)
Rachel Annabelle Riley (born 11 January 1986) is a British television presenter. She co-presents the Channel 4 daytime puzzle show Countdown and its comedy spin-off 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. She is a mathematics graduate.
Her television debut came when she joined Countdown aged 22. With an interest in popularising mathematics and the sciences, she has since co-presented The Gadget Show on Channel 5 (2013–14) and It's Not Rocket Science on ITV (2016). She was also a contestant on the BBC celebrity dance show Strictly Come Dancing in 2013.
Born in Rochford, Essex, she identifies as Jewish, saying: "My family came over in the pogroms." Her father is English, but her mother has Russian Jewish ancestry. Riley was raised in the Thorpe Bay area of Southend-on-Sea and was educated at the independent Thorpe Hall School, and Southend High School for Girls, a grammar school, where she obtained four As at A-Level. She then completed undergraduate studies in mathematics at Oriel College, Oxford.
During a university holiday, Riley considered a career in the financial sector, and completed an internship at Deutsche Bank in the City of London. The experience put her off: she found the extreme behaviour of city traders wearing, and she disliked the early-morning train commute.
On Countdown, Riley replaced the long-serving Carol Vorderman. Like Vorderman, Riley's role is to handle the placement of tiles on the board for the letters and numbers rounds and to find an exact solution in the numbers rounds if the contestants are unable to do so. Riley's appointment to Countdown was announced at the same time as the announcement of a new main host, Jeff Stelling, replacing Des O'Connor; the duo of Stelling and Riley was in place for the new series beginning in January 2009. Although she had no ambition to be a television presenter, she was encouraged to apply by her mother, and decided to do so because she was interested in the numbers part of the game. Having beaten 1,000 applicants for the role, she commented, "There's only one cool maths job around and I was lucky enough to get it so I'm absolutely thrilled".
Since it was first broadcast on 2 January 2012, Riley has also performed her Countdown role on the comedy crossover spin-off version, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, alongside comedian Jimmy Carr as host. While Countdown is seen as a straight light entertainment show, in explaining the difference between the two, Riley sees Countdown as the role she is happy for her grandmother to see, while Cats Does Countdown is the more risqué, cheeky role which she shows to her friends.
From September 2013, Riley appeared in the eleventh series of the BBC One ballroom dancing programme Strictly Come Dancing with professional dancing partner Pasha Kovalev. She was eliminated in week 6 of the show, on 3 November, after losing out in the dance-off against Abbey Clancy and Aljaž Škorjanec, who went on to win the series.
According to Riley she lacked a natural talent for performing, so instead sought to frame each dance as that of a character. For the first five weeks, Riley suffered from stage fright, commenting that "As soon as the music would start, I would have a fuzzy brain and it was like an out-of-body experience"; after seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist she was able to control her breathing, and so was only able to truly enjoy the show for what proved to be her final appearance.
From 2013 to 2014, Riley co-presented on the Channel 5 programme The Gadget Show with Jason Bradbury. She presented three series of the show and was later replaced by Amy Williams. In 2016, Riley was part of the three-person presenting team for ITV's six-part series, It's Not Rocket Science, billed by the network as an entertainment series celebrating science. Her co-presenters, Ben Miller and Romesh Ranganathan, similarly had a background in science and maths.
In August 2016, it was announced that Riley had joined Sky Sports to present Friday Night Football alongside her former Countdown co-presenter Jeff Stelling, and Fantasy Football Club with Max Rushden and Paul Merson. She left Friday Night Football in 2017.
In August 2012, Riley married Jamie Gilbert, whom she had met while they were both studying at the University of Oxford. It was announced in November 2013 that they were separating. The split has been cited as an example of the Strictly curse. She began dating her Strictly dance partner, Pasha Kovalev, soon after the show ended in December 2013. In May 2019, Riley announced that she was pregnant with the couple's first child. On 28 June 2019, Riley and Kovalev married in Las Vegas. On 15 December 2019, Riley gave birth to a baby girl, Maven Aria. In April 2021, Riley announced that she was pregnant with the couple's second child.
Riley is a keen supporter of Manchester United, like her father who was originally from Salford. In October 2010, Riley presented a programme on the club's television channel, MUTV, featuring a tour of their Trafford Training Centre in Carrington. She has also hosted episodes of An Audience with... on the channel. To mark her 1,000th episode of Countdown (aired on 25 June 2013), United player Ryan Giggs presented her with a signed team shirt, Giggs himself having celebrated his 1,000th game for the club the same year. In her appearance as a contestant on the BBC quiz show Celebrity Mastermind, broadcast on 4 January 2012, her specialist subject was a limited (13 year) history of the club; she eventually finished in joint second place.
In 2017, she was the co-winner with Idris Elba of the Rear of the Year award.
Riley identifies herself as being of Jewish heritage and as an atheist. In 2018 she began a campaign against the way the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn had handled allegations of antisemitism. She said she decided to speak out after seeing "Israel is a racist endeavour" posters on London bus stops. In September 2018, after criticising Corbyn over the ongoing antisemitism row, she stated she did not have "any party loyalties". In January 2019, Riley made a speech at a Westminster reception for the Holocaust Educational Trust and addressed what she described as the "hideous abuse" she had received.
In Jewish News, Riley was quoted:
In the name of Labour I've been called a hypocrite, lying propagandist, a tits-teeth-and-arse clothes horse dolly bird, weaponiser of anti-Semitism, fascist, right-wing extremist, Nazi sympathiser, Twitter cancer, thick Tory, brainwashed, an anti-Semite, white supremacist, hate preacher, Zio political trollster, not a real Jew, a child bully, conspiracy theorist, a paedo-protector minion puppet who my dead grandfather would be disgusted by.
In February 2019, according to The Times and i, Riley had been involved in talks to set up a Centrist breakaway party from Labour. According to Jewish News in April, Riley backed the Stop Funding Fake News campaign. In November 2019, Riley posted an image on Twitter of herself wearing a shirt with an edited image of Jeremy Corbyn carrying a sign bearing the caption "Jeremy Corbyn is a racist endeavour". The tweet was condemned by some for erasing the struggle against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, the original subject of the sign, to make a political point, with some users calling for Riley to be fired. The professional photographer who took the original shot, Rob Scott, also publicly declared his displeasure, stating she had "illegally manipulated and printed" the picture to "cynically promote her agenda", adding "I am appalled by the abuse of property, moral rights and change of anti-racist message to anti-Corbyn one."
In February 2019, Riley and fellow campaigner Tracy-Ann Oberman instructed a lawyer to take action against 70 individuals who had posted tweets which Riley and Oberman regarded as either libellous or harassment. As a result, Riley and Oberman sued one person who had retweeted a link to an article which had accused Oberman and Riley of harassing a young Labour activist who had commented on antisemitism in the Labour Party. In May 2019, a High Court judge ruled that the article that was linked in the tweet was defamatory. In July 2020, Riley and Oberman dropped their joint libel suit and contributed towards the defendant's legal costs.
Riley has visited schools to enthuse pupils on the "joys of applied maths, quantum mechanics and time travel and so on". A blog, written by University of Surrey academic Julia Percival for The Guardian, which argued that Riley's looks and figure would work against any aim to increase female participation in the sciences, was described by The Daily Telegraph as unfair and a case of Riley being damned if she did and damned if she didn't.
In June 2019, Riley was criticised by environmental groups and accused of greenwashing for her promotion of the "future energy solutions" of Shell.
She is listed on the website of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate as a patron.
|2009–present||Countdown||Channel 4||Co-presenter||With Jeff Stelling (2009–2011), Nick Hewer (2012–2021) and Anne Robinson (2021-)|
|2012–present||8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown||Co-presenter||With Jimmy Carr|
|2010||The IT Crowd||Herself||Cameo in in-show countdown|
|2013–2014||The Gadget Show||Channel 5||Co-presenter||With Jason Bradbury|
|2013||Strictly Come Dancing||BBC One||Participant||5th celebrity to be eliminated|
|2016||It's Not Rocket Science||ITV||Co-presenter||With Ben Miller and Romesh Ranganathan|
|2016–2017||Friday Night Football||Sky Sports||Co-presenter||With Jeff Stelling|
|Fantasy Football Club||Co-presenter||With Max Rushden and Paul Merson|
|2019||Celebrity Countdown||More4||Co-presenter||With Nick Hewer|
She has also made brief appearances in Dispatches, Britain's Brightest and 1001 Things You Should Know.