Dictionary Corner star Susie Dent, 56, has been a Countdown favourite since 1992.
But the English lexicographer and etymologist has not always had such a glamorous job title – and on one episode of Countdown in 2018, she revealed she once worked as a waitress.
She had been working at Oxford University Press creating dictionaries when she was asked by her boss if she wanted to audition for the show.
She said no – twice.
Susie admitted to The Independent that she was so “nervous” she turned down the opportunity twice before she was finally persuaded to give it a try.
Countdown fans were left bereft when Susie went missing for two weeks last month.
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She was replaced on Dictionary Corner by Rachel Parris, leading to an influx of viewers taking to social media to ask her where she was, fearing she had quit the show for good.
But it has now been confirmed she was forced to self-isolate for ten days after falling victim to the “pingdemic” and being notified by the NHS app that she had been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
New Countdown host Anne Robinson explained: “Sadly we haven’t got Susie with us because she is self isolating, so Rachel is doing both jobs”.
And Susie tweeted: “Don’t worry, normal service will resume v soon!”
Fans were devastated to be deprived of Susie, and many had initially wondered if she was missing due to personal issues, having recently split from her husband of almost 20 years, last month.
It was reported Susie and primary school teacher husband Paul Atkins “did all they could” to make their marriage work.
Rachel Joseph/ Channel 4)
But there was just no salvaging the relationship despite their best efforts, a friend close to the couple said, and they went their separate ways.
But it is understood that the split is on amicable terms – and they will continue to put daughters Lucy, 20, and Thea, 12, first, working hard on coming to the best arrangement possible regarding their care.
A source close to the pair told The Sun: “It’s obviously a very sad situation, but Susie has handled everything stoically,” a pal told the publication.
“She has ploughed on professionally with all aspects of her working life and is simply trying to make the most of a heartbreaking scenario.
“Obviously Susie and Paul did all they could to make things work, but decided in the end to part ways.”
2018 Getty Images)
Susie has remained tight-lipped on the split, but might not come as a surprise, as she has admitted before she tends to be a private person as she cannot stand being judged.
“I’ve been a worrier for as long as I can remember,” she told the Scottish Daily Mail.
“When I was growing up, I worried that people would dismiss me as a boring swot because I always had my nose in a vocabulary book — usually in French or German.
“My constant fear was that people were judging me, although, more recently, I’ve come to an understanding that that needn’t be in a negative way.”
Susie added that her work and her love of language became her “refuge” and working on Countdown allowed to, at last, feel “safe and in charge” of herself.
Susie admitted in the same interview that she had always battled jealousy and insecurity over her “beautiful” elder sister, Nicky.
She said she felt she would “never be as pretty” as Nicky and was always desperate to emulate her, but was convinced she had fallen short on account of her being a “geek”.
But whether or not she feels it is warranted, Susie is hugely popular on Countdown, though some cruel viewers have previously accused her of behaving as if she is drunk.
In a recent interview with The Mirror, Susie explained why.
“The thing that visibly affects me most is caffeine,” she explained. “My body goes into toxic shock.”
“My body goes into toxic shock. I get incredibly cold and start shivering. My lips go absolutely black with cold and I start slurring my words.
“I seem much more drunk than I would have done had I had a couple of gin slings,” she added.
Though she is fiercely private, Susie gave fans a rare insight into her family life with her children for The Times’ Day In The Life column last year.
In it, she revealed: “I’m an early bird, up at 6. Morning is mum-time. Lucy, 20, and Thea, 12, and I have breakfast – oats, Brazil nuts and seeds, soaked in apple juice and yoghurt – then I walk to school with Thea.
“We have some of our best chats watching the gossamer float across the fields.
“If I’m not filming, I spend a lot of time at home, living in my head.”
Susie also told The Independent that journalling helps her cope with stress and manage the thoughts that tumble around her head.
“I tend to catastrophise – you just have to ask Rachel [Riley] or any of my friends, I do tend to go to the worst conclusion,” she admitted.
“Sometimes it’s just important, really important, to stop, and breathing really works. I’ve found breathing exercises really help to kind of pull my mind away from those catastrophes.”
She added: “Sometimes people say, ‘Try and distract yourself with something else’, but I find what you’re worried about is always there – distraction might be a temporary sticking-plaster, but you’ll always come back to that problem.”
Instead, Susie said it’s more helpful to “live with” your worries for a while rather than desperately trying to mask them.
And getting older, said Susie, has made her realise most of the worst-case scenarios she always imagined never came true.
She also called work her “oasis” and revealed she is currently stuck into writing her 14th book, which gives her a sense of focus and purpose.
It’s clear Susie’s love of words have rubbed off on her daughters.
She said she loves reading with Thea in the evening, listing To Kill a Mockingbird as the kind of book they enjoy getting stuck into and discussing.
Susie’s language expertise is even being utilised to pave the way for developments in technology.
Last year, she helped train Amazon’s Alexa to understand UK regional dialects.
As a result, Amazon says the AI helper is now able to understand a range of regional ways of saying hello, as well as different regional names for dinner, a bread roll, sandwiches, mum and dad, woodlice and children, among others.
“Nowhere is the diversity of English vocabulary more apparent than in Britain.
“Our local languages are constantly evolving and changing,” she said.
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