The Great British Bake Off is back! And that means one thing: we get to wax lyrical about how much we adore Sandi Toksvig.
The comedian has got a whole lot of strings to her bow — BBC quiz show QI, Channel 4’s Fifteen to One, Whose Line Is It Anyway, or Have I Got News For You.
But, as well as being a prolific comic and TV host, Toksvig has found time to be a truly inspirational campaigner for women’s rights and LGBTQI rights around the world, and all-round great person.
The Danish-British comedian lived in Africa and the United States as a child, as her family moved about a great deal for Toksvig’s father’s work as a radio broadcaster.
It was at Cambridge University, from which she graduated with a first in law, archaeology, and anthropology, that she first started out in comedy with the renowned Cambridge Footlights society — alongside Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery, and Emma Thompson.
But when she first came out in September 1994 and became, in her own words, “the only out lesbian in British public life,” Toksvig was told that her career was finished. She received death threats, and was forced into hiding by the public outrage at her sexuality.
In 2014, having refused to be cowed by the haters, Toksvig celebrated her marriage to Debbie Tokvsig. And in 2015, she decided it was “not too late to fight the good fight, after all,” and co-founded the Women’s Equality Party.
Somewhere among all that, she found time to write more than 20 books, including fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, and books for adults.
Here are 6 quotes from Toksvig that show why she's such a great campaigner for human rights.
1. “It’s rare, and I’m not sure why, to find women who combine humour and opinion. I think it’s impressed on women, early on, that holding forth politically is an unattractive trait.
2. “I’m mindful of the work still to be done in the world. The treatment and attitude to gay people in Nigeria, Uganda, and Russia, for example, is medieval and shocking. Closer to home, there are, sadly, still those who live in fear. I hope I can live by example and encourage anyone who still lives in the dark closet to open the door but I can only encourage. It’s not for me to say who should or shouldn't be open about their private lives. We all have to tread our own path.”
3. “There are some simple things we could do to make the world a better place and I’m baffled we don’t do them. I’m appalled by children in refugee camps in Calais; get them out. There’s a gender pay gap; sort it out.”
4. “When I was a student at Cambridge, I remember an anthropology professor holding up a picture of a bone with 28 incisions carved in it. ‘This is often considered to be man’s first attempt at a calendar,’ she explained. She paused as we dutifully wrote this down. ‘My question to you is this — what man needs to mark 28 days? I would suggest to you that this is woman’s first attempt at a calendar.’ It was a moment that changed my life. In that second, I stopped to question almost everything I had been taught about the past. How often had I overlooked women’s contributions?”
5. “When I first came out, I had some issues with the press. Now my daughter, who’s at university, tells me it’s cool to have two mums. Who knew I’d be cool in the end?”
6. “I know now that there are different ways to fight for things you believe in… I’ve learnt that making people laugh is a good thing. Life is full of difficulties and when you hear an audience sobbing with laughter, you know in that moment they’ve forgotten their worries.”