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At her mother’s insistence, she applied for Countdown when Vorderman’s unhappy departure (she was with the show for an epic 26 years) was announced after she refused to take a 90 per cent pay cut.Riley, then 22, got the gig and a wardrobe of tiny figure-hugging dresses to match.Her tenure as the number-cruncher on Countdown, now presented by Nick Hewer, Lord Sugar’s henchman on The Apprentice, has gained her a certain degree of fame.They make for an odd pairing, but somehow, unfathomably, it works.Like boxer Joe Calzaghe, newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, actress Denise van Outen and television presenter Susanna Reid, whose relationships ended after their appearances on the programme, Riley’s 16-month marriage to her teenage sweetheart, Jamie Gilbert, also collapsed.“It’s tough on a relationship because it’s so full-on and all-absorbing yet it’s something your real-life partner can’t be a part of,” she says, thoughtfully.
Jamie and I had been with one another since I was 19, and we are still good friends, it was all amicable and he’s been brilliant.” Despite the outcome, Riley, who is now single and lives in London, has no regrets about taking part in the 11th series. I’m not a natural performer, so each week I would try on a different character in which to dance,” she says.
Given her degree, Riley could have joined the Atomic Weapons Establishment or found a secure berth in the City rather than daytime telly, but an internship at Deutsche Bank dissuaded her.
“I simply didn’t like the environment; I was used to being around men because the maths world is quite male, but the City boys were so testosterone-fuelled and arrogant and would show off so endlessly to me and to one another, it became really wearing.
“She will phone me up and say ‘I never knew you went to Oxford’ or ‘I never knew you were 30’ or ‘I didn’t know you were going to be presenting BBC One Breakfast’, and I’ll say something like ‘I didn’t', 'I’m not’ or ‘I won’t be’.” To her credit, Riley has a realistic perception of her place in the TVs star firmament and smoothly rejects the idea of ever taking on such a role; not just because of the dawn start demanded, either.
“While it’s terribly flattering to be mentioned in that context, it’s a journalist’s job and I don’t have that background.” Rather unfairly, and in a classic case of “damned if you, damned if you don’t”, Riley, who was born in Essex and educated at the Southend High School for Girls grammar school, recently came under fire from Surrey University academic Julia Percival.