The Queen of Mean

4 minute read

She has been called rude, sadistic, racist (for some unflattering remarks about the Welsh), a snob, a dominatrix. Seldom has a TV presenter provoked such acrimony. But the more vitriolic the epithets, the more lucrative they prove for Anne Robinson and the bbc. Her abrasive hosting of the game show The Weakest Link has been key to the phenomenal international success of the format, which involves contestants systematically eliminating each other. When the 56-year-old former journalist debuted as the host of the U.S. version last month, critics panned her as too nasty; but, as in Britain, she continues to draw sizable audiences and welcome controversy.

Garbed from neck to ankle in black, she humiliates her guests as they struggle with the fast-paced questions. Then, for additional audience entertainment, they proceed off the stage while giving vent to spite, self-pity and gracelessness. Robinson’s curt dismissal of departing players — “You are the weakest link; goodbye” — has become such a catchphrase that British Prime Minister Tony Blair used it recently in Parliament against the Conservative leader.

It’s not surprising Robinson has little patience for losers. The product of a privileged childhood of boarding schools and holidays in the south of France, she climbed to the top of Fleet Street’s notoriously competitive tabloid heap. She became a highly paid columnist and still opines for the Times. Today Robinson lives in a mansion in the country, but her life has not been free of travails, including a hard-won battle against alcoholism. Her first marriage ended in divorce, and she was separated for three years from her current husband, John Penrose, also a former journalist and now her manager. She and her daughter Emma have had a sometimes stormy relationship. So, yes, Robinson’s life has had its own weak links, but there’s no dismissing her as a loser. Anyway, who would dare, even in fun, take up the lash against Miss Whiplash?

Q & A

Q. Why are you such a bitch?

A. I don’t think any working journalist should be phony enough to pretend that anything I say on Weakest Link is anything different from what they’ve heard in their average newsroom.

Q. I wonder what the people at my office are saying about me right now.

A. I would think they are saying that you are annoyingly good-looking.

Q. So insult the contestants and kiss up to the journalists, huh?

A. Not at all. I root for young women without a college education. The guys answer quickly and with enormous certainty, particularly when it’s the wrong answer.

Q. We do everything too quickly.

A. You come out of the womb with your mother telling you how terrific you are, and you just go on believing it.

Q. How much do you think you could pull per hour as a dominatrix? A. I don’t think I’d go out the door for less than $10,000 an hour.

Q. You’re being investigated by the North Wales police for calling the Welsh “irritating and annoying.” When did the Welsh becomes such wusses?

A. Because of foot-and-mouth, the Welsh tourist board asked me to pose with a T shirt saying wales is open for easter, so we called it quits. I thought it was an intelligent thing to do.

Q. Yeah. For the Welsh.

A. It must have been thought out by the one Welshman with a sense of humor.

Q. Your show gets huge ratings in England, but England, come on.

A. It’s up against Millionaire. We beat Millionaire in the ratings.

Q. But they don’t have Regis Philbin as a host.

A. No. Because they like to stay awake.

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