Robert Webb: Who is the Strictly 2021 contestant and Peep Show star?

Comedian, actor and writer has said his open heart surgery in 2020 inspired him to take part in the BBC competition

Roisin O'Connor
Saturday 09 October 2021 17:00
Greg Wise reveals wife Emma Thompson encouraged him to sign up for Strictly Come Dancing

Comedian, actor and writer Robert Webb is one of the celebrity contestants taking part in this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing.

Born in Boston, Lincolnshire, on 29 September 1972, Webb grew up on a council estate with his mother and three siblings, and attended the local grammar school. His mother died from breast cancer when he was 17.

“I spent most of my childhood playing alone, being Zorro or some other superhero, doing Lego, watching telly and riding my bike,” he told The Guardian of his childhood in 2017.

“My brothers and I got on fine, but when you’re 12, you don’t want to hang out with a five-year-old. One of my best early memories is of the three of us dressing up in my auntie’s and nan’s clothes to have photos taken on New Year’s Eve.”

Webb studied English at Robinson College, Cambridge, where he also joined the Footlights theatre club. It was here that he met his comedy partner, David Mitchell.

After graduating, they worked together in several minor writing roles on shows such as Big Train and Comedy Nation, before being commissioned to write and star in their own sketch show, The Mitchell and Webb Situation, which ran for six episodes.

Their breakthrough came when they were cast in the starring roles of Peep Show, the Channel 4 sitcom created by Andrew O’Connor, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong. It starred Webb as Jeremy “Jez” Usborne, an unemployed slacker musician, and Mitchell as his housemate Mark Corrigan, a socially awkward loan manager. Peep Show ran for nine series and picked up several major TV awards – it is now considered a cult classic.

Webb and Mitchell in ‘Peep Show’

Solo, Webb played the role of geology lecturer Dan in Fresh Meat, and appeared in the BBC sitcom Blessed. He has been a panellist on several shows including Have I Got News For You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and QI.

His debut memoir, How Not To Be a Boy, was published in 2017, while his debut novel Come Again was published by Canongate last year.

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He married comedy writer and TV, radio and stage performer Abigail Burdess in 2006. They have two children together, Esme and Dory.

In April this year, Webb came under scrutiny for his views on transgender charity Mermaids, in an appearance on the NPR podcast Bullseye with Mitchell. Webb was asked about a piece he had shared by Janice Turner for The Times titled “Trans ideologists are spreading cod science”.

Webb retweeted the piece, writing: “This won’t make me popular in certain quarters but f*** it – I’m with Janice and I don’t say it often enough. Also @boodleoops also @bindelj I’ve talked to some really nice trans people here and they have my solidarity if they want it. But Mermaids sucks.” He later deleted the post following a backlash from pro-trans activists.

Asked by host Jesse Thorn about his criticism of Mermaids, Webb said: “I can’t even really remember what [Turner’s] specific objections were but they made sense to me at the time, and I retweeted it approvingly. There was this feeling that if you criticise a charity and the way it operates or its methodology, that is the same as criticising the client base. It’s like saying if I’ve got a problem with the way Oxfam is operating, it’s because I hate poor people in the third world.”

He added: “The whole debate is really overheated and it’s impossible to really talk about this or say anything even remotely reasonable without what I say being used as a vehicle for another round of defamation and abuse, so it’s not a topic I tend to dive into anymore, at all really.”

Sharing the link to the podcast earlier this week, Thorn claimed publicists for Mitchell and Webb had asked for the part of their discussion that focused on Mermaids to be cut. Webb did not respond to The Independent when asked about the incident.

In 2020, Webb revealed he had undergone emergency surgery on his heart for a mitral valve prolapse. It was this that motivated him to take part in Strictly.

“I had open heart surgery, so since then I think my attitude is basically, ‘This is no time to be cool and sitting at the edges watching other people doing the dancing,’” he said.

“If you have got something to offer, it might be time to offer it.”

Strictly Come Dancing airs on Saturday nights on BBC One.