Booked And Busy – AJ Odudu On Bouncing Back, Ballroom And Big Brother

As she gears up to co-host this year's Comic Relief telethon, the presenter talks "perseverance" and potentially following in Davina McCall's footsteps.
AJ is one of the hosts of this year's Comic Relief Red Nose Day broadcast on Friday 17 March
AJ is one of the hosts of this year's Comic Relief Red Nose Day broadcast on Friday 17 March
BBC via PA Media

While a devastating ankle injury might have meant AJ Odudu’s otherwise “magical” stint on Strictly Come Dancing didn’t get a fairytale ending, it still proved to be a defining chapter in her own wider story.

The TV presenter has never been busier since appearing on Strictly in 2021, and after fronting shows like The Bridge, The Big Blow Out and the revival of The Big Breakfast in the last year alone, AJ has now been linked to one of the biggest jobs on telly.

With rumours currently swirling that she’s set to be confirmed as the host of ITV2’s forthcoming Big Brother reboot (more on that later), the Blackburn-born star is beaming as she reflects on the show that marked a turning point in her career.

“I just look back at all of those memories as really joyous,” she says of her Strictly experience. “Not just for me, but for other people. It was a time where it felt like the whole country was supporting me.

“It was amazing being stopped in the street and someone having an emotional reaction to a dance I did or a song I’d danced to. It was like Strictly-mania, I absolutely loved that time.”

Right now, AJ is gearing up to front her second Red Nose Day telethon, joining Zoe Ball, Paddy McGuinness, Joel Dommett and David Tennant at the helm of the annual Comic Relief fundraiser this Friday – one of whom AJ still can’t believe she is working with.

“I grew up watching that show, and watching those people, so to be walking on stage with Zoe Ball, it’s like, ‘Excuse me?’. I feel like a competition winner who has stepped inside the telly!” she says, describing the Radio 2 Breakfast Show host as her “icon”.

“The first time I met Zoe, we were working together at the Isle of Wight Festival in, like, 2013 or 2014, and she brought me a cake and was really complimentary of my bum, which I’ve never gotten over.

“I remember being like, ‘Oh my God, Zoe Ball said I’ve got a nice bum! We’re going to be best friends forever.’ She’s really fun.”

AJ with Joel Dommett, AJ Odudu, Paddy McGuinness, David Tennant and Zoe Ball
AJ with Joel Dommett, AJ Odudu, Paddy McGuinness, David Tennant and Zoe Ball
BBC via PA Media

AJ promises this year’s Comic Relief – which will see Kylie Minogue making an unlikely appearance in Ghosts, a special Love Island sketch and French And Saunders sending up Claudia Winkleman and The Traitors – will be a “really joyous spectacle” for “an incredible cause”.

“To be a part of it is so, so special,” she adds.

As we speak via Zoom, AJ’s gorgeous living room can be seen in the background – which wouldn’t look out of place on her new show The Big Interiors Battle.

The forthcoming Channel 4 series will see eight aspiring interior designers getting the chance to make over an apartment each, in the hope of winning a life-changing prize.

“They’ve all never owned a property in their life, and the ultimate winner wins the apartment they’ve done up, mortgage-free!” AJ explains. “We took over this old cutlery factory, which is being developed into these incredible loft apartments.

“The way they leave the show is quite brutal, though – they get locked out of their apartment for good if they haven’t delivered on the task.”

“I’m not in charge of that!” AJ quickly adds. “Dara Huang, our judge, who is an award-winning designer and architect, is epic – but she takes no prisoners.”

The show is a perfect fit for AJ, who has previously documented her passion for interiors and home transformation on a dedicated Instagram account she set up after buying her first property.

She’s not too confident about how she would fare on the show herself, however, admitting she’s been prone to some disasters on her DIY journey.

“I’m the sort of person who procrastinates for ages but then I’ll wake up and go, ’Everything must be done today,′ so I just start doing it,” AJ admits.

“Outside, I’ve got a pergola, so I was going to get some bamboo, put it over the top and make it shadey and gorge-y. I was nailing it to the top of the beams and then I ran out of bamboo. Must measure! Must do the maths! That day I went to B&Q three times. So my DIY disasters are based on lack of preparation.”

If reports are to be believed, we will be seeing more of AJ on our screens later in the year, as it has been claimed she’s already signed a deal to follow in the footsteps of Davina McCall and Emma Willis as the new host of Big Brother.

The iconic reality show is returning to TV after five years off air in the autumn – this time on ITV2, after previous runs on both Channel 4 and Channel 5 – and landing the top job would be something of a full-circle moment for AJ.

She is no stranger to the Big Brother franchise, having been recruited to co-host spin-off show Bit On The Side alongside Rylan Clark in 2013, only to be dropped by bosses after one series.

ITV has so far kept quiet on speculation surrounding the new presenter, but AJ isn’t exactly denying the rumours, describing them as “very exciting”.

“I feel like the Big Brother stans are really out in full force – it’s incredible!” she says.

“I did this cameo in a sketch for Saturday Night Takeaway, and I appear in that with Davina McCall. Twitter was going mad, saying ‘Oh my God, AJ has done the murder [in the Murder At Bigwig Manor sketch], and then she’s going to murder Davina, and that’s why she’s the [Big Brother] host!’ I was like, ‘Oh OK, wow guys, you’ve really gone there’.”

“I’m taking it all with a pinch of salt. It’s all fun. Obviously, I’ve made no secret about how I would love to be considered to host such an iconic comeback, but who knows? You’ll just have to wait and see,” AJ teases.

“It’s nice that everyone is excited that the show is coming back, because I’m excited even from a viewer’s perspective – this is what I’ve been missing on my TV and I cannot wait for it to come back!”

Rylan and AJ hosting the 2023 Eurovision draw
Rylan and AJ hosting the 2023 Eurovision draw

Viewers recently saw AJ reunite on screen with Rylan to front coverage of the Eurovision draw last month, with the pair having remained good friends after working together the first time.

“It was fun!” she says of being back on TV with her old co-host. “I just think it’s amazing working with people who are passionate about the show you are both doing together. He loves Eurovision, I love Eurovision, so it was really good to just be around a superfan actually.

“We went out in Liverpool, and oh my gosh, that city knows how to put on a party! Even on a Tuesday night,” she says, hinting at what Eurovision fans can expect in May when Liverpool stages the Song Contest.

AJ was asked to co-host the draw after serving as the UK spokesperson during last year’s live final, revealing the result of our jury vote – a job that sounds surprisingly chaotic behind the scenes.

“I was essentially in a green box,” she remembers. ”We were broadcasting live into everyone’s countries and everyone is against a green screen – that’s hilarious! We were all on what I can only describe as a group Zoom chat, which is bananas.

“Everyone from the different time zones tunes in, we’re getting so much talkback and interference and we’re just waiting to hear our name potentially and then go ‘douze points!’. It’s mad.”

One of AJ’s other proudest moments last year came as she presented a full series of the latest incarnation of The Big Breakfast with Mo Gilligan over the summer. The two originally brought back the anarchic show as a one-off, as part of Channel 4’s Black To Front project in 2021, which also won a coveted Royal Television Society award.

“It was so funny being there some days with essentially a Hollywood actor like Daniel Kaluuya going ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Barry from EastEnders!’ It’s just one of the most surreal shows I’ve ever worked on. Super fun, super high energy – I hope it comes back,” she says, revealing former host Denise Van Outen had also been “so, so kind and supportive” of her turn in the presenter’s chair when she made a guest appearance on the show.

“When I was inside the TV with Denise, I was like, ‘this is Inception, what is going on?!’” she laughs.

AJ with The Big Breakfast co-host Mo Gilligan
AJ with The Big Breakfast co-host Mo Gilligan
James Veysey/Shutterstock

At the moment, there’s no word on if The Big Breakfast will return (we certainly hope so!), but AJ is crossing everything.

“Please just pray for it as well,” she says. “Given the fact I’ve had this up-and-down, rocky road into my career, I genuinely just take every job as it comes and enjoy all of those moments. If they come back, amazing. If they don’t, I had the best time doing it. That’s how I now like to take it.”

With all of her recent success, it’s hard to believe that AJ almost gave up on TV altogether after her time on Big Brother’s Bit On The Side came to an end almost a decade ago.

In the past, she has been candid about her struggles in the industry in the immediate years afterwards, and the challenges and rejection she faced. So now, seemingly on the precipice of landing her biggest hosting gig yet, what would AJ tell herself back then?

“Keep going and plough through. It’s all going to be alright,” she says. “It’s nothing that I’d not heard already from my mum or my really supportive friends and family, but you do get those days where you think, ‘Is it ever going to happen?’ It’s just so exhausting sometimes.

“That perseverance, it really does just need to play out and you have to dig deep and keep going.

“Just know you’ll be smiling in the end.”

Catch AJ Odudu hosting Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day telethon on Friday 17 March from 7pm on BBC One.


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