[This story includes major spoilers for Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas.]
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas with Hannah Waddingham’s newly released special Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas.
The Ted Lasso star returned to her musical theater roots for the holiday episode, which features special appearances from all of the stars of Ted Lasso, the hit Apple TV+ series that made her a household name around the world.
The special kicks off with Waddingham entering the London Coliseum, singing, “What Christmas Means to Me.” Nick Mohammed greets her at the door, followed by Leslie Odom Jr., Sam Ryder, Luke Evans and more of her Ted Lasso co-stars — Brendan Hunt, Kola Bokinni, Billy Harris, James Lance and Phil Dunster — as well as her 8-year-old daughter, welcoming her to the performing arts theater.
Odom Jr., Ryder and Evans join the actress onstage throughout Home for Christmas to sing popular holiday songs like “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “Run Rudolph Run” and “Winter Wonderland.” The Ted Lasso stars don tails and dance with large candy canes for her second number, “The Man With the Bag,” while Jeremy Swift and Toheeb Jimoh support their co-stars from the audience.
Juno Temple, Brett Goldstein and, yes, even Jason Sudeikis are also featured in the special at different points: Temple surprises the Sex Education actress in her dressing room ahead of her first costume change with Christmas gifts that she ended up keeping all for herself; during Waddingham’s second costume change, Goldstein appears, sitting in a jacuzzi, which she joins him in; and finally, in the last moments, Sudeikis picks her up outside of the Coliseum to take her home.
Below, Waddingham breaks down how Home for Christmas came to be, what it was like reuniting with all of her Ted Lasso co-stars, the possibility of a spinoff of the Emmy-winning series and what she’s most looking forward to post-actors strike, among other things.
Tell me about the special. How did it come to be?
It actually came to be because I had done a guest spot on Michael Bublé’s and, around that time, my fabulous manager Nick Todisco said, “Well, look, I mean, you’ve had all this wealth of like 22 years in the West End and on Broadway, and I think we should look at that for you.” Immediately, being typically English, I went, “Oh, no, no, no. Nobody’s interested in that.” And he was like, “I don’t know. You’ve had such popularity with your singing in Ted. Let’s just float it to Apple.” And we put a pitch together. I was very keen to make sure that it was an old-school… what I call a Dean Martin-Carol Burnett kind of special. The most important thing for me was to make sure that people understood that my more unique selling point is live — absolutely, completely and utterly live. Not one note of that whole special has been touched, tweaked, nothing. Not my vocals, not my guests’ vocals, nothing, and I wanted to make sure that the guests I had on it had proper chops, as we say in the industry.
That was a big thing that we pitched to Apple, to make it in a theater where I’m from and, most importantly for me, the fact that it was in my mom’s theater. Because as you’ve seen in the special, even the way the show is constructed — the dead center point of the show — talks about the heart of why we’re there, which is, of course, because my mum was there as an opera singer for 30 years from me being the age of 8. She retired when I was 38.
I wanted it to be a love letter to my mum, and to that world of privilege that I grew up in: Sitting in the orchestra, watching my mom and all the great opera singers of the day and how much they’ve influenced me. The most beautiful thing was when the London Coliseum agreed to have us there, and Apple really went for it for me. It was so amazing that when the English National Opera Chorus — some of whom are still there from my mom’s time — got wind of me doing it, they weren’t even asked, they offered to come and join me onstage and sing with me. So, the centerpiece is me very simply on a stand mic singing to my mum and my daughter, and my daughter sitting in the same box that I used to do when I was 8. People would think it was a made-up, schmaltzy thing, but it’s all fact.
It was beautiful to see the three generations onscreen.
It was incredible, and the fact that my daughter, who in the moment we were filming was 8, and I was 8 — you couldn’t have made that up. My beloved mum, she has quite pronounced Parkinson’s now, so she was there at the back of the auditorium in her wheelchair, and it was the first time she’d been back in years. So, it was really, really quite something to have her in the space with her colleagues, and her colleagues actually singing with me, and they were lovely. They were all teary, and I was teary because they’ve known me since I was a little girl, sitting there all green and soaking it up like a little baby sponge.
I was worried when you first brought up your mom in the special that you were going to say she had passed.
I was concerned that that might happen before I did it, so that’s why it made me quite emotional on the day, thinking they’re both here. My dad had had quintuple heart surgery in April last year while I was shooting on Ted. In fact, the day that I was shooting the funeral scene, my dad was having surgery, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again. That day.
My Greyhounds were all around me that day, helping me get through, not least of which my magnificent Juno Temple and Harriet Walter, my mum in it, just checking in, constantly checking in. Really incredible. So, to have both my mum and my dad there, I was like, “You know what? Whatever comes now, they know that I’ve circled back on what was important to me,” and I’ve said thank you to both of them for always encouraging me and never, ever saying, “No, you should be this. You should be that. You should be more academic.” They knew that the force was strong with me, and they completely and utterly didn’t question it. [They] nurtured it, and so for them to see this 3,000-seater Coliseum theater, just jam-packed was really incredible.
Talk to me a little bit about growing up in the music industry, how that was for you and how much training you had. Your voice is stunning.
I’ve never had any training. I think because I sat in the orchestra every conceivable later rehearsal, every Christmas holiday, summer holiday, half-term, everything, all the time, listening to how they placed their voices. Even this Thundergong! thing I’ve just done this weekend, that was more like a rock sound, whereas my special is far more of a big band and a jazz sound. But then I have the operatic side from my mum because opera and classical singers are the root. They use their voices properly, with all due respect to all other singers. I believe that if you’re a singer, you should be able to decide which part of your voice you’re going to use. So, that started very much from listening to where those completely un-mic’ed singers placed their voices, how they did it, their breathing and everything.
The only time I ever had any guidance with my voice was when I was doing Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic for Trevor Nunn, and I didn’t want anyone to tell me, per se, what I was doing with my voice, because I’ve always liked it to be an organic thing. But I just needed some guidance how to reset my voice, going from belting to coming offstage, then having to reset it to be able to do trilling soprano in Kiss Me Kate. The same with Spamalot, really, when I was here. That facility of swapping from head voice to chest voice, as we say, mixing the two and then being able to shout. I had a few lessons to be able to do that.
Anyone that I’ve ever seen would say it’s always been about vocal health rather than singing lessons. Singing teachers are glorious people, because they become like a therapist as well, because your voice is so connected to your emotions. And because of the emotion of my parents’ illness, I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to give the Christmas special my best shot when I had already presented the Oliviers this year, presented Eurovision and then straight off the back of that, I was into rehearsals for my Christmas special. So, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to do it. But thankfully, I couldn’t be happier with it. I’m really relieved that I was in good shape.
How long did you all rehearse?
I got together with my fabulous musical supervisor Dave Tench back in February before I started the Oliviers, just for us to start piecing together music. The people who I have as creatives on this… we have Hamish Hamilton as my director, which is insane. We have Misty Buckley doing the set design. I mean, it’s just ridiculous. Al Gurdon doing the lighting. Raj Kapoor, who’d also produced a little-known singer called Mariah Carey. So, the forces that Apple had put around me made me feel subliminally like Apple had my back. Knowing that they had packed these people around me was such reassurance, and it meant that when that curtain goes up, you know that you are not only in safe hands because of my own years and years of being devoted to theater, but because of everything around me. Everyone brought it. It was incredible, not least of which David Tench, my musical supervisor. Then come May 27 when we recorded it in the blistering heat of England, unusually hot. It was the hottest day of the year.
Oh, my gosh. Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas-ish. You send out an invitation. You’re like, “and if you want to come wearing festive clothes.” People are like, “Jumpers? Sweaters? Are you kidding me?” But it was incredible. Everyone showed up, and I think you can really feel it when you get towards the end of the special. And everyone piles back onstage. I wanted that old-school, variety thing of everyone piling back on. It was really palpable, the love in the room. It was gorgeous.
All the performances are incredible. How did they come together, and what was it like being up there with everyone?
Apple was brilliant. Whenever we had meetings, I stressed that, yes, you could sing with a load of famous people, but I have to have a connection to them because, otherwise, it’s not authentic to me. It’s my first foray into letting people into that side of me, and I have to buy it. So, Luke Evans was a total no-brainer because we’ve known each other for 20 years from theater, and no one knows that. We knew each other when we were in our 20s in the West End.
Sam Ryder, my God, I fell in love with his voice. I think he’s the closest thing we have to Freddie Mercury. He is literally like sunshine pouring out of his pores, and he has been the greatest addition to my life this year — both as a friend and as a professional. If you can spend five minutes in his presence, it’s a better day. Leslie Odom Jr., I mean, not only is he a phenomenal talent, but I asked my daughter who she would like me to sing with, and she’s obsessed with Hamilton. I had barely finished my sentence, and she went, “Please, can we have Leslie Odom Jr., mummy?” And I went, “I really don’t know because he’s super busy and on the other side of the world, but I’m going to ask.” And the thrill to get Leslie was just insane.
We have the London Gay Men’s Chorus of whom I am a patron, so that was very important to me, and I am very much a part of the gay community. I have their backs and then some. The whole LGBTQ community, I had wanted to involve. In fact, in my very first pitch to Apple, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, were in my pitch, as were the Fabulous Lounge Swingers who people don’t know. They are a married couple they’ve been together for I think maybe 25-30 years, married for the last 10. A gay couple who, even in years gone by… I think they met when they were 15 or 16, when it was more of a ridiculous, taboo thing. They have stood by each other all their lives, and they have this band called The Fabulous Lounge Swingers, and I always said to them and I’ve said very publicly always in the press, that it’s very important for me to hold the door open for others, and they are my two. They’re my daughter’s godparents, as I say, in a mighty panel of godparents. She has all the food groups represented. And it was important for me to have people that are in my life who aren’t as well known.
We do a number together, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with the very lovely Phil Dunster. And so it was trying to work a way to get the more established in my life, as in Scott Baker and Patrick Davey as the Fabulous Lounge Swingers, and then bringing in someone who has so much become part of my life in the shape of Phil Dunster, and to show how brilliant he is at singing. So it was a perfect opportunity to have that old-school, Carol Burnett-Dean Martin thing of making out to the audience that Phil is sitting in the audience, and it’s all done accidentally. So, it’s just bringing all those elements in. The fact that Nick Mohammed comes on. I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we hoist him up in the air and people think he’s stuck there for the whole show?” It’s, again, that kind of variety thing.
I feel like a lot of the Ted Lasso stars who were in the special all did something very unique to them. How did that come to be?
It was me, initially, wanting to show them in a different light. So, when you first see me come in, and Nick’s there at the door, I went, “Can you wink at the camera like you’re being all sassy and not like Nate?” Nick and I are planning on being in something together because we just feed off each other brilliantly. And we look funny. He was down with it immediately. I wanted to make sure that he was like a throughline, because he’s so brilliant at physical comedy. And then, of course, I had to have my girl Juno Temple turning up. Of course I did. She’s always buying people presents. She’s the greatest gift-giver. Anything she buys you, you’ll like the packaging just as much as the gift. So, we thought we would lean into that a bit and get her bringing me presents. Because she wasn’t available in London, we had the conceit that, after the special, I flew to L.A. and shot that with her. So, that’s an insert. The magic of television. So, we did that as a little insert where she comes along with gifts for me and ends up keeping them all herself. But it also shows our absolute deep-seated and unyielding love for each other in that moment, which is what Christmas is all about as well, isn’t it?
Was Brett also filmed in L.A.?
That was the second day I was in L.A. He and I were mulling it over. He and I talked late into the night — often when he’s been doing a gig, or I’ve been up with my girl — and we were playing around with lots of things. And then he said, “What about we’re in a jacuzzi?” And I was like, “Brilliant. What about I get in in my dress?” Because we’d already shot the special. But my beloved stylist, who I use for everything James Yardley, he was like, “Wait, but not actually in the dress,” and I went, “We’ve already used it. We’re not going to use it again.” He was like, “I’m gonna have to look away.” So I got in in my red velvet dress with a two-meter train. But I was like, “That’s cool. It’s funny.” The moment when he goes, “Who’s onstage right now?” And then it leads into the costume change.
I thought Brendan was going to be onstage at that moment, since he kept asking you to do a duet with him.
Oh, that’s good. I like that. The thing that’s beautiful about the company of Ted Lasso — and it’s so nice to be able to talk now without the strike — I was able to say, “Whoever you can get,” not, “Can you get them? Can you get them?” I would happily have every single one of them with me. And I couldn’t believe, to the point where we nearly had to go, “No, we’re going to have to choose.” The amount of Greyhound chaps we have on that stage, people are going to be in shock. So I wanted to work out, because we already had Phil singing, that was the slot.
Brendan, we just thought it’d be funny that he’s constantly coming up with the saxophone. Then he’s suggesting these Christmas songs. So that’s our bit together there. But I was so thrilled that Kola Bokinni and Billy came back, James. Toheeb would’ve, but at the time, he was in Romeo and Juliet onstage at the Almeida. He was in there watching. I think he felt bad. I love that Jeremy Swift was just like, “Han, we know each other well enough. Can I not be in it but just come and watch and support?” I was like, “Darling, you can do whatever you like.”
The special kind of feels like a cross between a comedy special and a musical special. Is that how you went into it?
We were very keen on that because it’s that thing of trying to meld my two worlds together. We wanted to have humor in it. First of all, there was no way I was doing it in a studio. It had to be on the stage. Then, joining what I’ve become known for, at least in this country, Ted Lasso, I wanted there to be a good lot of humor in it, not taking myself too seriously, as I don’t, and Apple were very keen on having a good lot of humor in it as well. So, it’s almost like SNL meets old-school Christmas big band. You can imagine the tweaking and honing and looking at the arc of it all.
I was very keen to get into the emotional arc that we got. I’ve always said to them whenever I’ve done any one-woman shows, the psychology of an audience fascinates me. I need to walk out and go, “Slap around the face. You’re absolutely fine. I know what I’m doing. You can relax.” Slap around the other cheek, “I really do know what I’m doing. You can really relax.” Then, you can take it down, sit on a stool and get into it. And so that was the perfect moment.
So, we’ve had me coming out, introducing the band, introducing my BVs. It’s very important. When we were editing it — that’s why I loved being exec producer on it — I kept saying to Apple, “Please find me a bit more shots of the band. Please find me some more shots of the backing vocals. When I open the show, we need to bring the back vocals down, so you see these people. Get a great shot of Dave Tench playing the piano.” It’s all because of theater. I want everyone to see the workings and that I’m a team player. So, then we have “The Man with the Bag” with the boys from Ted Lasso with all the canes and all the dancers so you get that old-school variety.
Then we take it down and go, “Now, let’s just listen to two voices.” And thankfully, mine and Leslie Odom Jr.’s voices, I think, blend really nicely together. So, it was two musicians, hunkering down and the audience has to come in. After that was the obvious place to then put “O Holy Night,” which I’ve loved for so long. That’s when I tell the audience why we’re there, and we’ve had the funny and the silly and the capers and the slapstick, and then it’s like, “Let’s just stop for a second, and let’s also remind ourselves of a beautiful Christmas song, ‘O Holy Night.’” Honestly, when the English National Opera course first started singing, I did shed a tear because it sounded like the voice that was missing in it is my mom. I struggled a bit with that because I could hear her tone in there.
How did the special evolve from when you pitched it to bringing it to the stage and then the screen?
Apple. Honestly, I can’t thank them enough because, of course, they have their prerequisites of the production values that they want, but it has been an absolute total and utter meeting of minds and resources. My creative resources and the people that I wanted, and them literally throwing the Christmas baubles at it and making it really, really beautiful. They hired the London Coliseum for a whole week, cleared out We Will Rock You that was there. That’s just unheard of, to just go in for a whole week because they knew it couldn’t be rushed, and it needed to be dealt with like a production. So, that’s not normal for such devotion. So, that’s why I just say I feel like I must have done something right in a past life to have to have a TV company look after me this much.
You’ve done musical theater in the past. Have you ever wanted to expand into other types of music and release an album?
I would love to do a big band album. My dad’s always wanted to… he’s convinced that I’m a country singer at heart, which he’s probably right, but a little girl from South London suddenly coming out with country music, I don’t know about that one. But big band always makes me feel joyous. I think going back to the psychology of an audience. Big band is just joyful. So, it was a no-brainer when my manager Nick and I were discussing what musical tone the special would have, it couldn’t be anything else. So that I think I would do next is a big bad album, but all of this will be out as well. We’ve already released one single, and then we have the rest of the whole show coming out.
How was this experience for you? Is it something you’d want to do again?
Oh, 100 percent. This is our start portion.
An annual Hannah Waddingham Christmas Special.
I would be down with that to high heaven, because it also affords you the luxury of leaning into the silly, leaning into the joy of Christmas. There’s something about people at Christmas letting their guard down and letting in love that I love. It’s a time to be cozy. I even mentioned it in my show. Sometimes [the holidays are] a difficult time for people, which is why I wanted to acknowledge that you do need to have a moment of calm in there as well, and why I wanted to put in a proper not pop or rock or a big band or whatever. “O Holy Night” is very, very carefully chosen because I come from that world of, what I would say are, proper singers in opera. I kind of open my voice out a little bit just at the end of both “O Holy Night” and the very end of our whole show, just so that my mum can hear that I don’t forget my roots.
I hope, more than anything, that the special is something that a little girl or a little boy of 4 years old will think, “Oh, look at that juicy Christmas special,” and love the music and love the silly, and then you’ve got the LGBTQ community loving it as well, and straight couples, but then grandparents. I really feel like there is genuinely something for everybody in it.
I do have to admit, it was so nice seeing so much of the Ted Lasso cast together onscreen. Have there been any discussions of any possible spinoffs?
Everyone keeps asking this, but no, there’s been no word of a spinoff at all, and I have made it quite clear that unless Ted was in it… I can’t imagine really a world where Rebecca exists without Ted because they are each other’s inspiration.
Not to get into the Ted Lasso weeds too much, but I loved the ending where Rebecca and Ted didn’t cross that line into a relationship because their love is so genuine without that.
It possibly has far more longevity. They are out-and-out soulmates and just because that doesn’t then go to the bedroom, does that make it less? I don’t believe so, and I know Jason doesn’t.
There is a third Hocus Pocus in the works. Have you heard anything about returning to your role from the sequel?
No, hilariously. I love that there’s been all this talk, and I’m here for it. But no, no. I mean, that would be amazing. I feel like I just barely, barely scratched the surface or put half an eyelash on for her. I feel like there is far more for the Mother Witch to cause magnificent mayhem. I would be so down for that. I mean, for one, Salvador Perez’s costume needs another trot out for sure, and my cape that I wouldn’t let them cut, definitely needs another swish. And she needs a song, P.S.
You mentioned earlier that it’s nice being able to talk about projects now that the dual actors and writers strikes are over.
It’s also nice to be able to talk about other people’s things. Phil Dunster and I were just talking on my way back from one of my interviews, and we were both saying, “Isn’t it nice?” Because he and I have both been told off by our management. When the strike first started, I didn’t realize you couldn’t still celebrate other people in things, I thought was just yourself. Phil and I find that really hard because we like going, “Look at my friend!” So, he was like, “Oh, Han, isn’t it nice to be able to just go, ‘My friend’s just done a movie?’” It feels like we just have to check in and go, “Can I talk about that?”
What’s it like now knowing that the strike is over and months went by where so many people were fighting for more?
Well, one thing we must never forget, is that there were people walking those lines every day for all of our greater good and not asking for unreasonable things either, asking for common decency because people don’t only do this job because it’s a vocation. They do it because they need to pay their bills, and they need to be remunerated for that. End of story. So, honestly, I feel really humbled by the people that were able to be out there. I managed to get on the picket line for the WGA, but I wasn’t able to get back over to get on the SAG strike picket line, but I would have been there with bells on for sure. And I won’t forget all the hours that everyone has put in in a hurry.
How did the strikes impact your next projects?
We stopped shooting on Mission Impossible. I think we’ve put back to 2025 now. Myself and the magnificent, positive, kind, encouraging force that is Tom Cruise, he and I had already shot some stuff on location, but we need to get back into it together so that’ll be coming up. But I’ve been doing all my Krapopolis work still in London, which is great fun, and there’ll be more of that. The only thing I haven’t been able to do, which I need to pick up is my work on Garfield, which is really great because it’s got Brett in it as well. That’ll be so amazing. And then of course I start press for Fall Guy in the new year.
What are you most looking forward to now?
I mean, who wouldn’t be looking forward to getting back to working literally head-to-head with Tom Cruise? And also promoting Fall Guy. Ryan [Gosling] is fabulous in Fall Guy, because it’s a very hard thing to do, to take over from Lee Majors. I’m a massive Lee Majors fan, as is my brother. Ryan, as with Barbie, walks a brilliant line between being very silly and tongue-in-cheek, and then the fabulous leading man that he is. But he’s very, very good at it. And I love what he and Emily Blunt [do]. She and I totally fell in love with each other, and we’re a little bit obsessed for sure. So, I can’t wait for people to see those two in that.
Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas is now streaming on AppleTV+.