“I’ve got a towel on my head; I’ve got no make-up on – I look like a cartoon moon. My dog, Penny, is sat on my knee and she’s ripping apart her fifth toilet roll of the morning.” Emily Atack paints a vivid picture of her less-than-perfect morning, but for anyone who has seen The Emily Atack Show, her honesty will not come as a surprise.
The second series of her stand-up-cum-sketch show arrives on ITV2 this week (Thursday, 10pm), and sees her share yet more intimate details of her life (and sex life) in an effort to make viewers laugh. “People seem to like how open I am,” she says. “It’s just me exposing my potty mouth and letting people in on my secrets and mishaps.”
In the first series, impressions of her ITV colleagues Holly Willoughby and Keith Lemon were broadcast side by side with sketches about one-night stands, the proper etiquette for sending nudes, and attracting judging looks from a supermarket checkout worker when buying a cucumber and some Vaseline. In one word? Filth.
“There is no comedy for the Love Island-watching, fake tan and false eyelash-wearing, boy-mad gorgeous girls that run around Newcastle in massive high heels – they’re usually the butt of the joke,” says Atack.
“There have been times where I’ve been on panel shows and definitely felt I was there to be the blonde sat in the corner that’s going to take all the s**t from everybody.”
She’s certainly found an audience. The first series attracted the biggest audience for a female-led stand-up show in 2020, and she has an impressive 1.7 million followers on Instagram.
“When I did my first tour [in 2019], girls were all running up to me afterwards and asking for pictures and saying, ‘This is the first comedy show I’ve ever been to,’ and, ‘I didn’t think I was posh enough to go to the theatre.”
She always wanted to feature sketch comedy, she says, and was nervous when it was suggested she anchor the show with some stand-up, too. “I’ve always loved comedy, I grew up in a house of comedians,” says Atack, 31, whose mother is Spitting Image comic Kate Robbins.
“My comedian friends laughed at me when I went on tour without testing any material in clubs, but I think going into it so naively was a good thing. I was still terrified, though.”
Atack wants her material to be a break from the onslaught of politically minded shows. “I don’t want anyone to come to my show and feel more educated afterwards. It’s escapism.”
There are some who are less enamoured by Atack’s more raunchy material – her mother included. “My dad [musician Keith Atack]doesn’t really care, he lets it go over his head. But my mum is a bit more like, ‘Do you have to talk about threesomes and s***ting yourself on television?’ I just tell her it’s all made up.”
Growing up in Luton, Atack was aware that her parents were famous and relished the attention it brought her at school. “My childhood was chaos,” she says. “It was full of love, laughter, parties and creativity. I was proud of my parents – I knew we were a little bit different.”
She left school at 16 and moved to London with her sister Martha, who is now her manager, to pursue acting. “My dream was to be in a sitcom. We were running out of money really fast, and I would just say to Martha, ‘Don’t worry I’ll be a really famous actress soon.’”
Her breakthrough came in 2008 when she appeared as Charlotte “Big Jugs” Hinchcliffe in E4’s laddy comedy The Inbetweeners. By the time the show came to an end, Atack was a staple of British celebrity culture.
She acted less and leaned more into her creating her own persona, with appearances on Celebrity Juice and various ITV sketch shows. It was her stint on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here in 2018, however, that cemented her place in the nation’s hearts.
“The timing of the jungle was so unbelievably magic,” she says. “It didn’t just shift my entire career, it shifted my whole life. Before I went in, I was just a jobbing actress, living off doing one movie a year that no one really saw. I had no money, I was heartbroken and a few years off 30 – I needed to do some soul-searching. I just wanted to be happy.”
Atack was voted runner-up behind winner Harry Redknapp. “Lots of people say the jungle changed them. It didn’t change me, it reminded me of who I was.”
Post-I’m A Celeb, Atack has been very busy. She’s been promoted to team captain on Celebrity Juice; co-presented This Morning; hosted I’m a Celebrity: Extra Camp with fellow former campmates Joel Dommett and Adam Thomas; made her own documentary series on W, Emily Atack: Adulting; and written a book, Are We There Yet?: To indignity… and beyond!
With each project she’s become more confident in herself and the direction she’s going in, a journey that culminates in The Emily Atack Show. “I’ve been grafting for nearly 15 years,” she says. “I want to take ownership of my sex life and my opinions.”
Atack isn’t open about sex and relationships for the shock factor. Instead she sees her show as chance to reclaim her own sexuality and body – something that has been public property since her debut in The Inbetweeners.
“I was sexualised from a very young age,” says Atack, who was 18 when she was cast. “I’ve grown up now and there are other ways in which I want to show sexuality and feminism.”
She says she wouldn’t change a thing about her time on The Inbetweeners and that everyone on the show, from her co-stars to the crew, were nothing but protective. “It wasn’t their fault,” she adds. “It was how I was portrayed in the media afterwards. Even when I was posing for the lads’ mags I was looked after by good people.”
Still, that sexualisation has resulted in men sending her aggressive messages on social media on an almost daily basis, in what has been dubbed “cyber flashing”. Earlier this year Atack started a campaign with Grazia magazine and cross-party MPs Jess Phillips and Maria Miller to make the behaviour illegal.
“There’s a certain way that men think they can communicate with me,” she says. “But that old argument applies – just because I’m wearing a short skirt in a night club doesn’t mean I deserve to be sexually assaulted. I’ve had enough of it.”
To google the star is to find endless tabloid articles about her “showcasing her curves” and “putting on a flirty display”. She doesn’t mind it so much nowadays and sees it as part of her job, but wishes that it didn’t translate into abuse. “We need to educate boys that when I wave at a photographer or say something cheeky, I don’t mean, ‘Hi, please sexually harrass me.’”
She goes onto say that not all men are guilty of such behaviour, before correcting herself. “Actually, it’s hilarious that I still have to say that,” she says. “If you are a decent man, why are you protesting so much? To automatically say ‘not all men’ shuts women down. Stand by us, don’t go against us.”
The Emily Atack Show returns to ITV2 on Thursday 7 October at 10pm
Struggling to find your next favourite TV series?
The i on TV newsletter is a daily email full of suggestions of what to watch as well as the latest TV news, opinions and interviews. Sign up here to stay up to date with the best new TV.