You can take the maths teacher out of the classroom — but you can never take away his instinct to explain everything away with a ruler.
Today, ‘Sir’ has risen to his feet and is standing — all 6ft 6in and 22st of him — to explain a point. The point being, why do so many women grope him when they pose with him for a photograph?
‘I blame my height,’ he says. ‘Think about it. If a woman wants her picture taken with me, which they all do, where is her hand going to go? My waist is so high, her hand will be here, feeling my bum. The hands would be stroking my glutes, which are in decent shape because I used to do a lot of sport.
‘Once, I had a woman go for my meat-and-two-veg, but that was a one-off — mostly it’s about the bum.’
Shame on you, handsy women of Britain. He says women accost him everywhere, which yes, is partly thrilling for a man who barely had a girlfriend until his 40s, but it’s also weird. It puts him in a peculiar position of not knowing whether to do a victory dance or scream ‘violation!’.
Mark Labett met his wife, a nurse 27 years his junior, on Facebook in 2013 (Pictured) Mark Labbett and wife Katie Labbett attending the ITV Gala held at the London Palladium in 2017
‘I’m under no illusions. It’s because I’m on the telly. I’m wary of the ones who come up and say, “I’m Your No 1 Fan.” Also, the ones who say, “Oh, I’d like you anyway, even if you weren’t on the TV.” Right. I want to say, “And where were you in 2006, then?.” ’
The worst offenders are older women. ‘Women of a certain age, shall we say. That’s my demographic. Bingo halls are the worst.’
For anyone baffled as to why this newly single, oversized nerd is such a magnet for women, he makes a genius observation. ‘Women like to be photographed with me because I make them look thinner,’ he shrugs. Fair point. In his company, every woman is basically Kylie Minogue.
The conundrum, though, is why isn’t he taking advantage of the attention? ‘To be honest, I prefer a good computer game,’ he says. ‘Maybe it’s one of the advantages of getting older.’
The Chase, which has five million daily viewers, pits members of the public against professional quizzers, known as The Chasers. If a contestant beats The Chasers they win a cash prize. But the real kudos is outwitting these Mensa minds — of which The Beast’s is one of the best.
Little wonder that the show has turned him from a nerdy geek who was high on intellect but low on social skills into, well, the James Bond of the quiz world.
The Beast (so called because his surname sounds like the French la bête) is not a bad-looking man. He says so himself. He has lost seven stone over the past few years. ‘I’d have been dead otherwise. The weight would have killed me.’
It’s only lately, though, that he’s been able to look in the mirror and think ‘not bad’. ‘I have good skin tone, so I haven’t gone all saggy like a lot of people do. I think I’m OK, for 56. And this hair is genuine. There’s no grey in it.’
He has been single for the past year, after splitting from his wife Katie, mother of his five-year-old son Lawrence. So there’s a vacancy, I say, for who could play Beauty to his Beast. He once met a member of the Towie cast — ‘I best not say who’ — and reckons she was ‘the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen’. Yet he felt no stirring whatsoever.
‘I should have been drooling,’ he says. ‘And all I could think was “there’s something missing”.’ In the brain department? He nods.
His No 1 fantasy crush is maths whizz Carol Vorderman. ‘I know Carol. Love her to bits. It will never happen between us, but she’s got everything. She looks amazing, but she’s interesting to chat to. She knows things.’
I meet The Beast at the hotel in Elstree, Hertfordshire, which is pretty much his second home. He stays here when he is filming the show which made him rich, famous, and strangely desirable.
On screen, he’s the Chaser we love to hate, an arrogant know-it-all who can tell you every capital, currency and king in the world.
In the flesh, he is immediately out to impress, in a very maths teacher-turned-TV star way.
‘Think of a three-digit number and I will multiply it by 123,’ he says. No, I say, because I won’t know if you are right. He rolls his eyes. ‘No, you use the calculator on your phone.’ Oh. Hilariously, he gets it wrong, by one digit.
‘That’s age rather than maths skills,’ he frowns, explaining how the memory — even his — gets a bit fuzzy with age.
He was one of the star hobby quizzers in Britain when he auditioned for the show, but tells me today that no one expected him to be elevated by it. The only proper star, at the time, was host Bradley Walsh, the chalk to his cheese.
The Chase star reckons he’s on the autism spectrum and tests done for the show showed his IQ was way up into genius level (Pictured) Mark Labbett and Katie Labbett at the National Television Awards in 2018
Such is the success of the show that a few years ago a U.S. version was made — and The Beast was asked to get on a plane to the States.
‘I remember Carol Vorderman phoning me from Times Square saying she was looking at a billboard of me, and that was a nice moment. Carol Vorderman is jealous of my TV career.’
The Chase has now taken him to both the U.S., and Australia, where he was treated like a god. He was paid “silly money” in the States. ‘I won’t say how much. Let’s just say it was as good as a professional footballer’s pay. Only for a month, mind, but still.’
He filled his boots, unashamedly. ‘A chunk of the mortgage has been paid and the pension pot has been filled.’
He agrees that he still thinks like a maths teacher when it comes to money. ‘I earned £120 for a supply shift and I still think in terms of that. How many hours would I have to work.’
With his fellow ‘Chasers’: Anne Hegerty, Shaun Wallace, Jenny Ryan Mark Labbett and Paul Sinha pose with the award for Daytime Programme at the 2019 ‘TRIC Awards’
He still drives a maths teacher’s car, too. He nods to the Volvo in the car park outside. ‘That’s mine. I don’t ask for much, although when I got the U.S. show my wife did well from Harrods.’
Now that you have rock-star level groupies, shouldn’t you have a sports car, I say? ‘I was talking about this with Richard Osman [whose Pointless dressing room is just along the corridor from his]. The problem with us is we are both too tall for sports cars.’
No one of The Beast’s size — either physical or intellectual — is a pushover, but he’s a curious mix of the human battering ram and little boy.
His brain is clearly phenomenal. Yet it’s not ‘normal’. He reckons himself that he’s probably on the autism spectrum. He had a raft of tests done for the show, all of which showed him way up into genius level when it came to IQ.
They also did one that measured emotional intelligence. ‘I scored 6 per cent’, he says. ‘I do struggle with reading people,’ he admits ‘Although I am getting better.’
Both of his parents died when he was still teaching — his mother from cervical cancer; his dad from bowel cancer — so never got to see his success.
He says they worried terribly about him never ‘fulfilling his potential’. Although terrifyingly bright at school, he seemed to lack purpose and ambition. ‘I have a first-class degree from Oxford. I should have been a headteacher, really,’ he says.
He also struggled with girls. ‘They worried I would never settle down. I never thought I would settle down.’
Why, I ask. ‘Who wants to be with someone who weighs 29 st, which I did,’ he says.
They have a young son together called Lawrence Labbett (Pictured) Katie Labbett and Mark Labbett National Television Awards in 2016
He isn’t the sort who will analyse why he got to that size, but he does admit that he has a history of comfort eating. ‘I used to buy a bag of comfort food to bring back to the hotel, but I don’t do that any more. I’m happier in my own skin.’
Not that he would ever have said he was unhappy, or lonely. ‘I had the perfect solution, you see. I did quizzes. I was out every night and I wasn’t that bothered about not having anyone. I just thought I’d be a confirmed bachelor. Lots of quizzers are.’
Then, bang, into his life came Katie, a nurse 27 years his junior. They met via Facebook in 2013.
He says they knew, vaguely, that there was ‘a family connection’. He did not know, until they had had several dates, however, that they were actually second cousins. Her father and his father had been first cousins.
‘We did have to sit down and talk about it — and it might have been different if my father had been alive. But while it wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.’ They researched the family tree, and also the science books.
‘What would have been really concerning would have been if there were multiple consanguinities, in different generations — but there weren’t.’
Nonetheless, he tried to warn Katie that he wasn’t marriage material. ‘Before we even got married I said, “Are you sure?” There was the age difference, and my job was always going to involve being away a lot.
‘I remember saying, “You can do better” but, at the same time, thinking, “Oh well, she loves me, I love her. Happy days!” ’ He concedes the odds of the marriage working were never great.
‘When we split up [in 2020], my best mate said he was surprised it had lasted as long as it did. He knew I’d find it difficult to adapt. I’m the sort of person who gets up on a Saturday morning and puts Sky Sports on and finds it hard to hand over the remote.’
He insists Katie had not known who he was before they met and had never watched him on TV. Yet she slipped into his showbiz life with some ease.
‘Before we had Lawrence, yes, because she could come with me and it was a glamorous life then. We were jetting off to LA, going to events.’
Then, five years ago, they had Lawrence, and the wheels came off when his wife started a relationship with another man, a design engineer called Scott Bate.
‘I have a lot of sympathy for Katie. She was stuck at home. What happened happened, then we had to deal with it. There was no room for jealousy in it, because it’s an entirely negative emotion. With something like pride, you might be pushed to achieve something, but not with jealousy.’
He is referring to the fact that for over a year, he accepted his wife’s affair, to the point that people were referring to their ‘open’ marriage.
‘I never used that term and nor did Katie,’ he says now. He certainly wasn’t happy with the situation, although he did accept it. ‘It was a case of, right, how do we make this work for the sake of our son?’
He won’t be drawn on exactly how their living arrangements worked, or on the emotional turmoil that must have ensued. ‘I’m cold-blooded,’ he says by way of explanation. ‘I’m a problem solver.’
He’s not cold-blooded. He talks adoringly about his little boy, ‘the child I never thought I would have’. Whatever horrors went on in his marriage, he will not condemn it as a mistake. ‘Because it gave me Lawrence. I know that makes it sound as if it was all about having a kid, but it wasn’t.’
For over a year Mark accepted his wife’s affair, to the point that people were referring to their ‘open’ marriage
He has always continued to support Katie and, technically, they are still married.
‘I still support her and Lawrence, yes. I’m happy to. The only thing I said when she was still with him — and she no longer is — is that I didn’t want her to turn round and tell me she was pregnant when I knew it wasn’t mine.’
Financially, they are still entwined. She is a director in his company, which he has no issue with, although his friends have told him he is mad.
‘I have warned her that I am 56. I have diabetes. I hope to be around long enough to see Lawrence graduate, but who knows. And if something happens to me, her lifestyle will change drastically.’
Do you still love her? ‘Yes, but it has . . . mutated.’
He recounts all this quite cheerily, in an accepting manner.
Little wonder he’s not hugely keen to leap into bed with every woman who presses herself on him, though, however enticing it might sound.
I ask if his son is anything like him. ‘Yes, he says, but better.’