Exclusive Interview: Kiell Smith-Bynoe


Summer Sewn Up

Things have been busy for Kiell Smith-Bynoe, he reveals what’s coming up, and tells us his hopes for the future

Photography by Alex Beer | Styling by Toni Caroline

Hair by Mucktaru Kargbo | Grooming by Vaneza Londoño

Shot on location at Jumeirah Carlton Tower

With a play, an improv show and a new job hosting The Great British Sewing Bee, Kiell Smith-Bynoe has never been busier, and it’s all thanks to the school nativity, he tells us

Kiell Smith-Bynoe Exclusive Interview Kiell wears: shirt by Wax London

“Shall we start by talking about The Government Inspector,” I ask, at the beginning of my phone interview with Kiell Smith-Bynoe. “It’s not a great line, for a minute there I thought you said shall we start by talking about the government,” he laughs. “I wouldn’t know where to start…”

Kiell is partway through a five-week run of Nikolai Gogol’s satire at the Marylebone Theatre. Directed by Patrick Myles, the cast includes his Ghosts co-star Martha Howe- Douglas and Shooting Stars’ Dan Skinner. Myles’ hilarious new adaptation of this classic comedy tells the story of an over-privileged, vainglorious liar who is mistaken for a high-ranking government inspector by the corrupt local officials of an English parochial town. Desperate to cover up their crimes and escape censure, the town’s Governor and his cronies pull out all the stops to try and bribe this dishonest buffoon with money, wine and women.

Kiell plays Percy, the lead. “It’s a bit of a new experience for me, because I haven’t done a play, play – a proper play – for about eight years now. So, it’s new, I mean the play is not new in any way, it’s almost 200 years old, but it is still extremely relevant to today, and what’s going on in politics at the moment. It brings up a few things to ponder. And yeah, it is a lot of fun. I get to be really silly; Percy is a really fun character, and not like anything I’ve done before,” he says.

He is, he says, very glad that he didn’t go with his first instinct to turn down the audition. “It came through my agent; they just asked if I would be up for it. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do a play…’,” he recalls. “It’s been a tough year for TV, I think. There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of work, like what’s coming next, or if something’s coming at all. And you have got to make good business decisions, as well as choosing things that you are passionate about. So, you say: ‘OK, how much am I earning? Am I going to make any money?’ And plays are not notorious for being money spinners, so, you know, I was really hoping that a nice TV part, or maybe a film or something like that would come up… I was like, come on, I don’t want to do theatre, but then I read it, and I loved it. I had to do it.”

Kiell Smith-Bynoe Exclusive Interview Kiell wears shirt by Wax London; and suit by Richard James

The job represented a bit of a mindshift for Kiell. “I’m an improviser, always have been, the idea of getting on a stage, just walking on stage, is really easy. So, despite the fact that I hadn’t been in a play for eight years or however long it is, I’d been on stage because I’ve been in my live shows. I’m really comfortable on a stage. I guess it’s like the idea of a tennis player learning to play badminton. Where you’re like, well, it’s got some of the same bits, but it’s really quite different. I have to remind myself: ‘Oh no, that is the line, and I have to say that line because that’s someone else’s cue so that they can say their line’. So, there’s remembering all of that stuff, but also, there’s an apprehension that comes from inanimate objects. We had a… I was about to say incident then, but incident is quite strong! For my entrance in the second act, I sort of storm on, and I’m completely dishevelled, and I think I dishevelled myself a little too much, because my waistcoat was hanging off, and as I stormed onto the stage, it got caught on the door handle, and just ripped the door handle and half of my waistcoat off. And in an improv show, you could just sort of make a joke about that. But when you’re doing a classical piece, an ensemble piece, everyone needs to be on the same page. So, when things like that happen, it’s just very obvious that it’s a mistake.”

There’ll be a chance to flex those improv muscles again very soon, though, when Kiell brings Kool Story Bro to the Theatre Royal Stratford East later this month. “My baby!”, he exclaims when I ask him about it. “It’s the most fun… It’s just me and my mates being silly. The whole idea of the show is that we get stories from the audience, and we improvise scenes based on the stories that we have been told. And sometimes the stories are quite tame and boring, and we have to do a lot to make it more entertaining for a wider audience. But sometimes, we actually have to make it tamer, because some stories are mental! Absolutely wild,” he laughs.

Kiell Smith-Bynoe Exclusive Interview Kiell wears t-shirt by Wax London; and cardigan by Richard James

“So, we’re doing 7 June, which I’m really looking forward to. But then also we’re doing six nights in Edinburgh, which will be great, because that’s where the show started. So, it will be a sort of one year anniversary of the show – we’ve only done it about 10 times. So, I’m really looking forward to getting into a six-night run, and just finding out what’s happening in all these mad people’s lives! We’d love to do a tour as well… go and do it for like a proper regional audience, who I feel will be less, ummmm, what’s the right word? They might be more inclined to share their stories than a London audience, who I find can be sort of like, ‘Well, there might be someone here who knows me…’.”

We’ll be seeing Kiell’s face on television screens this month, too, when The Great British Sewing Bee returns with him as presenter. It is perhaps not the most obvious of castings, how did it come about, I ask. “I was a contestant two years ago on the Christmas special, and I did what I would call, the best that I could! Whether or not that was enough, I don’t know, but that is what I did. And I had a nice time. And then I got a DM from Patrick, last year, last summer, asking if I’d like to do Sewing Bee. And I was like, ‘Have you forgotten that I have already done it?’,” he laughs. “And he was like, ‘No, I mean the main gig’. And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And yeah, turns out that they were asking me to present it, and it was a bit like with the play, initially, I was like: ‘No! I don’t want to present the Sewing Bee’. And then I thought about it, and considered it, and then went: ‘Yeeeah… yeah, I could do that…’.”

“I think if someone did some STATISTICS, an Excel spreadsheet, they would FIND that most of the PEOPLE that went into a career in the MEDIA were innkeepers. I’d say that comes from a JEALOUSY at not being cast as JOSEPH, or ANGEL GABRIEL”
Kiell Smith-Bynoe Exclusive Interview Kiell wears (top): t-shirt by Wax London; and cardigan by Richard James; (bottom) t-shirt by A Day’s March and jumper by Peregrine

And he is very glad that he had a change of heart. “I had a great time. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever done before. I think I’ve got a whole new respect for presenters – I mean, I already had a respect for presenters, but I’ve got a whole new level of respect for them now,” he tells me. “It is such a hard job, especially when you’re dealing with people’s real lives. You know, this is a competition, and people want to win, and they want to stay in the competition, and it means a lot to them. And sometimes they know that what they’ve done is not going to cut it. And that might be what makes the difference between them staying in the competition or going home. And you sort of have to manage those emotions, as well as just carrying on presenting the show, and keeping with the format of the show – you have to go over and say, what are you up to? Even though you know they need half an hour to get their head down and they’ve only got five minutes. So yeah, it’s very difficult. And it’s quite hard to pitch as well. You know, things that I might find funny, I have to sometimes think, OK, this is for a mainstream BBC One audience, so maybe take that joke out! You have to do quite a lot of editing as you go, which is new for me, it’s not something I’ve really had to do before.”

Aside from teaching him new work skills, I wonder if it might have sparked a new hobby. Has he been sewing since filming wrapped? “Absolutely not! Not at all,” he chuckles. “I mean, I learnt some words, sure. I know what cross-stitch means; I could correctly identify an overlocker… Aside from that, I’m useless!”

Kiell Smith-Bynoe Exclusive Interview Kiell wears shirt by Wax London; and suit by Richard James

Performing clearly comes naturally to Kiell. “I’ve wanted to do it since I was four years old,” he tells me. “Before I even really understood that it was something you could do as a job. I’m part of the alumni of nativity play innkeepers. I think if someone did some statistics, an Excel spreadsheet, they would find that most of the people that went into a career in the media were innkeepers. I’d say that comes from a jealousy at not being cast as Joseph, or Angel Gabriel. I think that’s what gives you that motivation.”

From innkeeping, he says that he went on to take every dramatic opportunity that came his way. “Saturday drama school, then after school drama and summer school drama. Then Theatre Royal Stratford East Youth Theatre, then East 15 drama school. Then I was doing YouTube sketches and skits… ” he reels off his CV. “I started doing sketches and writing with Kayvan Novak just after Fonejacker and Facejacker. And then I was also auditioning, as well.” The parts eventually started coming, as Dean the estate agent in Channel 4’s Stath Lets Flats and as Brummie nobody Jovell in BBC’s Man Like Mobeen. And from there, the part of Mike in Ghosts.

Kiell Smith-Bynoe Exclusive Interview Kiell wears, t-shirt by Sunspel; cardigan Pringle of Scotland; and rain mac and trousers both by A Day’s March

The beloved grown-up comedy from the Horrible Histories crew came to an end after four glorious seasons with last year’s Christmas special. Was Kiell sad to bid it goodbye? “Oh yeah, definitely! I mean, not as sad as some of the people who stop me in the street and tell me that I made their kid cry, but, still quite sad about it,” he says. What he’d really love now, though, would be a nice meaty role in a drama. “Oh, get me in a drama!” He exclaims. “I mean that’s what Dreamland was,” he says, recalling his role in Merman’s six-part adaptation of Sharon Horgan’s short tackling the darker side of family dynamics. “Dreamland was perfect: it was a great job, it was a great cast, great group of people, the scripts were amazing, the character was really good. It came out and I was like, yeah, it is really good. And then someone just said, ‘Nah, don’t want series two’. And I was like, ‘What? I cried in that’. I mean, sure it was all the tear stick, but I made the noises! So, yeah, I was actually gutted; I did think that was the start of my journey into drama. I mean, going back to your question of why I wanted to do the play – it was because I wanted to show that I can act seriously. That’s why I started this thing, and I have sort of come off that road a little bit, by doing panel show stuff, and entertainment, hosting the The Great British Sewing Bee… and that’s all good, but it’s also important to remember what the plan is. What I wanted, and what I want, which is to act. And I wasn’t getting paid anything for that nativity, so it shouldn’t be a thing now!”

So, what’s the dream role? “I wanna get on a horse,” he laughs. “You are probably thinking you can do that in your own time, but no, I want to do a period drama. Yeah, a period drama villain. I would love a bit of that! A good one though. Could you make that happen?” Never say never…