Parenting Hell authors Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe on best-seller and hit podcast

Comedy duo Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe talk to Hannah Stephenson about Parenting Hell, the best-selling book inspired by their top podcast of the same name...

Parenting Hell hosts and authors Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe
Parenting Hell hosts and authors Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe

THEY are chalk and cheese – one a loud, exuberant South-East Londoner, the other a quieter, calmer and more anxious character from Devon. But one thing Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe do have in common is parenting hell.

"Every approach to what we do is totally different," Beckett (36) observes.

"But we are really good friends and we get on and we laugh about it. Basically, no one knows how to parent – we are all just doing our best. It's quite fun that two people who do it so differently get on, and can wind each other up about it."

Beckett has two daughters with wife Louise, aged six and four, while Widdicombe (39) has four-year-old Pearl and one-year-old Cassius with his wife, Rose.

They began their hit podcast in lockdown – it was initially known as Lockdown Parenting Hell – with the pair discussing the trials and tribulations of caring for kids during the pandemic.

It soon caught on, so they continued after lockdown ended. 35 million downloads later, they now have two Parenting Hell podcasts per week, one which features their own experiences and the other in which they interview a celebrity about their own parenting dilemmas. Guests have included Robbie Williams, Stacey Solomon, Fearne Cotton and Louis Theroux.

The comedy pair have also written the eponymous tie-in book based on the podcast, which is currently atop the Sunday Times' Best-Seller chart.

"If I knew why the podcast has been so successful, I'd be able to repeat the trick in other ways," says Widdicombe, chuckling.

"I think people really enjoy the honesty. In lockdown, we did it in response to all those people on Instagram having incredible times and achieving amazing things. It was a more honest reflection of what it was like to have children in lockdown. Maybe it struck a nerve at that point."

There is little or no preparation for recording, Beckett explains. They sit in their respective homes – Beckett's in a shed at the end of his garden, Widdicombe's in whichever room in his house has the best WiFi that day – and muse about what's happened in their family lives that week.

"We are trying to fit it in around family, which is what makes it authentic," Beckett explains.

"That's what it's like when you try and do a Zoom call, when the kids need their bum wiped or there's spaghetti on the floor."

The fact they are such different personalities also gives it an edge, Widdicombe maintains: "With any double act, you need to be individual, separate people.

"It's the same with The Last Leg [the Channel 4 series he co-presents with Adam Hills and Alex Brooker]. You are with people who are noticeably different in their outlook and tastes in life, which makes it a much more interesting watch or listen – but at the end of the day, you've got to be able to make each other laugh. It's the easiest job I've ever had in my life."

Widdicombe says any disaster which befalls him in his parenting efforts leaves him with a positive – in that he'll have something to bring to the podcast the following week.

Of his own particularly low points, Beckett recalls: "My worst 'parent nightmare' is when they were little. I can have five or six four-year-olds all day long and love it. They'd be in the garden playing. But if you give me a newborn baby that has to be fed at a certain time, I really struggled with that. You're so tired, getting two hours' sleep a night."

Widdicombe remembers getting locked out of his house the first time he was looking after his daughter on his own, when she was a week or two old.

"My wife was away and it was the middle of winter, and I remember getting home and I'd lost my keys. I had to walk the streets with my daughter screaming in the cold. That was a low moment. I was locked out for a couple of hours and had to just wait for my wife to come home. It didn't go down brilliantly," he recalls.

Their wives and families have been allowed their say in the book and add to the hilarity.

"I quite enjoyed how brutal Lou was in public," Beckett says sarcastically of his wife. "But she's such a brilliant writer. We speak loads on the podcast and it was only right that Lou and Rose got an opportunity to reply."

When asked what type of father Widdicombe is, he replies: "I'm weak, too eager to please, a pushover."

Beckett reckons his own biggest failing as a dad is when it comes to work-life balance. "Sometimes I go too far one way, so if I've been away I think, 'Oh, I'll get them a present', and I overcompensating. I think I've got the balance now but I didn't at the start."

One of Lou's tongue-in-cheek irritations is that the kids find Beckett really fun to be with, she quips in the book, and says that at times he is deeply annoying.

"I am shameless, I'll do anything for a laugh," he agrees.

"And it's impossible to compete with someone with no sense of self-awareness. I will scream out loud in a shop just to get a laugh off the kids, where Lou just finds that embarrassing."

Widdicombe reflects that "fatherhood has totally changed my lifestyle", adding: "I don't really want to go out any more. I've become a recluse. I conduct all of my friendships via WhatsApp on my sofa these days, I go to bed at 10pm. I've become the world's most boring man."

The two socialise occasionally, getting together for children's parties and barbecues, but always argue about where they live.

"I live in the suburbs of London; he lives in the coolest, trendiest bit of London in a beautiful house in a beautiful area, but I'd find it hell where there are loads of 25-year-olds wandering about eating burrata, having the time of their lives," says Beckett.

"I play football on a Sunday with over-45-year-old blokes, which makes me feel like I'm 18 again. Josh has got it all wrong, that's why he's so stressed. He needs to hang around with old people."

Neither wants more children at this stage, but then Widdicombe's son and daughter are a bit younger.

"If you are trying to cut your workload down due to burnout, then having a third child is really counterproductive to that," Widdicombe says, chuckling.

"I love the idea of having three children who are 10, seven and four, but I don't love the idea of having three children who are seven, four and one. I want to be able to enjoy the two children I have growing up and even at the moment, I feel overstretched."

Beckett seems to have a frantic schedule hosting the TV series Unbreakable, fronting his own BBC Radio 2 show on Sundays, plus this podcast twice a week – and the pair are embarking on a Parenting Hell Live tour next year.

Yet, he adds: "We don't want any more children at the moment – but if the podcast is running dry we might bang out another couple."

:: Parenting Hell by Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe is out now, published by Blink and priced £20