Rachel Riley awarded MBE in New Year Honours for work combatting antisemitism

 (Getty Images For Tusk)
(Getty Images For Tusk)

Rachel Riley has been made an MBE in the New Year Honours list for her efforts in raising Holocaust awareness and combatting antisemitism.

The Countdown star and mathemetician, whose mother is Jewish, has been honoured for her services to Holocaust education as an avid campaigner.

Riley was a vocal critic of Labour’s handling of alleged antisemitism within the party and Jeremy Corbyn’s conduct while leader.

The 36-year-old Oxford University graduate took over from Carol Vorderman as co-host of Channel 4's Countdown in 2009, after Vorderman stepped down from the role she had held since the show began in 1982.

Riley’s tenure as the resident number cruncher, which began when she was just 22, has seen her work alongside presenters Jeff Stelling, Nick Hewer, Anne Robinson, and Colin Murray.

In January 2019, she made a speech at a Westminster reception for the Holocaust Educational Trust addressing the abuse she received on social media as a public figure.

She has also worked with the Centre for Countering Digital Hate to combat online abuse.

In August, Corbyn's former aide, Laura Murray, lost an appeal against a High Court libel ruling that ordered her to pay £10,000 damages to Riley after a Twitter row.

In November, Riley was awarded £50,000 in damages by a High Court judge after suing a political blogger for libel over an article that alleged she was a “serial abuser” and had bullied a teenager.

Riley sued Mike Sivier after he published an article on his website, Vox Political, in January 2019 with the headline “Serial abuser Rachel Riley to receive ‘extra protection’ – on grounds that she is receiving abuse”.

Rachel Riley(Peter Powell/PA) (PA Archive)
Rachel Riley(Peter Powell/PA) (PA Archive)

In 2019, she was criticised and accused of “staggering ignorance” after editing a photo of Corbyn at an anti-apartheid protest as she accused him of racism.

In November 2021, she gave birth to her second daughter Noa with professional dancer husband, Pasha Kovalev, following the birth of Maven in 2019.

Riley started dating Kovalev after splitting from her husband, fellow Oxford University student Jamie Gilbert, in 2013. The couple met when they were paired up together on the 11th series of Strictly Come Dancing and married in Las Vegas in 2019.

Her love of sports inspired her to support the Always Fuel Her Future campaign last year, to highlight the long-term benefits of girls participating in sport.

“Sport kept me out of trouble and I made lots of friends,” she said. “I found it really valuable – learning the value of practice and making improvements.”

She said that playing sport has even helped her with her role on 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, explaining: “When I started playing football, they really drilled into us that you have to be vocal, so if you wanted the ball, you had to shout ‘Riley’s ball!’

“Looking now at the work I do, where you go into a room with possibly intimidating people – in 8 Out Of 10 Cats, you’ve got a bunch of professional comedians and if you want to get a word in edgeways, you have to be able to take your chance and speak out, so I credit football for that.”

Additional reporting by Press Association