Comedian Katherine Ryan knows exactly how Valentine’s Night will pan out for her and her husband next week.
‘I prefer to stay home for any commercial holiday. I haven’t been out on New Year’s since I was about 17, and now we’re all at home anyway, so we’ll just be cooking,’ says Katherine. Or rather, her husband of just over a year, Bobby Kootstra, will be cooking. ‘He cooks every day. He genuinely is the world’s best husband.’ Katherine sighs: ‘I had no idea married women loved their husbands before — most are always complaining about everything. But I love everything about him.’
Coming from the razor-sharp 37-year-old, such a gooey pronouncement is jolting to say the least. After all, this is the woman who not only made her name with withering put-downs on shows such as QI and 8 Out Of 10 Cats, but also for her vocal celebrations of single motherhood. Two years ago, she had a sold-out West End stand-up show, Glitter Room (now on Netflix), with sassy one-liners such as: ‘I love men, but I feel they are like dolphins in that they are best enjoyed while on holiday.’
Katherine Ryan, 37, reflects on reuniting with her childhood boyfriend Bobby Kootstra (pictured), after returning to her native Canada to make an episode of BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?
Far from struggling to bring up her 11-year-old daughter, Violet, from a previous relationship, Katherine made it clear she relished the situation.
To underline her stance, Katherine wrote and starred in hit Netflix sitcom The Duchess. Her role? A cool, single mother who refuses to move in with her devoted boyfriend and wants to have a second baby on her own.
‘I was so tired of seeing women portrayed in rom-coms as wanting a boyfriend to have children with. I wanted to show it isn’t always like that,’ she explains.
Yet before The Duchess started filming, Katherine had returned to her native Canada to make an episode of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?. While there, she reunited with Bobby, her boyfriend from high school in the industrial town of Sarnia, Ontario.
A few weeks later, he visited her in London and, eight months after that, in September 2019, they married in Denmark (‘It was cheaper and easier there’).
Ever since, they’ve been living blissfully in the huge house she recently bought in Hertfordshire, partly so Violet could have a pony, but also because it was more suitable for family life. ‘When Bobby was living in my tiny flat [in North London], we were all on top of each other. Now it’s much better,’ Katherine says.
The wisecracking poster girl for single living has metamorphosed into a lovestruck wife.
‘I don’t think I am necessarily a very romantic person, but I do romantic things — I took all the letters Bobby and I wrote to one another when we were kids and had them made into a blanket for our first anniversary,’ Katherine says, showing it to me over Zoom. It’s covered in images of ‘I love you’ scrawled in a teenage hand. ‘I know it’s really cringe, but I’m so glad I kept them all.
Katherine (pictured) admits she looked for reasons not to go ahead with being with Bobby because she loved her independent life
‘My daughter always says we’re gross together, so we must be romantic. We’re not making out in front of her, we’re just affectionate! But I say to her: “Would you rather grow up in an angry house?”
‘We just love one another all the time. We never row. It’s quite creepy. I would love to say lockdown tested our relationship, because I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of utopia, but it didn’t at all. Bobby’s just my favourite person.’
Before I start feeling queasy, Katherine adds: ‘But I do understand we’ve only been married a year.’
Just wait until you’ve notched up 20 years like me, I think. But not too bitterly, because the story is so genuinely touching and no one could be more surprised at this outcome than Katherine, who, by the time she and Bobby met again, had pretty much given up on love.
My best boyfriend was Bobby, but I assumed he was just a fond memory, and I never dreamed of trying to get back with him
‘I genuinely had contempt for all my exes,’ she says. ‘Every time I had been in a relationship previously, I was in a place of vulnerability; things always went wrong. It sounds like such a cliché, but it was only when I wasn’t looking that I managed to bump into [love].’
For a long time, she was sceptical of her feelings.
‘I tried to resist, I looked for reasons not to go ahead with the partnership because I genuinely loved my independent life. But everything was just so easy between us, and Bobby genuinely fitted in around both me and my daughter; he was an asset to both of us.’
Katherine is sparky and charismatic, yet she’s also, mercifully, nothing like her acerbic comedian persona, instead coming across as soft-spoken and quite serious. There’s not even a hint of sarcasm as she recounts how she and Bobby loved, lost and then loved each other again.
Katherine said she wasn’t pining for Bobby when she moved to England in 2008, but would tell other boyfriends that he was the best. Pictured: Katherine and Bobby at their school prom
They went out ‘on and off’ from the age of 15 for about a year. ‘He’d split up with me for reasons like he wanted to concentrate on football and then we’d get back together,’ she says.
Their final break-up came at her leavers’ prom when Bobby dumped her ‘basically for no reason except he was drunk’. To spite him, Katherine kissed a security guard.
Bobby was distraught, the booze having made him forget he’d just ditched her. ‘So we had a tumultuous ending because of this misunderstanding and didn’t speak for 20 years.’
After she moved to England in 2008, Katherine kept in touch with Bobby’s sisters, learning he had got married. ‘But I’d moved on, I had a daughter, I wasn’t pining for him. I always told other boyfriends: “My best boyfriend was Bobby.” But I assumed he was just a fond memory. I never dreamed of trying to get back with him.’
Years passed and Katherine’s friends back home alerted her that Bobby, now 37, had retired from playing American football professionally and was divorced with no children.
Single mums are seen as discarded and get no credit for juggling responsibilities
The two started following each other on social media and, in early 2019, when she returned to Canada, Katherine casually asked her followers where they’d recommend she went for a drink.
‘Something at the back of my mind went: “I know Bobby’s going to come out.”’
Sure enough, he got in touch to suggest a venue and then, at Katherine’s suggestion, joined her. ‘I didn’t have any plans to get back together. I thought we would hang out and it would just be a funny story for everyone.’
In fact, the pair ended up back in bed at the house of Katherine’s mother, who was away.
‘In the morning, I flipped out because I don’t have one-night stands. Ever. But he was so gentlemanly. He texted me right away. He didn’t play any games and we kept messaging back and forth. As soon as I got back to London, I invited him to visit. He took a week off work and came.
Katherine went ahead with performing a stand-up gig in Liverpool, after having a miscarriage last February. Pictured: Katherine and Bobby
‘Then and there I said: “I think we might end up together.” He said: “Yeah, I think we might.” ’
Bobby went home and quit his job in a car repair company. ‘And that was it,’ says Katherine. ‘It was so easy. It only took a two-second conversation.’
They were keen to have a baby together, but last February, Katherine had a miscarriage at ten weeks.
Astonishingly, after learning the baby’s heart was no longer beating, she still performed a stand-up gig in Liverpool ‘feeling like a walking tomb’ and weeping in the breaks.
‘These people [in the audience] had plans to go out for the night. It’s not their fault I had a miscarriage,’ she says.
When she later saw selfies fans took with her that night, she says: ‘It looked like the bus was driving but no one was behind the wheel.’
Are they hoping for another baby now? ‘Well, we’re not not trying,’ she says.
In the meantime, Katherine’s daughter Violet keeps the couple busy — and is apparently smitten with her stepfather, despite initial misgivings.
‘She was worried about change because I’d always kept everyone else at arm’s length. But Bobby was so undeniably good for both of us. And now she loves him so much. The other night she said, out of nowhere: “If you ever leave my mum, then I will find you and I’ll beat you up.” ’
Katherine who has been finishing a book and preparing for a UK tour, revealed Bobby (pictured) has been doing most of the lockdown homeschooling
Paragon Bobby not only cooks and cleans, he’s also been bearing the brunt of most of the lockdown homeschooling.
‘He’s a bit more conservative than I am,’ says Katherine. ‘He’s more all about the rules, whereas I’m the kind of mum who tries to be a really cool friend and that just doesn’t work with an 11-year-old who’s now meant to be accountable for all this work.
‘It’s really highlighted that I need to pull my socks up and do more.’
Still, Katherine’s been busy, too. Recently, she’s been finishing a book and preparing for a UK tour called Missus — pegged to start in September — about her new wifely incarnation.
She’s also presenting a new BBC show, All That Glitters, hunting for Britain’s best jeweller; and next month she’ll be seen on The Great Celebrity Bake Off in aid of Stand Up To Cancer, braving the judgment of Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood.
She has already filmed the show and admits: ‘Going into the iconic Bake Off tent was surreal.’
Katherine moved to the UK in 2008 with a boyfriend who was determined to make his name as a comedian on the London scene, while she — though performing the odd stand-up routine — supported them both by selling advertising space.
They split when Violet was two, and she realised that while she couldn’t take her baby to the office, she could take her to gigs.
With no cash for a babysitter, fellow comedians minded Violet while she performed.
Katherine (pictured) will be appearing on The Great Celebrity Bake Off in aid of Stand Up To Cancer, next month
At times, she lived off nothing more than Rice Krispies. ‘We were properly poor, but I didn’t feel poor. They were happy times. Violet has always been a joy and a friend to me. Maybe I just got lucky.’
In fact, the only niggle came from other people who, as her career took off, assumed she must be desperately looking for a husband.
‘There’d be these head tilts of pity, the “Ah, you’re alone” comments, and it did make me feel ashamed,’ she says. ‘When there’s a picture of a single dad holding a baby on a dating app, everyone’s like: “Oh, he’s so sexy and so amazing to be going it alone!” But single mums are seen as discarded and abandoned and given no credit for juggling all the parental responsibilities.’
Now, after years of patronising comments from the likes of IT helplines and builders (‘One asked if he could speak to the “decision-maker” when I was the decision-maker!’), Katherine’s enjoying putting all the responsibilities on to Bobby’s shoulders. ‘I’ve become lazy. I say: “No, I don’t know where the boiler is, you’ll have to ask my husband. No I can’t pay your invoice, you’ll have to ask my husband.” It’s really fun.’
And, despite her star turn in Bake Off and role spearheading Gousto’s new Cookstarter Campaign, which is supporting local restaurants struggling in the pandemic, Katherine is also happy to let Bobby don his pinny and take care of the cooking, too.
So what would her dream Valentine’s Night meal be?
‘Ooh,’ she muses. ‘There’s an Irish restaurant nearby that I love. My dad’s Irish, and I love things like bacon, boiled cabbage and mash. Those are the kind of things I remember my Nana making in Cork for us.’
Always glossy and upfront about the help she has had looking her best (she started having fillers in her lips aged 20, had a boob job in 2004 and has regular Botox), I imagine Katherine looking ultra-glam at the dinner table.
‘Actually I’ve gone for a natural approach during lockdown. You can’t get fillers and Botox. Normally I have hair-coloured skin and skin-coloured hair. But now, although I’m always very clean, I’m not bothering with hair or make-up and I just wear a series of tracksuits: tracksuits for best; tracksuits for night.’
The truth is it wouldn’t matter how she looked, because she’s got complete faith in Bobby’s love.
Aren’t the single mums she championed furious at Katherine’s betrayal?
‘Only in a jokey way. They understand that I did nothing to instigate this. And, in my position, they would probably do the same. Anyone would want to marry Bobby!’
Gousto’s Cookstarter campaign supports Britain’s diverse food culture by helping independent restaurants thrive. Go to goustocookstarter.co.uk to nominate your can’t-live-without local restaurant by February 7, giving them a chance to receive much-needed support. Follow the campaign via @GoustoCooking #Cookstarter.