Rob Rinder: ‘I met Harry Styles at the gym; it was the worst social car crash ever’

Rinder exercises for one hour early most mornings - Mike Marsland
Rinder exercises for one hour early most mornings - Mike Marsland

Since his hit reality courtroom series Judge Rinder took off in 2014, Rob Rinder has appeared on shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Celebrity Gogglebox. In his 2020 documentary My Family, The Holocaust and Me, he helped Jewish families discover the full truth about what happened to their relatives during the Holocaust. He is single and lives in London.

Best habit?

Getting up in the morning and exercising more or less every day for one clear hour. Even when I feel like I’m 100 years old and I’d rather gouge my eyes out, I get up really early because it’s the one thing in the day that I can complete. I’m a member of the gym so I go to Barry’s Boot Camp most days – I went this morning – or I’ll go cold swimming. And at the end of that hour, you get this little serotonin burst of joy.

Best childhood memory?

Because I come from a Jewish family, whatever I say to this, somebody will be, “What? You forgot about this wonderful time?” Like when you say to your mum, “I really love the soup”, but she says, “What’s wrong with the chicken?”

This is a tightrope question, so it would be all of the Jewish festivals, especially Passover, which is a magical time of year and where the tradition is that the youngest person is always raucous and loud and full of love. There wasn’t a single occasion where one of those nights was unhappy. It was the family alongside one another at their humorous, silly, cultural, but also emotional, best. I suspect lots of my happy memories are bound up in that.

Best thing you've done?

I got to do this Sport Relief thing where I ran across the desert in Namibia – well, it wasn’t really running because I had [walking] poles, so it was more like a 30-mile mince – but it was in about 40-degree heat. And I was on my own in this desert. There was no reception on my phone, but it worked enough to play music, so I had a bit of Dolly Parton, a bit of One Direction, lots of classical music.

I had this moment where I was running, and all I could feel was breath. There was nothing behind me or in front of me. I was just breathing. And I had a moment where the signal kicked in and some music came on and I cried for who knows how long.

I hadn’t been that connected to a sense of feeling, to a sense of being present, for a really long time or cried as much since my stepsister died in 2001. It was really beautiful. A gift.

Best day in your TV career?

I’m really proud of a moment on My Family, The Holocaust and Me when the camera went on and they asked me to respond to something I didn’t expect while I was standing by a mass grave. I had no idea what I said until I watched it back, but I felt proud that I had reflected on the fact that [this mound] was not the only mound of earth like that in the world.

Most of the time when you watch yourself back it’s awful, but that was the first time I listened and heard myself and thought, “Yes, that’s the right thing to say.” And it felt good that I could share that. It mattered.

Best thing about the celebrity lifestyle?

Celebrity lifestyle? I’m in the same house I’ve been in since way before [I started appearing on] telly, my watch cost £20.99 from Amazon, I don’t have a car and there are no filtered Instagram photographs of me anywhere. That said, the best thing is that everybody is nice to me – partly because I suspect they think I can send them to prison, but mainly because most people are just nice, and that’s down to the impact and power of television, whether it’s Judge Rinder or the Holocaust programme.

You genuinely get to be in the world, no matter what you think about yourself, and people will tell you how much they like you and you get to improve the chemistry of somebody’s day by going: “Hi, what’s your name? Of course, I’d love to have a selfie.” What’s not great about that? I genuinely need to be persuaded of the downside, and it’s got nothing to do with egomania.

Rinder found success with his Judge Rinder, which launched in 2014
Rinder found success with his Judge Rinder, which launched in 2014

Worst thing about your appearance?

My best girlfriend describes me as “the gay that style forgot”. There have been so many fashion disasters I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t suffer from an especially dialled-up version of narcissistic personality disorder, despite being on telly, but the other day somebody sent me pictures of myself when I was 17 and I look like a mash-up of Little Lord Fauntleroy and Kim Jong Un. I used to wear a tweed jacket and even went through a Brossette period in the 1980s with Grolsch [bottle] tops on the shoes and spiky hair. That was not a good look.

Worst holiday?

When I was little, we ended up staying in a kosher guesthouse in Bournemouth and were forcibly entered into the fancy dress competition. My brother got to be Kermit and for some reason I was dressed up as Miss Piggy. Nevertheless, the grandson of the owner of the hotel, who dressed up as a fisherman, won the competition. And I’m still angry about that.

Worst encounter with another celebrity?

Nobody looks at anyone at my gym, so I just thought there was a homeless girl running next to me. And then I had a moment of epiphany: it was Harry Styles.

He’s evolved into a real artist, so when I subsequently saw him I got strangely starstruck. We ended up involved in a conversation and all I will say was that it was the worst social car crash ever. He hugged me because he needed to make it stop. It was like an act of social euthanasia.

My friends usually make sure that I don’t meet people I admire because it’s not going to go well. I will, for the first 10 minutes, tell them, like a crazed fan, everything brilliant about them, and how I’ve read every interview and watched everything they ever did on YouTube, as they sit there and slightly glaze over and try to get an injunction.

Worst moment of your career as a criminal barrister?

The worst case that I did was the last case, where I had begun to fall out of love and passion with the bar, and the case was deeply horrible. I had lost the capacity to feel a sense of mission and purpose, which is absolutely required for you to replenish your emotional currency every day to go out and battle on behalf of the client. I ended up getting really depleted, and consequently quite ill. That was the worst case I did. It involved human trafficking and was very, very difficult.

Worst thing about technology?

I’m like a snaggletoothed Wykehamist mixed with a Luddite. I’m so useless, it’s embarrassing. But it’s the best reason to have godchildren, right? I know they are going to be brilliant, intelligent and change the world – one of them even speaks Mandarin – but right now they can show me all of this stuff on my phone. I had no idea. I’m not just a late adopter, I only recently got on Twitter.

Worst trend of the moment?

The worst trend is to be constantly not present because you are on your phone at dinner. I hate that. I don’t care what you do the rest of the time, switch your phone off when you’re with someone.

Rob Rinder’s Interrogation Secrets is on Crime + Investigation on Sundays at 10pm and available to stream on C+I PLAY