THERE aren’t many obvious similarities between Shappi Khorsandi and Emma, Lady Hamilton. One is a London-based comedian and former I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here contestant. The other was the Georgian socialite who rose from poverty to become, most famously, Lord Nelson’s lover. Nevertheless, Khorsandi’s new show, Mistress And Misfit, is based on the legendary beauty’s life and in researching it, she discovered that they shared several things in common.

“She was a life model, I was a life model,” reveals the London-based stand-up. “She was a cleaner, I was a cleaner. She was a single mum, I was a single mum. She modelled for George Romney, the great artist of the day, I modelled for GCSE students.”

Even the show’s title – although it refers to Lady Hamilton – is quite fitting to Khorsandi. “Including the mistress thing,” she explains. “I went out with someone for eight months and found out later that I’d been his mistress not his girlfriend.”

Khorsandi, who is rarely shy of sharing a bit of personal detail, describes how she first discovered this just before she went on a radio show. “The presenter said to me, ‘You went out with so-and-so.’ I said, ‘Yeah I did.’ And she said, ‘So did I.’”

Khorsandi did the maths and realised that when she’d been dating the man, as a single mother, he must actually have been with this other woman. “I said, ‘Oh ... That’s so strange. When I had just had my baby he targeted me. He moved fast, romanced me. At one point I said to him, ‘You’ve got a girlfriend haven’t you?’ Because I couldn’t understand why he was so on-off, hot cold.’ And she said, ‘Yes he was with me.’”

Khorsandi, 44, says it’s “all water under the bridge now”, which seems fairly typical of her current view on life. Everything she says suggests she doesn’t give a hoot about the men it didn’t work out with. With two young children to look after – Cassius, 10, and Genevieve, 4 – both from separate previous relationships, she isn’t really on the look-out for a new man either. She is also on admirably good terms with Cassius’s father, fellow comic Christian Reilly. Recently she tweeted a picture of herself with his fiancée, and the words: “Girls’ night in with my ex-husband’s fiancée. I love this woman. She’s an asset to mine and my children’s lives.”

“That situation didn’t come easily,” she admits. “We didn’t pull that out of a hat. He and I were, I would say, at war for a few years. We put each other through terrible torment.” And it’s true for quite a few years, Khorsandi’s divorce was a prominent focus for her comedy repertoire, and her red-hot anger. “Then,” she says, “when he met his fiancée and I knew her already – she’s Scottish, from Edinburgh and I’ve known her for a long time – and he told me he was going out with her I actually did a little, ‘yes!’. I thought, ‘I know her, she’s kind, intelligent, warm and she gets it.’”

“They live just around the corner from us,” she adds. “My kids adore her and what more can you ask for?” Key to this working, she says, is the fact that she and Reilly no longer have any “emotional anxiety” between them. Talking to him recently about being a single parent, she mentioned when she broke up with her “husband”, almost as if she had forgotten that he had been that husband.

Khorsandi first started to research Lady Hamilton with a view to writing a book about her. “But it was just too hard. Books are so time-consuming. And it’s too lonely.” So instead she decided to incorporate her into a show, and use her as a way of comparing the lives of lower social class women from the Georgian period to those of today. What upset her most was the way Emma Hamilton’s life ended. “In his will Nelson asked for her to be looked after financially in the event of his death. But the state didn’t honour it. They put her in a debtor’s prison. Then she fled and she died a refugee and an alcoholic in Calais.”

One of the chief differences between Lady Hamilton’s era and today, she says, is that it’s now possible for women to be financially independent – back then many were entirely dependent on men. As ever, Khorsandi manages to put this difference in an entertaining way. “I live in a world where I have the luxury of going out with skint men. Every boyfriend I have had has been skint.”

This belief in financial independence for women was instilled in her by her Iranian parents. Her father, Hadi Khorsandi, a satirist who was initially supportive of the revolution, had to leave when things became too dangerous after he made a joke that suggested the regime’s fanaticism had gone too far. “My parents came from a background where women were absolutely dependent on brothers and fathers,” she says. “And they didn’t want that for me. They didn’t move to England to have that for me.”

In fact, her parents were “quite devastated” when she told them she was getting married. “They didn’t understand why that had to happen before I had children – I was a lot more old-fashioned than they were.”

But even if she didn’t then take their view on marriage, she has always guarded her financial independence and the freedom that gave her. This meant she had options even when she was pregnant with her second child and her boyfriend “rejected the situation”, as she puts it. Because she lived “in this time and had the resources” she was able to keep her daughter, Genevieve. She contrasts this with Emma Hamilton. “She had a baby with Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh and he didn’t support her, so she was forced to foster her baby out, then spent the rest of her life missing that child.”

Khorsandi doesn’t have to look far back in her own family to see women who were forced to give up their children. “My great grandmother was forced to marry at an incredibly young age and, in order to get separated from her husband, she had to give up her children, because the law in Iran gives custody to the men immediately.”

Like Lady Hamilton, Khorsandi considers herself a misfit. Part of that relates to coming from a family who fled Iran. Her memoir, A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English, describes the strangeness of arriving in England as immigrants, as well as the fear of the regime which still pursued the family, the constant checking under cars for bombs. Today, that feeling of being an outsider comes up when she talks about reality TV show I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here, in which she featured last year alongside Amir Khan, Georgia Toffolo, Rebekah Vardy, Kezia Dugdale, Stanley Johnson and others.

“When I went on the show,” she says, “I remembered what it was like being a misfit. I remember that feeling that nothing I say connects with these people and I’m not in the gang. I’m not speaking the same language. That was a familiar feeling.”

To her relief, that feeling didn’t floor her with anxiety as it would once have done. “It was like seeing an old adversary. ‘I remember you. Hello old friend.’ I was at peace with it. In our lives we surround ourselves with like-minded people. My industry is full of people that I can turn around and share anxiety with. I couldn’t with anyone in there. I sort of held onto the feeling. I acknowledged it. Then I got the hell out as soon as I could.”

The first star to be eliminated by the public, she says the biggest strain of being on the show was being away from her children. “I think it was really tough on my four-year-old. But it was more about me. I had it tough without her because she’s at an age where she’s still a koala bear. She’s a marsupial, on me all the time, and I really suffered without that close contact with her. I thought I would be stronger about it than I was.”

While on the show, Khorsandi had to do a tandem skydive from an aeroplane. The footage shows her palpably panicked before exiting the plane. And Khorsandi, who is president of Humanists UK (formerly the British Humanist Association), says the feeling of awe she felt on this descent shows that even non-believers have spiritual feelings. “I felt an overwhelming sense of love as I floated down towards planet earth. It was so beautiful and the only word we have to describe that is spiritual, but it’s not about the supernatural. It’s about love and being human and understanding that you have a job to do while you’re here. For the sake of others. That’s what it means to me.”

She compares those feelings with her emotions while giving birth to her first child. “Someone described natural childbirth to me as touching death. I think that’s a very good description because with my first child I was on the line of life and death.” She pauses and laughs. “So that was why with my second child I had an elective caesarean. But I think the fear that I felt on the skydive was close to childbirth. It was indescribable the terror that I felt. And helplessness.”

One of the reasons Khorsandi believes she struggled with I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, was because she didn’t really grasp how to do reality television. “I spoke to Toff [winner, Georgia Toffolo] when we came out of the show and she said, ‘Look I’ve been doing reality TV all my adult life and my brain is wired for it.’ So, it’s a skill. And everyone in there knew the game. I didn’t.”

She struggled, she says, with the necessary small talk. “I realised how much of my conversation is personal. Because I’m a comedian I share so much personal stuff with people. And I’m not good at conversation that’s not like that. I’m not good at banter.”

This is one of the reasons Khorsandi is such a pleasure to chat with. She quickly gets down to the nitty gritty, the very personal, and will talk, for instance, about coming out as bisexual and how she admires the way young people today talk about sexuality. She recalls how difficult it was to be out, particularly as bisexual, when she was young. (She recently wrote that, although she was bisexual and had marched for Pride since she was 17, she'd never come out as such.) “Even within the gay community they would mock me; call me a lipstick lesbian," she says now. "My gay friends thought it was hilarious and that I was dabbling. So I played up to that. But actually, no, it really upset me when I really liked a girl and she laughed at me.”

She also describes how, even before #MeToo reshaped our consciousness, she called out a groping incident which occurred when she appeared at a charity event. “I remember this man touched my a***. And I thought, ‘Oh I can’t ignore this.’ When I got home I was shaking and so upset.” She complained about it on Twitter. “And then,” she recalls, “all this happened with Weinstein a few days later, and I thought – yeah, this shouldn’t be tolerated. Because when you touch anyone on their body you don’t know what you’re triggering. You don’t know my life experiences. You don’t know how I’m going to react if you touch my a*** or my t**s. You don’t know what that’s going to do to me. You’re lucky all it was was a tweet, because the anger I felt … if I had been drunk it might have been a much bigger scene at the actual event. Perhaps it should have been.”

A misfit? Probably. But Khorsandi is just the kind of misfit the world needs.

Mistress And Misfit will be at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow on March 15 as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, which runs March 8-25. The Sunday Herald is the festival’s media partner. For programme and tickets visit