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Riley's appointment to Countdown was announced at the same time as the announcement of a new main host, Jeff Stelling, replacing Des O'Connor; the duo of Stelling and Riley was in place for the new series beginning in January 2009.Although she had no ambition to be a television presenter, she was encouraged to apply by her mother, and decided to do so because she was interested in the numbers part of the game.While trying to please everybody with varied choices, she nonetheless takes a phlegmatic approach to the attention, commenting, "even with the same outfit you'll get polar-opposite views, so you can't win.You’ve just got to learn that you can't please everyone all of the time".
The experience put her off: although already familiar with male-dominated environments in the field of mathematics, she found the extreme behaviour of city traders wearing, and she disliked the early morning train commute.
A mathematics graduate, her television debut came when she joined Countdown aged 22.
With an interest in popularising mathematics and the sciences, she has since co-presented The Gadget Show on Channel 5 (2013–14) and It's Not Rocket Science on ITV (2016).
Riley frequently encounters close media and public scrutiny of what she wears on the show, with her wardrobe choices attracting intense social media comment on Twitter and You Tube and even national headlines.
Working with a wardrobe consultant, she obtains most of the clothes from High Street stores, although some are purchased from a small boutique near her home in Southend.On Countdown, Riley replaced the long-serving Carol Vorderman.