Recorded on June 30th 2005 at BBC Television Centre, my episode was broadcast on September 17th.
Having applied only 2 months before, it was disheartening to see the same researchers at my audition that I had for my Holiday Jetset audition (which a friend and I failed to get on the previous year). Thinking I was doomed, and literally having to guess every one of the 30 multiple-choice questions on the general knowledge worksheet, I resigned myself to another disappointment. However, I was called in last for my piece-to-camera and told that they actually remembered me from Jetset, but I was ‘too loud’ for the show, and for the delicate Eamon Holmes apparently. They asked me to audition there and then not only for Dale Winton’s ‘In it to Win it’ but for Channel 4’s ‘Coach Trip’.
Sadly, it appears I didn’t get through with the latter, but found myself being pampered 4-star stylee in London for the National Lottery quiz! Two nights in a top hotel, sirloin steak dinner, full English brekkie and a chance to win up to £100,000.
After breakfast, I met another competitor and spoke to the previous night’s contestants – 3 of whom won something like £15,000 each. Our chauffeur took us to BBC Television Centre where we waited in the Foyer for the others. A heavily tanned and bubbly Scottish woman, Ruth, worked with children, Stew was a dog trainer who’d invented a new kind of pooper-scooper, Anna was a model from London and Louise was also from nearby (can’t remember what she did!). Believe it or not, the lottery show isn’t live – it’s all a big con – only the drawing of the balls is live, otherwise Dale is carefully dressed in the same clothes and the quiz is pre-recorded.
We were looked after ridiculously well all day long by the 12 Yard production team. First, we were filmed for the black-and-white portion of the show at the beginning, with each of us exiting the Mercedes at the front of the building. Constantly encouraged to be wacky and over the top, I jumped right up to the camera in a fit of excitement. We then had lunch, watched a show from the last series, checked out the studio and did a practice round.
We then went for make up, I was still quite sunburnt from Spain so they had to colour my neck in, causing me to look rather David Dickinson-esque in normal light. Hourly make-up top-ups were then required until the recording.
Dale Winton was a bit of a diva! The studio – which would normally be boiling with all the lights – was freezing cold as Dale insists on air conditioning to prevent him sweating! He even has a personal pipe above his podium which blasts cool air over him throughout the day! Unlike Anne Robinson, Dale sat down with us all for 50 minutes before filming, made the effort to get to know us all. I think I scared him a little, and he refused to listen to the graphic details of my Ugandan mass circumcision anecdote, which happened to crop up naturally in conversation. He’s taller than you’d imagine, strange seeing him smoking, and he’s also really saucy!
Lots of practice rounds, lecturing, disclaimer signing and make-up top-ups later, we were ready to head off to the studio (via the infamous BBC canteen!). We then spent 45-minutes doing coverage film, i.e. bits of ‘filler’ footage the editors can fall back on – each of us had to pretend we’d lost, won or were nervous, happy or annoyed. It was difficult to do it on cue, but when we were done our friends and relatives had arrived. Each contestant had to nominate two people to stand in the gallery overlooking the studio, the camera catches their reactions and we get to introduce who we’ve bought along. I’d bought my old friend Amy, a singer/dancer and Milly, a co-host on my radio show at University. Some other university friends were also supporting me in the (tiny) audience.
Here’s how the game works… 5 ‘waiting area’ chairs are opposite 5 ‘Winner’s Row’ chairs, all contestants start off in the waiting area with a personal colour. If their colour is randomly drawn by a special lottery machine, they get to answer £5000-a-pop multiple choice questions over at Winner’s Row. If they get one wrong, they go to the ‘Red Area’ and another colour is drawn. A new contestant heads over to Winner’s Row and gets to answer questions and the remaining person in the ‘Red Area’ is offered a lifeline question – if correct, they’re back in Winner’s Row, if they’re wrong, they head back to the waiting area. When the klaxon is sounded, all those left in Winner’s Row get to answer a final question and if correct, they win a share of (or all of) the cash (up to £100,000 – the biggest prize in the history of the BBC). Sounds complicated, but in theory, everyone could end up in Winner’s Row and get a share of the cash, or no-one could end up in Winner’s Row and there’s also a chance that a contestant never even gets to move from the waiting area.
The cameras rolled and Louise’s colour was drawn first – she joined Dale and answered question-after-question correctly. She got to 11 correct answers, the second longest run in the series, making the rest of us worry that we’d never even get a look-in. She tripped up on question 12 and went to the red area. Stew’s colour was then drawn, he also got lots right, the money heading way up past the £80,000 mark. Ruth, Anna and I became slightly concerned that we might be joining the minority of contestants that never even got to have a bit of banter with Dale, let alone answer questions.
Every so often, Dale would glance over to the waiting area, asking, sympathetically, if we were ok. I humourlessly conjured up something like “it’s pants over here Dale” and “this is crap, but whatcanyoudo, eh?” – perhaps I should’ve actually planned something moderately witty to dish out to Winton, but to be fair, there’s very few jokes written about situations where “you’re in one place, but want to be in a place 6 metres away”. Any related hilarious japes or one-liners would have no doubt been exhausted in the first couple of episodes. At one point in the show, Dale did ask me who I’d bought along and commiserated me, saying I’d been ‘brilliant all day long’ – but I wasn’t listening, so looked like a complete tit.
In the last minute, Louise got one wrong and a final opportunity to scoop some of the cash without answering a ton of questions arose. This was it! Despite having all fingers and toes crossed, a pink ball popped up, dashing my travel dreams and hopes of paying off my student loan. Anna jammily headed over to Winner’s Row and, after a few minutes, just one correct answer put her, Stew and Louise in the final.
Ruth and I exited the stage and I realised that my moment of fame on prime-time Saturday night BBC1 consisted of “pants” and “crap”. All three finalists won £28,000 each after answering their final questions correctly.
I was already resigned to the fact I wouldn’t actually win, if only after my Weakest Link performance. I was in it for ‘shits-and-giggles’ – not ‘to-win-it’ – only really thinking of the money on the day, when everyone starting rambling on about it and asking how you’d spend it. The questions weren’t as bad as I’d expected and infuriatingly, I’d actually won £20,000 in the practice round!