Some eight months after I travelled down to Elstree Studios in Boreham Wood to appear in an episode of The Chase, the final recording was somewhat belatedly transmitted on Tuesday evening.
During the intervening time, any sense of genuine excitement or anticipation had long since disappeared, but as the seemingly interminable wait drew to a close, it was still a decidedly nervous viewer that settled down to watch his fifteen minutes (or so) of proverbial “fame”.
The show is recorded in small chunks with numerous on-set breaks, and a fair amount of recorded interaction is edited out of the final broadcast. So, as well as having forgotten quite a lot of the questions and conversation, I had no idea how the completed episode would be constructed – how I would be portrayed … and perceived.
It is often said that television “adds a few pounds”, so I was at least semi-prepared for the chubby face with the strangely recognisable voice that introduced himself as Richard from Middlesbrough. My fellow contestants were Liz, Ash and Jessica … I’ve stayed in touch with Jess, but that morning in the studio was the first and presumably last time I will meet the other two.
Liz was first to face the Chaser. She did well in her cash builder (£6,000), but then told Bradley Walsh (who is every bit as nice as he appears by the way) that she was quite keen to face Jenny Ryan because she was the “easiest to beat”.
Statistically, the “Vixen” is actually one of the hardest to beat … but much as the mock confrontation might make “good television”, I was cringing inside. Paul Sinha appeared – decent bloke … clever bloke – and duly dispatched his opponent after Liz contrived to throw away a three-step lead when she needed just one more correct answer to progress through to the Final Chase.
Her last question effectively asked about the length of reign of King George III. I happened to know he’d been on the throne for 60 years, and to my slight embarrassment, the camera picked me up mouthing the answer to Ash – after Liz had already given her response I hasten to add. Bradley must have seen (or been told) because as Liz’s fate was revealed, he looked over and said: “You knew that didn’t you, Rich?” and asked me for the dates in question.
“1760 to 1820.”
The face gave away nothing at all, but I was ever so smug inside..!
As Liz exited stage right (or left if you were the Chaser), Bradley introduced me as “King Richard”; and it was time for my cash builder. Interestingly, whilst I clearly remembered the two answers I got wrong (and the one pass), I could only recall a couple of the seven I managed to answer correctly. One was about the 1980s kids’ toy My Little Pony, and I had no memory at all of Bradley asking how I knew something so random….
“My Saturday hobby,” came my reply. Quite funny (well the Brad laughed), but I honestly couldn’t remember saying it.
My approach to both host and Chaser was always going to be totally respectful; and Paul actually had some very kind words as he took his seat. Beforehand, I had decided that I’d go for the higher offer if my cash builder was under £5,000 and stick if it was more. I therefore went for the £7,000, and Paul said I might regret it as I was, in his words, a “very, very good player”. I certainly didn’t see myself that way; I was also very nervous … oh, and a born coward.
I knew the answer to my first question, but nearly pressed the wrong button – firstly because the buttons are really small (like on a computer keyboard); and secondly because my hand was shaking so much. After that, it was basically a string of semi-educated guesses. Luck was certainly on my side as Paul got one wrong that I guessed correctly, but watching the show back, I couldn’t recall what I’d pressed and actually got the question wrong at home!
When I was one from home and four clear … the gift of quality guesswork suddenly deserted me. Within moments, the gap had been halved, but I was absolutely sure I knew the answer to the next question (which was about Dante’s “Divine Comedy”). I was all set to press B … until the third answer appeared and it sounded equally convincing.
Get it wrong, and I would be only one question away from being caught … after being four in front … on national television. I tried to look calm, but my heart was racing.
Bradley laughed after noticing me go to press and sharply pull back. In the end I forced myself to go with my gut instinct (and sadly, it looked like quite a large gut). B was correct, I was “home” and now I would be able to enjoy the full Chase experience. It was a good feeling.
Ash got back with an impressive £8,000 despite confidently stating that Penny Lane (as in The Beatles song) was in London, not Liverpool – there was quite a backlash on Twitter too … all a bit unnecessary, but thankfully it diverted attention away from a particularly poor choice I made to a question about ice cream flavours.
Jess duly boosted the imaginary pot by a further £5,000, and after Ash picked out ping-pong ball “B” (representing a set of questions) from a purple bag, the three of us got ready for the final instalment of the show. If one of us knew an answer, then fine, but our strategy was to go “one, two, press” and then pass or guess at any questions that weren’t immediately obvious, to waste as little time as possible.
The questions felt quite tricky … and the pressure of being against the clock, under lights, in front of television cameras all have a sudden and frustrating effect on your memory. But we got 19 – one short of the nominal target we had set ourselves.
It seemed competitive. The “Sinnerman” thought so too … before rattling off a virtually faultless round that saw us caught with fully 20 seconds remaining.
Paul only got two questions wrong – which we (or rather Ash and Jess) got right, so we couldn’t have done any more. On the day we probably needed another four correct answers (or Liz plus another three answers). Basically, however well we had done (and Paul was generous in victory), we had been hammered; but I’d rather have lost by a distance than been pipped with a second to go.
And that was that. A farewell handshake from Bradley Walsh and the adventure was over. It was a good experience, but too regimented to be totally enjoyable – no chance of any photos … in fact you don’t even get to meet the Chaser. Even on the tightest schedule, it would have taken two minutes to make the day really “special”. Thankfully, courtesy of my laptop’s snipping tool, I now have a couple of pictures to remember my brief foray into the world of television quiz shows … the day I won absolutely nothing, but also the day I was crowned “King Richard”.
all pictures copyright ITV
So much has happened these past few weeks that I’d almost lost track of the number of “challenges” to raise mental health awareness that I’d actually completed; but after a swift recount, I can confirm that as of today, the number is 110.
The 110th task (which took place last Saturday) to receive a tick was “to sing with a band” – a big enough challenge in itself, but something that was also arranged without Elaine’s knowledge so that the event would come as a total surprise…
As has been the case for the majority of the hundred-plus challenges, I had to ask for help. I know it’s that same old reference or link to the first time I sat in front of my GP and tried to explain just how low I was feeling … but it remains every bit as relevant as it did when the very first task was attempted back in January 2014.
On this occasion, I got in touch with Carl Pemberton to ask if he might be willing to get involved. Although we live just a couple of miles apart, we didn’t know each other; but if you thought Carl’s name was familiar…
He was one half of Journey South, who finished third in the X Factor back in 2005 and whose eponymous debut album reached the top of the charts the following year.
As well as running his own studio, Carl now sings and plays guitar in a band called V12; and he kindly agreed to help me get on stage and sing a song at one of their upcoming gigs.
If he’d heard my voice in advance, the answer may have been different, but after choosing a song (“All the Small Things” by Blink 182), I drove down to meet my new “band mates” (Jason and Adam play bass and drums respectively) and Carl’s wife Vic who was in charge of all things managerial and technical.
We had a quick chat about the reasons behind the challenges before a first full run-through of the song. At this point I should say that my singing voice is actually really deep (and incredibly manly … obviously), and I had to sing an octave below Carl. As an 11 year-old, I was in the school choir and had an angelic treble voice to match my equally angelic looks. Sadly (as I’m sure you’ve already guessed) things went badly downhill in both the vocal and facial departments during my teens. My voice hasn’t deteriorated too much over the subsequent decades … oh well; one out of two…
The first attempt went far better than I expected – as did the second – and Carl and I arranged to have one further session a week or so before the actual performance (which was to be at The Fox Inn in Guisborough on 12 May).
Elaine had been at work for that initial rehearsal, but that wouldn’t be the case for the next one. I made up what I thought was a plausible excuse to pop out for an hour, and Carl and I duly recorded an acoustic demo version of the song which would help me practice on the trips to and from work during the week.
Carl reassured me that I was not only in tune, but actually the two different pitches blended together surprisingly well. In fact, he told me twice because I didn’t believe him the first time…
I wasn’t totally convinced the second time if the truth be told!
Anyway, the plan was that Carl would do a bit of an introduction and get me up on stage during the second half of the performance at The Fox. The only problem was that as Elaine was still blissfully unaware of what was about to happen, Vic, the band and I would all have to ignore each other so as not to arouse any suspicion!
Once the evening got underway, V12 sounded fantastic; but with every passing song, I was getting more and more nervous. The biggest of a number of worries was finding the right first note – start in tune, stay in tune; but what was becoming clear was that at full volume, I almost certainly wouldn’t be able to actually hear if I was in tune or not!
Elaine knows me incredibly well and she later admitted that she was wondering why I was wearing a black t-shirt (was it just to look “trendy”?); why I hadn’t gone to say hello to the band (because I’m a sociable chap), and why we hadn’t left at half time (I usually get tired…). However, the possibility that I might actually get up and sing had never crossed her mind.
Carl said a few words, and on hearing my name, all the pennies dropped at the same time. “You’re not…?”
Up on stage, it was just a case of going for it. A short guitar intro, I opened my mouth … and it was Barry White meets Blink 182 – sort of!! As expected I couldn’t hear my voice, but I didn’t sense that I was off-key, and Carl wasn’t giving me any funny looks, so I just decided to do my best and enjoy the next two-and-a-bit minutes.
And I definitely did – even though it all went in a bit of a blur. There weren’t too many in the audience – in fact the whole of Guisborough was really quiet for a Saturday night – but the reaction was great (or so I was told; I actually can’t remember!). As I returned to my seat, the first thing I had to do was to apologise to Elaine for the previous weekend’s white lie; Vic then came and sat down with us, relieved I think that she no longer had to pretend we didn’t know each other!
The gig ended with covers of two U2 songs – far from easy to play or sing, but the guys nailed them … really impressively. Afterwards, it was introductions all round and a chance for a chat and a couple of pictures, before the curtain came down on the briefest of careers as a rock singer.
I honestly can’t say a big enough thank you to Carl, Jason, Adam, and to Vic as well. V12 are a superb band made up of three top-class musicians; they absolutely didn’t have to get involved, but I’m so glad that they did – and it was a memorable experience.
This blog unintentionally coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week, although really this week shouldn’t be any different to the other 51 as far as talking about mental health is concerned. I know how difficult it is to be open about how you feel, and how much courage it can take to ask for help; but I also know what can be achieved if you can find the strength to take that first step.
The 109th of my list of 120 “challenges” to try and raise mental health awareness was “to meet a current or former soap actor”; and latest tick was duly added when I had the chance to spend a few minutes with Cheryl Fergison last night.
As most of you will already know, Cheryl played the role of Heather Trott in Eastenders, a great character, wonderfully brought to life (before her untimely demise courtesy of a photo frame of all things). What some may not realise though is that Cheryl has also appeared in my all-time favourite programme Doctor Who (as Mrs Lloyd in the 2005 episodes “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”). Instant and permanent credibility in my eyes!
Anyway, Cheryl was starring in “Menopause the Musical” at the Billingham Forum; I had been in touch with her agent a few weeks in advance to explain the reasons behind the challenges, and to ask if it might be possible to meet Cheryl after the show. A short while later, I received a lovely message from the lady herself to confirm the time and place…
Totally by chance, I had ordered tickets for the musical on the very day they were released, and in my infinite wisdom, I picket seats A3 and A4 … front row centre. What could possibly go wrong?
Well I had an inkling after my boss from work went to see the show in Doncaster a few weeks earlier. She told me it had been a great night; but where was I sitting, because the nearest bloke to the front was, let’s say, “picked on”.
I checked my tickets again … oh dear.
When we arrived at the theatre, it was glaringly obvious that there was a distinct lack of males – one lady said I was “brave” as I took my seat … another simply smiled that knowing smile…
For the record, the show was amazing. The four ladies on stage, Cheryl, Maureen Nolan, Rebecca Wheatley and Hilary O’Neil were fantastic; there were laughs galore (I laughed even when I didn’t understand what they were talking about…), and their singing, both individually and collectively was superb.
Was I picked on? Oh you bet I was!
My reactions ranged from amusement, via slight embarrassment, to genuine fear … but I sat and took it like a man (not that I had much choice…). Actually, in all seriousness, the interaction actually made the evening even more enjoyable.
A thoroughly deserved standing ovation greeted the end of the show, and Elaine and I made our way to the stage door. The cast were due to leave almost straightaway to head north to their next location (Newcastle upon Tyne), but we arrived just a couple of minutes before Cheryl appeared.
Obviously, there are quite a few “soaps” on television, and by definition a lot of people who have appeared in one (or quite often several), but I’m so glad it was Cheryl who I asked to help me with this particular task. She not only recognised me, but had taken the time to find out about what I was doing – and why – and she could not have been nicer. We were able to have a quick chat and a couple of photos, and Cheryl even encouraged the other audience members gathered by the stage door to find out more about my efforts to raise mental health awareness, which was such a kind thing to do.
So many of the challenges have involved asking someone I didn’t know for some kind of help (just as I did when I first visited my doctor to try and explain that I was struggling…); and it’s amazing how many of those people I’ve approached have been willing to give their time to support someone they’ve never met before. So thank you Cheryl; it was just brilliant to meet you…
As a brief postscript, over the past four-and-a-half years I have been incredibly lucky to meet a number of people like Cheryl who are talented (in their chosen field), generous and inspiring – but until last night, I’d never met one of my teenage crushes before; and on the basis she’s unlikely to ever read this…
I met Maureen Nolan!!
The passage of time hasn’t been all that kind to me, but I have to say that Maureen remains a stunningly attractive woman. It was lovely to briefly meet her, and I’m glad (and relieved) that I kept my composure and didn’t blurt out something totally embarrassing along the lines of: “I fancied you when I was 15…”!
Anyway, 109 challenges down, 11 to go before this five-year adventure draws to a close. There are more plans in the pipeline, but for now … that was the story of the evening when Walford and a series of hot flushes converged on Teesside. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog, and please always remember that it’s fine to talk about mental health … and to ask for help if you’re struggling.