There are some things you just have to say YES to…and when I got an email from the producers of University Challenge inviting me to represent the University of Sheffield (where I studied for my PhD) in the Christmas Special series YES was my immediate response!
Of course, after saying yes the horrible reality sunk in. I’m pretty good at shouting at the TV when University Challenge is on and I reckon I get a good hit-rate with the questions, but of course I rapidly started analyzing my “performance”:
- I tend to ignore or discount those I get wrong
- I tend to consider those I “knew” but couldn’t think of at the time as a success
- There’s no pressure of buzzing
- You’re not on national TV looking like an idiot
This analysis was slightly troubling…
Pretty soon my team was announced along with the fact that I would be captaining. This means that I have to convey the answers to the fearsome Paxman during the conferring rounds…so no pressure there. Team Sheffield included the football journalist Sid Lowe, architect Ruth Reed and novelist Nicci Gerrard, better known as one half of the thriller writer husband-wife team Nicci French. We exchanged a few nervous emails but pretty much realized that there was nothing we could do now to prepare. It’s obscure general knowledge – what could you revise?!
The fateful day arrived for our heat, which was shrouded in secrecy. We didn’t know who we’d be playing although some detective work on Twitter meant that I was pretty sure we were up against Aberdeen. And sure enough, it was a Sheffield/Aberdeen clash in the penultimate heat.
Filming took place at Media City in Salford and was running very smoothly. They’d already filmed two heats by the time we arrived. We met Aberdeen beforehand (leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Chief Scientist of FERA, DJ Nicky Campbell and the head of ITV Factual) and then got whisked off to make-up and a quick chat with Jeremy Paxman. It turns out he’s lovely when he’s not sitting in the quizmaster’s chair. Powder applied we were suddenly sitting in the famous chairs and Jeremy was asking us questions….gulp…cue the fastest-slowest 28 minutes of my life.
With only the 4 highest scoring, winning teams of the 14 assembled going through to the semi-finals, the pressure was on…To find out how we did in our heat, tune in on 28th December at 8pm on BBC2!