It all got a little awkward for a few moments as there seemed to be an expectation that we contestants knew what to do and where to go, and I felt a bit silly asking, but was duly guided back to the green room for a few moments, and then on to the dreaded challenger's hot seat.
All my life, I've had a fear of talking to large groups and have often struggled when presenting to a room full of people I don't know. A lack of self confidence and elements of shyness were not the best mix when I sat in the chair and saw seven TV cameras staring me down! Knowing that there were going to more than half a dozen people watching this on TV at some point scared me witless. I just hadn't prepared for this feeling at all, and had a huge sense of rising panic - for a moment I actually wondered if I would be able to continue, such were the nerves.
Clothes sorted, mic sorted, head powdered - just needed to stick my reading glasses on now. I wear glasses for close up stuff such as reading, laptop, etc, but cannot see a thing beyond three feet away when wearing them as the world goes as blurry as it does after a bottle of whisky. This didn't help in the TV studio where I needed to see both close up and distance, and didn't want to be donning and removing specs every two minutes as my hands were shaking so badly. I elected to go without - I could cope with close up if I squinted a little, and given the intensity of the lighting, squinting was the order of the day anyway. It felt like a universe of stars above, with a couple of pretty severe lights shining on the contestants chairs - like Mastermind but bigger!
Camera's rolling, lights up, the monitor showing the opening credits, and Dudley (the warm up guy) drumming up the audience applause. This was like sitting at the top of the Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool, staring out over the abyss, knowing that the huge drop was coming - heart in mouth, and sweaty palms.... shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit here we go!
Len Hughes was the reigning champion having beaten David Pooley the day before. Nick Hewer's intro for Len was pretty harsh - basically saying that he had only won because David had messed it up. Before I knew it, my intro interview and come and gone. A bit of chat about being a swimming ref, and then the game started.
Now I was desperate to not go behind too early as I think I would have just fallen apart - I really need to stay at least level during the opening rounds until I could gain some composure and get over the panic. The panic was know longer a rising panic - it was pretty much all consuming now. I managed to level the first two letters rounds which helped calm me down, and I always fancy my chances in the numbers rounds..... but it felt like disaster had struck when stared at my very first set of numbers and couldn't make head nor tail of them, and didn't even manage to get anything close enough to declare. It was such a relief to hear Len declare nothing before it came to me!
After the break, the game came much easier, and I spotted a couple of nice 8s, and won a numbers round to take a decent lead into the end game, which ultimately was won well before the end.
That was it - I'd done it, and achieved a lifelong ambition to be a Countdown champion and to win a coveted Countdown teapot. Katharine was peeved that after all this, my contribution to the household was an ornament, rather than the thousands of pounds on offer from other gameshows!
My next problem was no longer one of panic - I'd overcome that and settled down. My problem now was the headache that was growing out of tiredness, from not wearing my glasses, and from the ridiculously bright lights.
Next up was Patricia Hill. This game came and went in a blur and I was never in trouble, but by the end the headache was becoming a significant problem, and with all the adrenalin of the first game gone, I was thoroughly exhausted. I don't just mean a little weary from a long day after a sleepless night - I was having real difficulty focussing my vision, and the letters and numbers I was writing were moving around on the page. I totally under-estimated how tough it was going to be to play multiple games back to back like this.
Next up, a young maths student, and Mason Duke was a name I recognised from Apterous. Clearly this was going to be the end of my run, but I had enjoyed it immensely, despite feeling pretty rotten by this stage. The first two letters games saw me drop 14-0 behind, and it was looking pretty desperate. If this guy was going to destroy me in the letters rounds, what chance would I have given that he is a maths student and should crush me in the numbers rounds? It seemed though that he did not cope well with the pressure as he was unable to declare anything in the first numbers game, and I had a solution, albeit 3 away...... until oops, I'd mis-declared my result. He then declared nothing in the second numbers game too, and I found a 2 away result, although missed a really easy solution.
It was a poor game that came down to Mason having a spectacular falling apart. In the final numbers game he had not written his solution down, and then proceeded to state an incorrect number when calling out his method. Now it was plain to everyone that this was nothing more than a verbal slip as the numbers he required were obvious, however the filming was paused and the situation was sent upstairs to the production team for an adjudication - their decision being to disallow Mason's solution on the grounds that he hadn't written down his method, and had then mis-declared. I declared my method (exactly the same method as Mason's was supposed to have been), and that put me out of reach and meant the Conundrum round was superfluous.
So that was it - three games, three wins. Totally unexpected, and felt great, despite feeling like I had been several rounds with Mike Tyson by this stage! At least the filming crew were getting a week off now, which meant that my next round would not be until Monday 23rd March.
There was some discussion at this stage about my availability for the Quarter Finals. I needed five wins to get a place in the last 8, and that was now a growing possibility. I would need to consider arrangements for getting home from Manchester and then straight to Glasgow with Rebecca - this was going to be a challenge if it occurred! But, still at least two more challengers to get through yet, and not going to count any chickens.
Detailed recaps of the first three games can be found here, courtesy of the 4cCountdown forum site.
It was after 6pm, and I had the rush hour traffic to contend with, and a drive home from Manchester to Droitwich and bed, ready for an early start at the work in the morning. I felt like I could sleep right through to March 23rd!!
More to follow....