Cash for questions: what's next for big-money gameshows?

In 2000, the garden designer Judith Keppel began to think she could win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? “The show had only been going for two years but it was huge – we’d never had a cash prize that big before – and I started to realise the questions weren’t that hard,” she says. “I began calling in to try and get on, so much so that BT rang me at one point to ask whether someone else was using my line. After about 250 attempts and a huge bill, I made it.”

On 20 November, Keppel became the first person to win the show in the UK and leave with £1m. Her winning question was “Which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?” (the answer is Henry II). “Winning absolutely changed my life because, at the time, I was worried about money since I was in between jobs,” she says. “After the win, the media response was huge and I was asked to do all sorts of funny things like open flower shows and then I was offered Eggheads in 2003, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.”

At its peak, the year before Keppel’s win, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was bringing in 19 million viewers per episode. “With Millionaire, we had our Concorde moment,” the gameshow producer and quiz writer David Bodycombe says, “it was the largest prize we’d seen on British TV and it was pulling in the biggest ratings as a consequence. It’s been difficult to know where to go from there in terms of rewards for contestants.”

Read the feature in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 09/04/20]