Before They Were Famous

Good Game Guides - Articles



Fame. It's a fickle mistress. One minute you're the host of a popular ITV game show and the next you're doing amateur theatre in Godalming. But this Good Game Guide takes a view of the opposite side of the mountain. The North Face. The way up. For many wannabees, being a contestant on a high profile game show is a chance to be noticed by an agent, the newspapers or just have an extra 15 minutes of fame.

So we bring you our guide to celebrities who were on game shows before they were famous:


  • Actress Miriam Margolyes appeared on an early series of University Challenge and claims to have been the first person to say the f-word on British telly, after getting a starter question wrong.
  • Nicholas Crane, travel writer and the BBC's face of popular geography, was on the Oxford University team in the 1982 series of Now Get Out of That. He also (at least) once turned up to do a demonstration for the contestants on Survival Challenge which, not coincidentally, was hosted by his cousin Richard.
  • Documentary presenter Monty Halls (of Five's Great Ocean Adventures and BBC Two's Great Escape) won the 2004 one-off, Superhuman.
Amanda Holden (centre)
  • Before her acting career took off, Dame Maggie Smith was a hostess on Double Your Money.
  • Crimewatch presenter Rav Wilding lasted ten weeks as a contestant on 2002 reality flop Eden, and Johny Pitts was there from beginning to end.
  • David Spinx (EastEnders' Keith Miller) was a contestant on One to Win in 2000.
  • Not forgetting Janice Long who first appeared on 3-2-1 with her husband in 1978, later becoming a DJ for Radio 1.
  • He turned up on all sorts of things before graduating to actual presenting work, but we reckon one of Jem Stansfield's (Bang Goes the Theory, Planet Mechanics) earliest TV appearances, if not his very first, was as a technical expert on Scrapheap Challenge.
  • Consumer rights champion Dominic Littlewood appeared on The Other Half in 1999, two years before Faking It gave him his big break.
  • At the tender age of 14, Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman sung 'Venus' on Grampian TV's New Faces copycat The Big Break in 1989. She didn't win her heat (coming joint fourth - a pianist won) but seventeen years later, ended up winning the Comic Relief version of Fame Academy.
  • On a somewhat similar note, Claire Sweeney belted out 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' in BBC North West's brief 1987 revival of Top Town and later finished as runner-up on the first Celebrity Big Brother (which was also tied in with Comic Relief).


  • Arguably Steve Coogan came to fame partly due to his Krypton Factor observation round comedy skits.
  • Perrier-nominated comedian Daniel Kitson was a contestant on Blockbusters.
  • Fellow We Need Answers star Alex Horne won three episodes of Countdown in 2008.

Sports stars

  • Chris Rawlinson, top sprint-hurdler, made it to the last eight in the 1995 series of Gladiators.
  • Kelly Holmes, double-gold Olympian and last line of Britain's war defences, was scheduled to be a con-ten-derrrr a year before. However, due to a sporting commitment, she had to pull out.
  • It was almost inevitable that one of the competitors on Big Brother Celebrity Hijack would go on to greater things, they'd been chosen as high-flying young people. Contestant and boxer Anthony Ogogo won a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.


  • Folk singer June Tabor captained the St. Hugh's College, Oxford team on University Challenge in 1968.
  • Jon Marsh, mainman of 90s pop-dance combo The Beloved ("The Sun Rising", "Sweet Harmony" - featuring Tess Daly in the video) was a Countdown octochamp in 1987 and made it to the semifinals where he lost to the eventual series champion.
  • Katie Melua won the "Stars Up Their Noses" talent-show segment of Mad for It.
  • Top Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer wrote the theme music for Going for Gold.


  • Moira Stuart, the BBC newsreader who was originally an actor, was an Argond on The Adventure Game.
  • Conservative front-bencher David Lidington captained the winning 1978 Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge team on University Challenge and returned 24 years later to lead them to another victory on the University Challenge Reunited series.
Sebastian Faulks
  • Other University Challenge alumni include Clive James, Sebastian Faulks, Christopher Hitchens, politicians David Mellor and Malcolm Rifkind, historians Simon Schaffer (captain of the victorious Trinity College, Cambridge team in 1975) and Dr. David Starkey, and journalist John Simpson.
  • Kwasi Kwarteng won University Challenge in 1995 as part of the Trinity College, Cambridge side. He was elected to parliament as the Conservative MP for Spelthorne in 2010.
  • Andrew Collins (pundit and 6 Music DJ) appeared with his family on Telly Addicts.
  • The late newspaper columnist and presenter John Diamond was a contestant on Countdown in 1986, winning two games.
  • Columnist and Nuts editor Pete Cashmore was also on Countdown. He was champion of series 38 in 1997, and later sold his 20-volume OED for £1000 on eBay.


  • Anthony Morley was a contestant on God's Gift in 1996. He was convicted of murder in 2008. By coincidence, his victim, Damian Oldfield, was in the audience for Morley's show, having previously been a contestant himself.
  • John Cooper was convicted of two double murders in 2011. He had been a contestant on Bullseye in 1989, shortly before the second of these double murders, and the episode was used during the trial as evidence that his appearance at the time matched the description of a suspect given to police.

Members of the public

  • Teenager Janice Nichols became something of a phenomenon thanks to her catchphrase "Oi'll give it five", delivered in a broad Brummie accent, on Thank Your Lucky Stars.
  • Before appearing as a Housemate on Big Brother 4 and becoming one of Sky's Brainiac team, Jon Tickle appeared on Blockbusters.


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