Belfast Telegraph

Terrifying... Mastermind champ's answer after being quizzed on that famous black chair

Mastermind presenter John Humphrys with this year's winner Aidan McQuade
Mastermind presenter John Humphrys with this year's winner Aidan McQuade
Michael Collins was one of Aidan McQuade's specialist subjects on the road to victory
Abraham Lincoln was one of Aidan McQuade's specialist subjects on the road to victory

By Amanda Poole

South Armagh brainbox Aidan McQuade has given his verdict on his time in the famous black Mastermind chair.

"To say I was nervous would be putting it mildly – it was terrifying," he said.

The 47-year-old needn't have worried, as viewers of the long-running BBC quiz watched him win the coveted title and "fruitbowl trophy", as he calls it, with the greatest of ease on Friday.

Aidan told the Belfast Telegraph he grew up watching Mastermind, so when it was time to sit opposite quizmaster John Humphrys he knew he had to be prepared. The London-based chief executive of human rights organisation Anti-Slavery International spent six months ahead of the grand final reading up on his chosen specialist subject – the 19th century US President Abraham Lincoln.

Aidan said: "I've always liked the show and I thought I should give it a crack at some stage.

"I've noticed my memory slipping in recent years so I thought I had better do it sooner rather than later. I grew up watching Mastermind on Sunday nights with Magnus Magnusson and I love the format."

Aidan, who worked for Oxfam in Ethiopia and Angola for 10 years before taking up his current post, was inspired to answer questions on Lincoln because of the US leader's successful fight to abolish slavery.

"Lincoln is one of the few true world figures," Aidan said.

"When you read all about him you can see what an attractive character he is. He was a funny man and one who faced his country being ripped apart to end slavery. Most people don't realise there is a minimum of 21 million people still in slavery today, so if me being on Mastermind can bring that into focus, that pleases me."

The modest charity director – a fan of running, chess and cooking a "reasonable Thai curry" in his downtime – said he was "not a demon quizzer" but that he had always found them "interesting and entertaining".

Educated at the Abbey Christian Brothers' Grammar School in Newry and then Queen's University, over the years he represented Killeavy in the Scor quiz run by the GAA, winning the Ulster Championships. Then, in 2002, while he was a PhD student at Strathclyde University he took part in University Challenge.

Aidan said he had no plans to enter any other competition after the Mastermind final, which was filmed last November.

He is currently sunning himself in France with his "long-suffering girlfriend" and said his family in south Armagh wouldn't let him get carried away with his new Mastermind status. "If I tried that I'd get a slap," he laughed.

Specialist subject... staying cool under questioning

By Malachi O'Doherty

If it was only self-conscious nerds who took part in the brain-stretching quiz Mastermind, then the winner of the final would have scored one point more than he did.

Aidan McQuade, of Newry, pulled off an astonishing performance displaying a familiarity with astronomy, Caribbean poetry, the history of cinema and the origins of strudel, to take the lead among six finalists.

He got 14 right answers in a barrage of questions while in the hotseat.

Sitting at home, I got six of them, and then allowed that I did actually know the answers to two others and might have scored eight.

More likely, I would have scored three or four under that pressure.

And all this was aside from McQuade's chosen specialist subject, his third in the contest. He had got to the final by establishing his expertise in Michael Collins and the novels of Dennis Lehane.

He says he chose the life of Abraham Lincoln for his third confrontation with quiz master John Humphrys because he thought Lincoln would be "a nice person to spend a few months with".

More work goes into preparing for a quiz than most students put into an exam paper.

Viewers at home probably think that contestants specialise in subjects they have already established a familiarity with, and presumably McQuade's knowledge of Lincoln was reinforced by his work with the charity Anti-Slavery International, a human rights organisation, and perhaps also by the coincidence of the Oscar-winning film.

McQuade told Humphrys that he coped with "undiluted fear" in the hotseat by rationalising that: "It takes as much energy to think as to panic."

Therefore it is better to think.

The Mastermind quiz requires a contestant not just to be an expert on one thing, but to be well enough versed in general knowledge to bat back questions about pop music, politics and architecture.

The show is constructed to maximise the pressure on the contestant, though Humphrys has a gentler style on the quiz than he does on the Today Programme.

The contestants wait like children outside a headmaster's office.

They then walk across the floor to the hotseat and settle themselves under a spotlight, like prisoners waiting for interrogation.

Then the pace of the questions requires fast thinking and a focus on tactics, for sometimes it is better to bluff even a silly answer than to pass.

Aidan McQuade's achievement is mighty.

Belfast Telegraph


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