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Chris Tarrant says NI-based syndicate never rinsed Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? anywhere near amount claimed and they didn’t cheat game show

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Chris Tarrant, then presenter of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Chris Tarrant, then presenter of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Keith Burgess on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Keith Burgess on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Keith Burgess, who has co-written a book on the operation

Keith Burgess, who has co-written a book on the operation

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Chris Tarrant, then presenter of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Two men have bragged of milking Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? of millions of pounds in prize money thanks to their Northern Ireland-based phone syndicate.

But Chris Tarrant — famed for fronting around 600 episodes of Millionaire — insists the team didn’t take anywhere near the amount they claim from the show.

And he believes they were only testing the system to its limits and didn’t cheat.

Chris (75) shared his views with Sunday Life after Dungannon man Keith Burgess and his English quiz fanatic pal Paddy Spooner told how they rinsed at least £4.2m from the ITV show.

He said: “I talk to Paul Smith [Millionaire’s producer] and co about it quite often. Some of the sums of money that they claimed, I honestly don’t believe.

“We knew that there was a syndicate of fanatical quizzers who were trying to work out ways of getting together and winning money on the show.

“There was some serious money to be won. When they’re claiming that ‘Over the years we made £7 or £8 million’, I don’t believe that. I just don’t.

“It would mean they made a few hundred thousand out of quite a lot of contestants.

“We don’t think — and we went through it pretty carefully — that they actually broke any rules. It was just a system, like a lot of things, like horse racing.

“We don’t think they did anything illegal, and it was very hard to stop.

“They just basically made lots and lots of calls. They were quite bright and were all keen quiz players and I think what happened in the end [was that] quite a few of them made some money. Not a lot, but some money.”

Burgess and Spooner’s alleged £4.2m Millionaire haul would have represented 26% of all the winnings from the show in a five-year spell between 2002 and 2007.

The operation included having Phone-A-Friend numbers rerouted to their safe house, which was in Lurgan, Co Armagh; quiz experts mixed with genuine friends; a neutral person, dubbed ‘The Voice’, who would answer Chris’ call; a woman on a computer using Google and a phone that would not click with the mute button as the group conferred on answers.

To help contestants get on the show, Burgess and Spooner said they spent thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours dialling premium-rate telephone registration lines. Once through, they played recordings of their would-be contestant leaving a message giving their name and number.

Burgess and Spooner revealed their ploys in their tell-all 2021 book, Quiz: The Consortium, The Truth.

Burgess revealed: “Over five years, this joint enterprise would successfully negotiate the call-back question more than 200 times. Furthermore, 55 of those fortunate quizzers would find themselves seated opposite Chris Tarrant in the programme’s hot seat.”

Spooner was a contestant on Millionaire in three countries, while Burgess appeared on the UK, Irish and Australian shows.

Chris told us, in a chat from his Berkshire mansion, about their repeat appearances: “We went, ‘Hang on, there’s this bloke who’s been on five or six times,’ but if you can spend enough money on the phone lines, you can keep trying to get on.

“Paddy Spooner — he was just a kind of obsessive quiz player, and this particular quiz was, and still is, the most lucrative in the world.

“He was quite depressed, I think, when he ‘only’ won £250,000. I remember talking to his girlfriend at the bar and I said: ‘Why is he fed up?’

“And she said: ‘Because he wanted to get a million’. 

“I said: ‘But everybody wants to get a million.’

“She said: ‘You have no idea — we’ve been lying in bed playing Fastest Finger First.’”

Spooner and Burges claimed that their group dwarfed the £1m win of ex-Army major Charles Ingram (58).

He became the UK’s most notorious cheat when he was stripped of his Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? prize when he was found guilty of swindling the show with the help of his wife, Diana, and a coughing accomplice, Tecwen Whittock.

It’s Not A Proper Job by Chris Tarrant (£20) is out now and available from Great Northern Books (gnbooks.co.uk)


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