Alex Lacey appeared on our screens on 26th November 2004. He was playing against Judith Armstrong, who had beaten Brian Lightfoot in the previous game. Alex was in the lead for most of the game, but lost out on a crucial conundrum, the score finishing 86-74. This is his Countdown Experience in his own words...
It was being in the studio audience back in November 2003 when I realised that I would love to be an actual challenger and not just a spectator of the phenomenon that is Countdown. Sitting in the studio was not as scary as I had thought and the friendly atmosphere only served to make me even keener to appear, so, shortly after returning to York, I decided to send off for an application form.
I had been watching Countdown for many years, on and off, but it became compulsory viewing when I moved from my home city of Norwich to university in York. It became a daily routine: get up, have breakfast, put on Channel 4. At first, the best that I could hope for was equalling contestants, or perhaps getting one or two better words, but gradually I realised that I might be able to beat them, even in studio conditions. Every day, I would watch, endeavouring to learn more obscure words, which, before, would never have been part of my vocabulary. I decided that now was the time, and I applied for audience tickets, taking along a few friends and getting a feel for the studio. I figured that, if I didn't like it, I wouldn't apply to go on, but as it happened, watching Steve Graston sail through a couple of matches, I was fired up and ready to apply.
My application form arrived through the door quickly, and I filled it in and put it in the post before I had time to change my mind. I think the reality that I might now be on the show began to sink in a little at this point, but I carried on as normal, watching Countdown now almost religiously.
Then, in mid-December, I was invited to an audition. However, it clashed with my driving test, and realising that this should really take precedence had to miss the audition. However, I asked them to keep me on file for a future audition, and I went back to waiting for more news. Another date came through in March 2004, but yet another disaster awaited: this time the audition was scheduled for Tuesday, 23rd March – the day that I was flying out to Berlin for a few days! I couldn't believe it, but nonetheless I asked them again to keep me on file, and after another wait, I received a day that I could definitely make, and third time lucky, I got to an audition at the end of June 2004.
Arriving at the Yorkshire Television studios, I was very nervous to say the least. I, and four others were shown into a side room where pens and paper had been laid out on the table, and the lovely Charlotte Hudson made us a cup of tea and began reciting the letters and numbers to us. I felt I got off to a good start, spotting WOODLAND and VERTICAL, but missed a couple of obvious words, declaring sixes or sevens. The numbers and conundrums went O.K., but I came away with mixed feelings. I'd made the trip to Leeds on my own, and walking back to the train station in the blistering heat, I was scanning the selections for longer words that I missed. I wasn't too confident, but I had not embarrassed myself, so was reasonably happy. The letter came next day – it was a 'near miss' and it invited me to apply for another audition. I was disappointed, but vowed to have another go...
So, I readied myself for another audition, this one in the middle of October 2004. I got back into the swing of a new academic year, and made the most of it by going out to the big freshers' event of the year and having quite a few drinks. Next morning, I was woken by my telephone. I ignored it, but when it phoned again, I grudgingly answered. An unknown voice was on the other end. Half asleep, I was told it was Charlotte, and she wondered if I was free to film an episode today!! Even though my audition had failed, apparently I was so close that I was to be allowed on, due to a contestant getting their dates mixed up. So, I said yes, and raced to Leeds, stuffing as many shirts as I could get hold of into a bag.
I arrived at the studio about half an hour later, and was shown into the green room. The last of the morning episodes were being filmed – I was told I was going to be on the Friday episode. Excitedly, I asked who the guest was and was told it was Daniel O'Donnell. Brian Lightfoot, Judith Armstrong and I got chatting, trying to help each other with tips and telling each other how nervous we really were. My introduction was checked with me, and it was time for lunch. After lunch, I congratulated the reigning champion, soon-to-be octochamp Mark Tournoff, who was sitting next to me back in the green room, and I opted to watch the next shows from the audience.
Because of the speed from getting the call to being at the studios, I had no support with me, so I quickly phoned up my two good friends, Hayley and Helen, who said that they would be there straight away. As I went to sit in the audience, they arrived, and we sat together getting worked up into an excitable frenzy. Before long, Mark won his last game, and Judith and Brian were playing, thus I knew one of them was definitely my opponent in the next episode. Judith managed a considerable lead, and won convincingly, and now it was my turn. In the hot seat, the camera turned to me, Richard asking me if I had got the conundrum. I did manage it, but said that I hadn't got it as I didn't want to tempt fate. A quick tea break, and then a change of shirt. I selected my blue number, and I was on.
The opening credits rolled, my introduction was read, and Susie Dent was described as a 'Rollover'. Daniel O'Donnell had been singing to the audience just before filming, and with that still ringing in my ears, the first selection was put up. We both scored 7, then I pulled away with SMUDGE. I managed to build up a lead, but was beaten by Judith when she gave DAVITS, something I'd never heard of, so fair play to her. It was neck and neck at the end, thus forcing a crucial conundrum. GREEKWINS was revealed – I pulled out the ING, then looked at what I had left, but nothing came to mind. Judith then buzzed in with SKEWERING. Richard asked if I had heard of it before. The only thing I could think of to say was, "Er... yes".
So that was it. We shook hands and the programme ended, me being grateful that Mark Tournoff had got PANNIER just two episodes ago, enabling me to get it on my show! Judith was lovely, and I was happy to lose to her, but I was still a little disappointed at leading most of the way. Going on was a great experience, and I would definitely recommend it highly. It was weird seeing myself on television, but it has served to make me enjoy Countdown even more, and to hopefully continue to improve the more I play it!