Tom Hargreaves first appeared on Countdown on Boxing Day 2001, where he knocked out the one-time winner from the last series Terry Carey by 110-67. He then went on to win seven more games, including six more century breaks. His total of 850 points made him the number two seed for the series. He knocked out Leicesterís Mike Pullin in the quarter finals and Kevin Thurlow in the semis before eventually crashing out in a spectacular way to the number one seed in the final, Chris Wills. This is his story in his own words...
After first watching Countdown as a toddler, I discovered it again at one of my mates' houses. This was when I was about 13. After that I was hooked and watched it whenever I had the chance to. After watching for a couple of years, I thought I might be good enough to get on as I could better the contestants quite a lot of the time. So in October 2000 I sent off for an application form. I got it back within the next few days, sent it back off again and waited, and waited.
Some 10 months later, I got it back asking me to come to an audition in a few weeks time. The audition was pretty much what I expected it to be, calm and relaxed and playing the game as you do at home with Letters, Numbers, and Conundrums.
I got a letter back from YTV about a week later, telling me I was successful. I got another letter from them a couple of weeks later telling me my recording date, November 14th. However, I got a call from YTV 2 days before the 14th telling me that recording was put back a week, damn! The next week seemed like an eternity.
What was good that time was that they were recording the final that day. That gave me a chance to speak to some of the top contestants in the last series. I think it actually helped. So, after the final it was my first show and after being deadlocked for the first 7 rounds or so I gradually managed to keep extending my lead and I finished with 110 points first time round. The next two games were pretty much the same. One score of 111 and another of 110. Afterwards in the bar the finalists were amazed by what they had seen. It was all a completely different story 2 weeks later though.
On my return, my aim was to make the quarter-finals. After 3 high scoring wins the last time round, the chances of making the quarter finals did seem quite high, but not after a very hard 4th game. I was 53-66 down after 9 rounds and I thought I was out at that point. However thankfully I managed to restore my lead and get the Conundrum to win by 106-83. The 5th game was my only game with a crucial conundrum and thankfully I knew the answer straight away to give me 5 wins. Game 7 was the most memorable with the two 9 letter words REDUCTION and MANIFESTO but the 111-82 score was a lot closer than it seemed. Then my final game was won, but it was disappointing not to get a Century score in my last game.
In the bar afterwards, Damian was going on about how my 850 points would stand for a few moons at least. The correct answer to this was 3 weeks as a certain Chris Wills managed to outscore me by 25 points. At first I thought Damian was winding me up when he sent me an e-mail saying that I was now number 2 seed. But January 14th (which was the first time Chris hit the screens) loomed large.
Luckily after this no-one managed to outscore me. The only real threat was Lee Hartley, who managed to clock up around 40 less points than me. The 3 of us were considered as the main threats as points-wise averaging over 100 points a game. But when the series had finished there were 8 Octochamps, I didnít underestimate anyone, as everyone was unbeaten so far.
The finals recordings were on the 16th and 17th April, to me it didnít come slowly at all. In fact it felt like forever. I remember being there the night before being really anxious about the whole thing and wherever I was in the hotel I was looking around to see if I could see any of the other contestants. But in the morning down at breakfast my 3 month wait eventually came when I met Chris for the first time, it actually took me a few seconds to realise it was him when I saw him looking around for the same reasons as me. I was so nervous meeting him for the first time and I think he was as well. We managed to spend about an hour together talking about Countdown.
12.30pm is the time when youíre supposed to be in the studio, there were about 5 of the 8 who where there in the hotel just before we started and then went over to the studio. I think the death walk would be a more appropriate name for it because you know that your moment is getting closer and closer.
I learnt from when I got to the studio that there were 8 Octochamps! Chris and Lee were slightly more fortunate as they had already seen their opponents play. I had not, however, as Mike didnít hit the screens until mid-May. In truth now Iím glad I didnít see him before the recordings because he had very tough opponents as well and would have been as big a threat as someone like Lee. My game against Mike was very difficult as he was a lot better on the letters as I expected and his 5 vowels in his selection of letters was a tactic to reduce my score, as he knew there would be no other way. And it went down to the Conundrum with me leading by 7 points. However 2 seconds elapsed and I managed to turn SIDSDIMES into DISMISSED. It was the right time as well because he was nearly there. Afterwards Lee said he was glad I won that game. That was the last thing I was expecting to hear from the number 3 seed.
My opponent for the semi-final was decided when Kevin beat Lee to bring the first real surprise. To be honest, I had thought more about the prospect of playing Lee in the semi than I had of Chris in the final. So day 1 was over, Iíd got through to the semis and was looking forward to playing Kevin, brilliant!
However day 2 was a lot different to me, the magic wasnít there as it had been yesterday and as I sat in the green room to watch the last quarter-final between Rupert and Wendy something wasnít right, I missed out on a 9 in the first round and didnít do that well throughout. But I managed to get my word power back as I went through another ordeal of watching Chris storming through to the final against Rupert, Chris was playing so much better than yesterday, it was scary, I only got 93 points if Iíd been playing him, and getting "INDIGNITY" in 1 second proves his scariness, not an everyday word in my books.
However, I had my semi-final to look forward to, and what a great one it was as well, I found it very hard playing against Kevin especially as he knocked out Lee previously but thankfully those two 8 letter words did the trick to put me up against Chris in a 1 v 2 seed final. Possibly the first time thatís happened in a 6-month series. But by now nerves had definitely got to me, and those who saw the final will have noticed that.
The viewers will have probably expected a neck-and-neck final for most of the way. Unfortunately for them and myself it wasnít. It was definitely nerves until the end of the first half because of the rehearsal of the presentation beforehand and an hour dinner break between the semi-final and the final didnít help either. But after the end of the first half I calmed down. But you canít take anything away from Chris for getting some amazing words; heís definitely the best player Iíve seen since watching the show for 4 years. He deserved the dictionaries at the end of the day. But £500 as the runner up wasnít too bad at all. Iím still wondering what to do with the rest of it.
After the final 5 of the 8 Contestants stayed on and we all had a great time in the bar. I spoke to Chris about the game afterwards and we had a joke about it. My time so far up on Countdown has been brilliant and I wouldnít mind reliving those 48 hours again.
Afterwards Damian said that I might be back for the next Champion of Champions whenever the next one is. Itíll be good meeting the other top contestants who have appeared on the show over the last few years or so. I thoroughly enjoyed my time up there and recommend it to anyone. Let's get ready for another series and see what Series 48 has in store for us. Iím predicting fewer than 8 Octochamps.
Thank you to everyone who has read this. Anyone wanting to e-mail me can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.