Brainbox Beauty Says Emotional Farewell To Cult Show The Big Interview
Carol Vorderman was determined to bring the kind of professionalism to her final Countdown show that she had brought to the previous 4754 Countdowns she had filmed.
She knew it was going to be an emotional experience after 26 years as co-host of Channel 4’s cosy words and letters game but – gutsy woman that she is – she was going to see it through.
What she hadn’t accounted for was the Whiteley factor, the inevitable reminders, during the recording of her final programme in Leeds last month which will be shown this Friday, of her great friend and mentor Richard Whiteley, presenter of Countdown from its inception in 1982 through to his untimely death in 2005.
“I had been pretty much okay until they started to show clips of Richard,” Carol says. “But suddenly he was there on the screen as the first face to be seen on Channel 4 when the channel began in 1982 and then kicking off the output with the first edition of Countdown.
“And then they showed the inevitable bloopers there had been over the years from the many programmes in which we had both taken part.
“They had been hilarious at the time – side-splitting, as so much of what Richard said and did was – but now just terribly sad.
“And suddenly I could feel myself going. However determined I might have been to ‘hold it together’ the tears inevitably flowed when I saw my great friend Richard up there on screen.”
Carol, who will celebrate her 48th birthday on Christmas Eve, has always been very careful not to dismiss the contribution of the two men who have hosted Countdown since the death of Richard, the lovable Yorkshireman who was 61 when he died on June 26, 2005 after contracting pneumonia.
Despite newspaper stories hinting at conflict between herself and Des Lynam, Richard’s immediate replacement, Carol says: “That could not have been further from the truth. Des and I were great mates and remain so to this day.”
And nor was there any conflict between herself and the other Des, Des O’Connor, when Lynam quit Countdown, unhappy with the lengthy commuting he had to do between his home in Brighton and the studios in Leeds where the show is filmed.
There were suggestions that Carol had been angling for the top job on the show and that evergreen crooner Des got in the way of her ambitions.
“Absolutely not true,” she says, “I never wanted to ‘lead’ the programme. After Richard died, there was some suggestion I might take over as the main host of Countdown but it took me about five seconds to say that I didn’t want to do it.
“I was happy as I was. I loved doing the numbers game and putting up the letters. I enjoyed it as much as I had done when we started the show in 1982.”
That’s not to say Carol found it easy to simply slip back to her seat beside the letters board, when the show resumed without Richard. And, buried away beneath all the claims and counterclaims, concerning her departure from Countdown, lies an unmistakable truth. Carol was enormously fond of Richard and life on Countdown was never quite the same once he’d gone.
“Losing Richard was the biggest shock of my life – it really was. It wasn’t just that his death was untimely, it was the fact that we had been so close,” she says.
“We’d been colleagues for nearly a quarter of a century and formed a very tight bond. The relationship was always platonic – Richard had the most wonderful partner, Kathryn Apanowicz – but it was one of the most enduring friendships of my entire life and he was the man with whom I had the longest relationship.”
Indeed, there’s been an impermanence about her relationships with men, stretching back to her childhood.
She didn’t know her natural, Dutch, father as a child, meeting him only when she was an adult. Her first marriage, to Chris Mather, an officer in the Royal Navy, lasted just a year.
Her next marriage to management consultant Patrick King produced two children, Katie, 16, and Cameron, 11, but that relationship also foundered, after 10 years. She dated sports journalist Des Kelly but now describes herself as “happy and single” having moved from London with her children to Bristol.
Even here the influence of Richard Whiteley can be seen.
She says: “It was Richard’s death which made me re-evaluate, made me realise how precious – and how short – life is. You realise your own mortality, when somebody close to you dies.
“There’s this pressing need to do things that maybe you had been putting off, those things that you had always dreamed of doing and hadn’t got around to somehow.
“It also made me realise the need to be in shape, the need to stay as fit and healthy as you possibly can.”
If truth be told, Carol always knew the the importance of staying slim and healthy. Her book, Detox For Life, was a bestseller and the fact that she dropped several dress sizes, during the course of her 28 years on Countdown, was as much to do with staying healthy as it was to do with looking good on screen – even though her sexy looks have become legendary, attracting shoals of admiring fan letters.
Described as having “hair like a poodle and dress sense that’s a Countdown to disaster” by one critic when she first started on the show, the slimline Carol has been named in Sexiest Women In The World lists during the last few years.
Ironically, her departure from Countdown has now coincided with an increase in weight. The Bedford-born presenter’s anxiety over not only her departure from the show but the manner of her exit is causing her to pile on pounds.
“It’s coming off now,” she says, “but I was putting on weight because I wasn’t sleeping very well.
“I’d lack energy during the day, eat too much to compensate and suddenly my dresses were feeling tighter.”
It was back in the summer when the bombshell was dropped that Carol would be leaving Countdown.
Channel 4 asked her to take a 90 per cent pay cut and while mulling over the offer, ITV Productions, the company that makes the show, stepped in and decided they could do without Carol anyway and her involvement with it came to an end.
At the time, Carol talked about being “hurt and upset” but she prefers now to concentrate on the future and a career that could take her in several directions.
Kevin Lygo, director of television at Channel 4, insists he hopes the channel will “work with Carol again on other projects” and there’s talk of her writing her autobiography.
Her legendary arithmetic skills – as well as a Mensa-level IQ of 154 – means she has already been linked with several erudite TV game shows and don’t be surprised if one of our programme makers find something just for her. Don’t be surprised, either, should she go into print with an autobiography, if she is brave enough to be totally upfront and honest.
This is, after all, the woman who famously called Trinny and Susannah “an anorexic transvestite and a carthouse in a bin liner” and, after being booted off Strictly Come Dancing, she called the programme’s only female judge Arlene Phillips “a Sharon Osborne wannabe – but without the looks, brains, humour or humility.”
No shrinking violet, then, when it comes to handing out criticism.
She’s a strong woman not easily moved to tears.
But, for that final recording of Countdown, Carol was always going to make an exception.
She says: “I had my children in the audience. Everyone was very nice to me, the show’s guest, Gyles Brandeth, presented me with a bunch of flowers… I think I would have been pretty hardhearted not to have cried at some point.
“But it was just remembering Richard (Whiteley), the man who WAS Countdown, that got to me. I miss him every single day – especially that day, filming that final show – and I know a great many of the show’s fans do too.”
One Last Consonant Please Carol, Friday, C4, 2.55pm. Carol’s last Countdown follows at 3.25pm.
‘Just remembering Richard, the man who really WAS Countdown really got to me. I miss him every single day – especially that day, filming that final programme…’
Dec 6 2008 By Tim Oglethorpe