He has just been officially crowned as one of the brainiest men in Britain. But this year's Mastermind champion Gary Grant is about as far from the stereotypes of weedy nerds and beer-bellied pub quizzers as you can get.
When he is not doing quizzes or curing the sick, the 34-year-old GP from Aberdeen can be found risking life and limb on the world’s highest mountains or hurtling through chicanes in a souped-up racing car.
Grant won the final of Britain’s most prestigious quiz show on Friday night by five points after spending hundreds of hours preparing his specialist subjects, improving his general knowledge and honing his quiz skills. He is the first Scottish winner since taxi driver Fred Housego more than 30 years ago.
Housego was a London cabbie, who captured the imagination of the entire country when he got the better of university lecturers, lawyers and retired civil servants. He was born in Dundee, though most people never realised he was Scottish.
Witty and good-looking, Gary Grant has probably done as much as anyone to challenge the quizzing stereotype since Housego won in 1980. Grant was described as “a hottie” by one viewer on Twitter, while another announced that she wanted to marry him, much to his amusement.
Born and raised in Aberdeen, but now living in Bury, Grant is a committed traveler and adventurer. He has visited more than 60 countries, sky-dived in Australia, bobsleighed in Latvia, and gone potholing in Thailand and white water rafting in Uganda.
Having won the Mastermind title, he aims to qualify for his racing driver licence. And right now he has cut back on the quizzing while he trains to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America.
Grant likes nothing better than a challenge.
His Mastermind journey began four years ago. “2008 was the lowest point of my life,” he said. “My dad had developed cancer. I had just moved to the Borders, where I had no friends. I didn’t like the job I was in. And I split up with my girlfriend, the best relationship I had ever had.
“Mastermind was on one night. I was feeling sorry for myself and I just started shouting out the answers and it occurred to me that I was getting quite a few of them. I thought ‘What have I got to lose by applying?’”
Mastermind was a British cultural institution. It was created by Bill Wright, inspired by his wartime experience of interrogation by the Gestapo. It began in 1972, presented by Magnus Magnusson, who was born in Iceland, but lived in Scotland for most of his life, and it attracted audiences of up to 20 million.
Grant said: “The whole process of the audition and getting on the show seemed to happen very quickly. It was having that focus that got me out of that really low mood.”
Grant had never been particularly keen on quizzes prior to appearing on the series for the first time in 2009, though he had been on The Weakest Link when he was a student.
He came from a working class family in Aberdeen – his father worked for British Telecom. He won a scholarship to Robert Gordon’s College and went on to study Medicine at St Andrews and Manchester.
After reaching the semi-finals of Mastermind in 2009, he decided he would come back and win it a few years down the line.
He had moved back to the Manchester area, where most of his friends lived. He joined teams in three different quiz leagues and began working his way through the dozens of reference books and encyclopedias that still line the walls of his house.
He said that quizzing introduced him to some bright and amusing new friends. “Some of them do fit the social stereotypes,” he said, “but a lot of quizzers are very funny, very balanced people and they’re good fun company.”
Grant put together a team that reached the final of BBC4’s high-brow Only Connect quiz show, competed in national quizzes and worked his way into the Scotland team for the European Quizzing Championships in 2010 and 2011.
“It was all with a view to going back on the show and winning Mastermind,” he said. “I kept that to myself. I thought it was fairly hubristic to tell people. But that was always what I wanted to do, all the way through quizzing.”
Grant’s father Ed has recovered from cancer and was there in the studio for the final when he scored full marks on his specialist subject of whales and dolphins. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society were so pleased that they made him a Patron.
But it was actually his reserve subject. “I really wanted to do Girls Aloud,” he revealed, “because my plan was to meet one of Girls Aloud as my little film sequence for the final, but they weren’t having that. They thought it was too popular culture.”
He is currently single and does not think that his big win will impress the girls. “I certainly wouldn’t use it as a chat-up line – ‘Hello, I’m Gary, I’m a Mastermind champion.’” Comments on Twitter however suggest he is developing a significant female fan base.
Having fulfilled his Mastermind ambition, Grant is concentrating on fresh challenges.
“I want to do something different now. I want to have another goal, because I find that that’s the thing that keeps me happy, having a goal and working towards it. And it needs to be something that’s quite difficult to achieve.”
He has driven Formula Ford (sic) cars, hopes to get his competition licence later this year and start entering races next year.
“The ambition there would be to win at least one race, though I’m entering it fairly late because I’m in my thirties. Most people do karts when they’re younger and do it in their twenties. I think it’s unrealistic to expect myself to become a Formula One driver.”
At the same time he is training in the gym and on local hills to climb Mount Aconcagua next year. He has already climbed Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, but dismisses that as beginners’ stuff.
“Eighty per cent of people get up Kilimanjaro. Aconcagua is something like 25-30 per cent.” His preparations even include a climb to Everest base camp simply as a “warm-up”.
“If I don’t get to the top I will do it again. It’s the same as Mastermind.”
He will be back quizzing next month in Edinburgh for the World Quizzing Championships and the inaugural Scottish Open team championship. It will be his first appearance in the capital since winning the regular Waterline pub quiz with The Dude Abides team last year.
However he is already thinking of fresh challenges for the years ahead, possibly a novel.
“On my deathbed I would like to say ‘I won Mastermind, I climbed Aconcagua, I won a race in a championship.’ My great fear is dying without having done anything,” he said.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises
Gary scored 19 out of 19. See how you do on a few of his specialist questions:
1 To which group of aquatic mammals, whose name comes from the Greek translated as sea monster, do whales, dolphins and porpoises belong? Cetaceans
2 What name is given to the two horizontal fin-like structures that form the tail of cetaceans? Flukes
3 The Amazon River dolphin, or boto, is also known by what alternative common name because of the colouration of many adults, particularly as they age? Pink dolphin
4 During the breeding season the males of one whale species have particularly been noted for their long and complex songs, which are regarded as among the most varied in the animal world. What’s the species? Humpback
5 What name is most commonly given to the habit of many cetaceans of raising their heads vertically out of the water and seeming to slowly look around, before slowly slipping back under the surface? Spy-hopping
Gary got 16 out of 22. Here are five he got right.
1 What’s the name of the property in Belfast that’s home to the Northern Ireland government? Stormont
2 In football, the Spanish derby match El Clásico is between Real Madrid and which other club? Barcelona
3 What name that comes from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book is traditionally given to the leader of a Cub Scout pack? Akela
4 Which war began after the death in October 1740 of the Habsburg monarch and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, who died without a male heir? War of the Austrian Succession
5 What name for the unidentified objects seen by pilots during the Second World War was adopted by an American rock band formed in the 1990s? Foo Fighters
And the ones that got away…
1 In Judaism what name that comes from the Hebrew for learning or instruction is given to the collection of writings that form the basis of Jewish law and customs? Talmud
2 In which 2011 science-fiction film, directed by JJ Abrams, does an alien devastate a small town in America with a group of child film-makers on its trail? Super 8
3 Which Greek mathematician is generally credited with making the first theoretical calculation of pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter? Archimedes
4 Who wrote That Day We Sang, a play by the Children’s Choir, who became famous for their rendition of Nymphs and Shepherds? It had its premiere at the 2011 Manchester International Festival? Victoria Wood
5 In June 2011 the former French finance minister became the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the first woman to hold the post. What’s her name? Christine Lagarde
6 In his 1624 work Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, who wrote the words “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee”? John Donne
Many thanks to Brian Pendreigh.
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