I’ve started, so I’ll finish… Applying for Mastermind






My largest claim to fame, other than being told off by Prince Andrew (yep, that happened) was appearing on Mastermind in 2012. I was 22 at the time and one of the youngest contestants to have been on as an adult. I think I probably dropped the average age down to about 40…

For anyone not in the know, Mastermind is a BBC television quiz, in which you compete to win a crystal bowl (but also the prestige of winning Mastermind). You have two rounds. The first is on a topic you pick (your specialist subject) and this round lasts 2 minutes, the second is a general knowledge round, lasting 2.5 minutes.

Fun Fact: The creator of Mastermind drew his inspiration from personal experience of being interrogated by the Gestapo during World War II.

It certainly felt like an interrogation with a huge camera and light in your face.

I have a lot of friends who are far more clever than I and have asked about the process of being on Mastermind, and so I thought I would write a post on it.

Who knows? Maybe it will be you in the black chair opposite John Humphrys soon!


Your Specialist Subject

You get to choose this and have to know what it will be prior to starting your application.

At the time I decided/was coerced into applying, I was watching a Dan Snow documentary about the Napoleonic Wars. I say watching, I was forcing my poor mother to listen to hundreds of Nelson facts, whilst she tried to listen to Dan Snow. Then came the suggestion of going on ‘something like Mastermind’ (I think she said this to shut me up, probably!) and so I sent off my application on a whim.

My specialist subject, unsurprising for all of my family and friends, was The Life and Career of Lord Nelson. This had only been chosen on Mastermind once before, about 15 years ago, and so there was a significant gap in time and I was able to proceed!

You also have to have 2 backup specialist subjects, as if you get past the quarter finals (those initially shown on television) you cannot use the same subject. My backups were Queen (the band) and the Emperor Nero. A good mix there.

As it happened I didn’t get past the quarter finals, but it was an experience nonetheless. 

The Stages of Applying

1. Obviously the first stage is applying, which, if interested you can do here!

2. You get a phone call if you make it past the initial application, where you will be tested on your general knowledge over the phone. I think there were about 20 questions, on a wide variety of topics.

3. After the phone call, and if successful, you are invited to meet a panel of 3 people from the BBC. I think this depends on where you’re living, as for me it was at the BBC studios in Bristol. They test your general knowledge, ask a bit about you, ask why you chose your topic, request the names of 3 books on your topic from which they can choose questions (again, if you are successful) and then one obscure fact about your specialist subject topic that not many people would know.

Mine was that Horatio Nelson had a dog called Nileus.


If you are successful in all of your stages, you will then receive a letter in the post, all about the recording of your episode. I had to travel up to Media City in Salford and took my mum and brother with me. We were given a room in the Holiday Inn, which was lovely. I also had some tickets to give to friends (they ask how many you would like beforehand) and they can then sit in the audience.

You need to wear dark smart casual clothing. No visible logos and your hair and makeup are done before you go out. We were taken to a ‘green room’ for a quick run through the rules, to check all details were correct and to check they had your specialist subject written correctly (No. Not Nelson Mandela). The other contestants I was on with were Mark (Tintin), Robert (The African Big 5) and Fr Simon (Monty Python).

One thing I didn’t realise is that whilst your question round is one go and you don’t get to re-film, they make you cut and take a few shots at walking out to the chair if they aren’t happy with it. In between rounds John Humphrys has a chat with you and he is hands down one of the nicest people I’ve had the fortune to meet. Really friendly and tries to take away any nervousness!

In my case, unsuccessfully.

Of course, it then took me 3 attempts to successfully walk out and sit on a chair, so well done, Jamieson. 

Aaaand I then had a huge panic, forgot almost every Nelson fact in the world ever despite my mum having asked me all of these questions in the car en route to Manchester, I swore under my breath pre-watershed, had a lot of sympathy from people on Twitter who said I looked petrified and as if I wanted to cry, before I then walked away with 16 points. Far from the worst score ever, but not great.

I was 22, it was an experience and it looks great on the CV so I can’t really complain.

​Would I do it again? Possibly. Now I’ve sat in that chair once I’d obviously be a pro…

I’m always fascinated about peoples interests.
​What would you choose as your specialist subject if you had to go on Mastermind? 

0 thoughts on “I’ve started, so I’ll finish… Applying for Mastermind”

  1. No way! How insanely cool is that? I am so so so impressed. I think I would have been petrified being on tv and would have forgotten everything!

  2. Your first sentence is actually the coolest thing I have read today! Really fascinating to read about the experience of Mastermind (I’m a total addict) but what I really want to know now is – why did Prince Andrew tell you off?!

    1. Aha, I was on a Sea Cadet parade in Trafalgar Square as part of the national massed bands. I had just switched from flute to piccolo and was struggling with silk gloves sliding around, and so I cut the fingertips off! Totally unaware that we were to be inspected by Prince Andrew who picked up on this and told me that whilst he understood, I was to wear full fingered gloves next time! ?


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