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Edinburgh Evening News
Sat 8 Oct 2005
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Carol's on countdown to awards ceremony

GRAHAM KIBBLE-WHITE

IT has been a long day for Carol Vorderman, who has been sequestered in a Soho club since the crack of dawn conducting a string of interviews to promote The Pride of Britain Awards.

Now, as the evening draws on, she is bolstered by the delivery to her table of a bottle of champagne and a plate of chocolate biscuits. She confesses that the latter arrived at her specific request, the venue doesn't normally stock the treats.

Nonetheless, throughout our encounter the slim 45-year-old barely looks at them, content instead to sip on a glass of bubbly.

"I've been hosting the awards for seven years now," she says. "I've done all of them, even though the first one wasn't televised."

One thing that has remained a constant in the ceremony, which honours not-so-ordinary members of the public and their heroic achievements, has been the highly emotional tales recounted of triumph or endurance in the most stressful of circumstances.

"It was certainly hard to hold back the tears in the early years," reveals Vorderman. "In fact, it is now, but I've trained myself, so I know how often I need to read the stories featured to make sure I don't become upset any more. It's no good if I break down, because the event is not about me is it? I'm not that kind of presenter.

"It can be quite upsetting for the people who are being honoured too. They film their stories with me, so I get to know them the weekend before. I make sure they're aware that I'm on stage for them, so if there's any problem they can tell me.

"It's daunting enough to have to go up there and collect the award, but when you have to talk about something which was probably quite traumatic and the Prime Minister, Prince Charles and a galaxy of stars are watching, it's not surprising it can be quite overwhelming.

"So, beforehand I get all the winners together and make sure they realise everyone's willing them on.

"It's totally different from other award shows, because there everyone's in competition aren't they? That's not a factor here. This is a celebration."

It's also a humbling experience for Vorderman. Most celebrities are given awards simply for doing their job. "I've never been," she interjects with a huge laugh - "but here, the people receiving the accolades have really done something extraordinary.

"Being a celebrity is great," says the host, "but in the great scheme of life it's not that important."

Despite that assertion, as ever there will be a star-studded list of talent taking part in the show, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Bono, Victoria and David Beckham, Jamie Oliver, Christopher Eccleston, Bob Geldof, the Duchess of York and the England cricket team.

"I think that this year the ceremony is more significant than ever," continues Vorderman, "simply because, as a nation, we've been up and down for reasons I don't need to repeat. "It just seems to have been one of those 12-month periods where somehow we feel we have to come out of it together."

For her, this sentiment has particular resonance as, in June, her close friend and Countdown colleague Richard Whiteley died.

Recently it was announced Des Lynam would be taking over his role of host when the quiz returns to our screens later in the month. Along with other members of the team, Vorderman was involved in choosing Whiteley's successor.

"They couldn't have appointed someone without consulting us," she explains, "because, I know it sounds cliched and you've probably interviewed thousands of celebrities who say: 'We're all one big happy family', but Countdown really is. There is no other show like it.

"After Richard died I thought a lot about whether or not the series should continue. But then after a number of weeks, I realised: 'No, it has to, because we're a family, and we were all part of it'. Richard was the biggest part, of course, but nevertheless we are all still a family.

"Not only that, the viewers wanted it back. I get it all the time: 'When are you back? When are you back?' So it was important to get that message out that we were returning but we didn't know when.

"Now we do and we will have been off air for three months, but it needed that, I feel.

"Everybody loved Richard. There was only one Richard Whiteley, King Dick of Countdownia. Whenever you think of him, all you can do is laugh because he was desperately funny and he got dafter as the years went on. But I think the consensus is it's right for the show to go on, not only for its own sake, but also as a tribute.

"Regular Countdown viewers will know that we will do it right. There's no question about that."

As for her advice to Lynam, she says: "You have to love it. It's not a job. You've got to really love it."

With a smile she continues: "You know, 23 years on, having done all the shows that I have, been involved in this, that and the other, and having been on the front pages God knows how many times, the thing that still narks me most of all is not getting the numbers game right.

"The worst thing was if someone in the crowd happened to have solved it. Richard would always deliberately ask: 'Anyone in the audience got it?' and it would be some pretty student who would stand up and I'd go, with a shrill laugh: 'That's lovely, Joanne. How did you do it?', while I was really thinking: 'I could kill you'.

"Richard knew it annoyed me, the bugger, but the fact I still get narked by it is a testament to how much the show means to me."

• The Pride of Britain Awards, Scottish TV, Tuesday, 9pm

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