GP Gary Grant loves challenges and has just realised another ambition – to win Mastermind, the first Scot to take the TV quiz title for more than 30 years
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 the 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, born in Dundee, who captured the imagination of the entire country when he got the better of university lecturers, lawyers and retired civil servants.
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 on Twitter as “a hottie” by one viewer, while another announced that she wanted to marry him, much to his amusement. Born and raised in Aberdeen, he now lives in Bury, Greater Manchester and is a committed traveller and adventurer: he has visited more than 60 countries, skydived in Australia, bobsleighed in Latvia, been 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 says. “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 is 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 attracted audiences of up to 20 million.
Grant says: “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 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 comes from a working-class family in Aberdeen – his father worked for British Telecom – and won a scholarship to Robert Gordon’s College before studying medicine at St Andrews and Manchester.
After reaching the semi-finals of Mastermind in 2009, he decided to try again 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.
Grant put together a team that reached the final of BBC4’s highbrow quiz show Only Connect, 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. I kept that to myself. I thought it was fairly hubristic to tell people. But that was always what I wanted to do.”
His father Ed has recovered from cancer and was there in the studio for the final when Gary scored full marks on his specialist subject of whales, dolphins and porpoises. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society was so pleased it made him a patron, but it was actually his reserve subject. “I really wanted to do Girls Aloud,” he says, “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 might be developing a female fanbase.
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 cars, and 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 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 basecamp, 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.”
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