Thursday, December 11, 2008

Carol Vorderman exclusive: She reveals her tearful farewells on her last day of Countdown

By Sue Carroll 11/12/2008

Tomorrow, viewers will see a tearful Carol Vorderman, accompanied by her mother and children, finally leave the job she's done for the past 26 years.
The final Countdown was always going to be a sad moment.
And for millions of fans the tribute show will be an emotional farewell to the woman labelled Britain's Thinking Man's Crumpet.
"There were tears, of course," admits Carol in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror, "but there were loads of laughs. It was a real party atmosphere.
"But look, I think I'm one bloody lucky lady to still be around. I never forget that. I'm no spring chicken, I'm 48 now." Not, I hasten to add, that she looks it today.
Wearing a green skintight Roland Mouret dress, she possesses that potent mixture of mischief and Mensa.
She's smart enough to realise it's onwards and upwards now. She says: "Leaving Countdown has given me a chance to look carefully at what I want to do. I don't think I've got anything to prove.
"For years I've been chasing my own tail, working non-stop and I've never had time to enjoy things, especially my children.
"Katie is 16 now, in a couple of years I'll lose her to university so we've already made plans for some treats.
"Next summer we'll go to America and learn to fly - just the pair of us, it's our adventure and we'll have more.
"I've never spoken much about my children but I'm so proud of them. Katie is just the most lovely, caring person. And clever, too. One of the reasons we're flying is that she's already decided on her career - she's going to be an astronaut.
"I love being with my kids and when I told them I wouldn't be going back to Leeds to make Countdown they were thrilled." Carol's departure from the show is well-documented. She was pivotal in holding the show together after the death of long-term presenter Richard Whiteley in 2005.
But programme-makers ITV Productions offered her an ultimatum.
They demanded she take a 90 per cent pay cut or stand down. She was given 48 hours to take it or leave it.
To her credit, Carol shows no bitterness or rancour at the way she was treated.
She says: "I just want to remember all the good times, and they were brilliant. I never want to lose the fact that for years I had an extremely happy time." She does want to make it clear, however, that for 20 years of her time on Countdown she was far from rolling in money.
"That came later, when other broadcasters were trying to persuade me to quit and sign up with them," she says. "Despite all the offers, I stayed loyal to the show that made me - but it was more than that, I loved it.
"I was never, ever driven by the desire to be famous. Back in 1982 the idea that I would become the first woman on Channel 4 struck me as hilarious.
"I slipped under the wire and got into TV for the simple reason I could do sums." Her mum Jean says her daughter's success story is like "something out of the Arabian Nights". She's not far wrong. The two women were in a fairly precarious situation when Carol landed the job at Yorkshire TV, the company making Countdown for the launch of Channel 4 in 1982.
"Mum had left my stepfather and was living in student digs. She was 52, which was an awful situation. I had a boyfriend in Leeds so I knew houses were cheaper in Yorkshire.
"I persuaded Mum we could scrape together enough to buy a little place up there.
"The day we moved into our £20,500 house was the first time Mum had ever been that far north. We started from scratch with borrowed curtains and furniture - even the cutlery wasn't our own." Proud and extremely determined for her daughter, it was Jean who wrote Carol's application letter for Countdown, even forging her signature. The rest, of course, is history.
"It's hard to believe now," says Carol, "that there were only three TV channels back then and just a handful of women on the box - Esther Rantzen, Anna Ford and Angela Rippon." Then along came Carol, a Cambridge graduate and trainee with transport firm Christian Salveson - a most unlikely candidate with dolly bird looks but a formidable brain.
Carol says: "I was happy beyond words when I joined the show. It was so exciting.
"It was the equivalent of being propelled into a movie with George Clooney - from nowhere. It was all a bit of a fluke really.
"I think I was paid £20 a show - certainly not enough to give up my day job at Salveson.

"After a year I was offered a proper contract and I remember thinking, 'Well, I don't want to reach the great age of 30 and have regrets'. I told myself I could always become an accountant so I bit the bullet and took it.
"For the first two years it was a hand-to-mouth existence. I still drove an old rust-bucket and made trips to the launderette.
There's a misconception about how much I earn. Yes, the last few years have been great but the big money has only been recent.
That certainly wasn't how it was for the first 20 years.
"But I wouldn't change any of it - except that Richard died three years ago and that was beyond anyone's control. I spent a long time after that feeling just grief-struck.
"It was like losing a spouse, and I thought long and hard about a lot of things." Reorganising, or changing your life, isn't uncommon among the bereaved and for Carol it meant a split from boyfriend Des, though they are happily reconciled now.
She also left her London base, a penthouse flat she's only just sold at a reduced price in an erratic property market, to move lock, stock and barrel with her children to Bristol.
She says: "I was brought up in Wales and I wanted Katie, who was becoming a teenager, and Cameron to have a chance to grow in the space that a big city can't provide. Now they're fantastically happy in a city that is clean, safe and friendly. We all have time to what I call 'tease' which means just messing about, listening to other people's stories and chatting.
I'm real northerner at heart - other people's lives fascinate me and I'm a constant talker." Meanwhile, the job offers have come pouring in so there may not, in the end, be that much time for teasing in Carol's life.
"I've got a lot of good friends in telly so they're all coming up with ideas for me and my work ethic is strong.
"I've always enjoyed getting stuck into projects but after I announced I was leaving Countdown I thought, 'hang on, don't consider big proposals till you've got the last show out of the way.' "I've done Celebrity Apprentice - I can't give away much except Ruby Wax and I end up in some intimate situations - it was hilarious and I now have time to do things I'd have never considered before.
"I'll be popping up on Ant and Dec's Takeaway next year and there are other TV plans which I can't talk about.
"Except, obviously, the Mirror's Pride of Britain, which is one of those rare shows that works so brilliantly because so much passion and commitment is invested in it.
I'm also working on an educational project which is really close to my heart. In many ways this is all like going back to the beginning, the excitement is there." Something, Carol confesses, that was missing earlier this year when she had 60 shows to film before she could walk away.
She says: "Not long after it was announced I woke up realising I'd gone numb down one side. I couldn't feel anything touching my arm and my skin was cold. It turned out to be pure stress, a complete build-up of worry but, I admit, it scared me." On her wrist Carol wears a Tiffany bracelet, a farewell gift from the Countdown team - lifelong friends and still on the phone to her everyday. Beside it is a friendship bangle from Richard Whiteley's partner Kathryn Apanowicz.
"I have so many lovely memories and made lifelong friends - how could I not wish the very best for the show? I've sent the new hosts Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley flowers and messages.
"I wish them all the happiness I had for so many years. All I can do is look back and think, I had a wonderful run, I'm a lucky bird really, aren't I?" ONE Last Consonant Please Carol is on tomorrow at 2.55pm, C4, followed by Carol's last Countdown show at 3.25pm.
Gordon Brown tells Countdown viewers in a video message on Friday: 'It's done more than any other programme to make counting and spelling fun and popular and is really good exercise for the mind.
"I wish Carol could have helped on some of my budgets when I was Chancellor - I might have got the sums right more often!"
George Clooney admits he's a fan, saying: "Carol is brutal. I like her."

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