Laura?’ I heard Sara say into my earpiece.
‘Yes,’ I replied as Marian sprayed my hair.
‘Okay, Tom, she’s on her way,’ I heard Sara add. ‘Cue intro.’
‘So, here to quiz you today is Whadda Ya Know?!! ‘s presenter—Lau-ra Quick !’ Marian whipped off the black gown then I half walked, half ran the few yards down the corridor into the studio and stepped up on to the stage. As I did so I was momentarily blinded by the lights hanging from the rigging. I was aware of their heat, and of the oily smell, and of Tom extending his right arm to me by way of welcome; then he turned to the audience and raised both hands above his head to prompt applause, so I looked at them and smiled. As he walked off stage, I glanced up into the gallery at the back of the auditorium. There, behind the glass, was Sara, who produces the show, and the production assistant, Gill. Next to Gill I could see Dylan with his headphones on, then the vision mixers and technical team. As the clapping began to fade, I surveyed the set—four tall, illuminated blue columns of varying heights on either side; the massive pink question mark in the middle of the floor; at the back, the show’s title in huge, loopy green letters; the enormous yellow clock. The whole thing was deliberately kitsch. And standing before me, behind their electronic lecterns, were the four contestants. Without taking in their faces, I smiled.
‘Welcome to today’s recording,’ I began, squinting slightly into the spotlights. I lifted my hand to my eyes. ‘I’d like to wish you all good luck, and I look forward to chatting to you afterwards but, in the meantime, as Tom says, just relax and, above all, please try and enjoy yourselves!’ As I glanced at the names on their lecterns I became aware that while three of them were looking apprehensive, one of them was quietly smiling; then I saw that he was smiling at me. Now, as the spotlights were adjusted, I could see him properly. I felt as though I’d been plunged into a frozen lake.
‘Right, ready to start then, Laura?’ I heard Sara whisper as I tried to cover my involuntary gasp with a throat-clearing cough—for a moment I’d thought I might faint. And it was on the tip of my tongue to say, ‘Well you can’t start yet, actually, Sara, because I’m struggling with the fact that my first serious boyfriend—who I haven’t seen for twelve years and who broke my heart and who, if I’m being honest with myself, I never really got over—is standing just ten feet away.’
‘Counting down now, Laura,’ I heard her say. ‘So it’s in five…four…three…two…one and…go music!’ I heard the jaunty theme tune strike up, then the audience burst into applause.
Aware of a pounding in my chest, I turned to the camera. ‘Welcome to Whadda Ya Know?!!, ‘ I began with as much confidence as I could muster. Now, as the autocue scrolled down, I felt not so much cold as red hot. ‘I’m Laura Quick and I’ll be asking the questions tonight, but first, let me explain how the show works. In my hand, here, are the questions.’ I held up the cards. ‘All of them are open to any of the contestants to answer—it’s a case of whoever gets to the buzzer first. But once the players have buzzed they must answer—but they have no more than five seconds in which to do so. Now, if you look at the screens on the front of their lecterns, you’ll see that they each start with one pound. This will double with every correct answer they give, when we’ll hear this …’ There was a loud Ker-ching! like the pinging of a colossal cash register. ‘If, however, they give a wrong answer, or fail to answer in the five seconds, then their money will be halved, and we’ll hear this …’ There was a downward glissandoing Whooooop! ‘The winner will be the player who’s accumulated the most money. He or she will then get the chance to double it, if they decide to Turn the Tables—and ask me a question. But this carries a