In June 2014, Celebrity Fifteen to One returned to our screens with four star-studded episodes TX’ing every Friday throughout the month. Here, host, comedian and all-round top Aussie bloke Adam Hills discusses tactics, ruthless politicians, and a very unlikely celebrity feud.
You’re were back with four episodes of Celebrity Fifteen to One in June. Was it good fun?
It was so much fun, it was ridiculous. Partly because the format is so strong, so all I have to do is just stick to the rules of the game, and the show just drives itself. But also the celebrities that they lined up – there were at least five comedians per show – everyone really had a point to prove, because it’s known as the toughest quiz on television. And because of the way the second round goes, where you have to nominate people to answer the next question, all these weird little celebrity feuds spawned that you’d never expect in real life.
Oh good. Everyone loves a celebrity feud. Who between?
Well, my favourite one, and one that outside of Fifteen to One would never, ever unfold, was between Ann Widdecombe and Johnny Vegas [in the first episode, TX’ing 6th June]. Of all of the two people to go head-to-head! They developed this feud, Ann won, and then Heston Blumenthal took it upon himself to try and get rid of Ann. In what other situation would those three have come to blows?
Do you model yourself on any other presenters? Do you go down the mean and sarcastic line, or the touchy-feely route?
Kind of neither. I’m not there to mock people. The questions are quite hard, and I think the questions take the mean route themselves. All I have to do is ask them. And that was always the joy of Fifteen to One, every now and again you might get a random easy one popping up, but every now and again you also get a random incredibly difficult one. People were really sweating, they were really worried about what was about to come up. I don’t need to be harsh, because the questions are harsh. But at the same time, I’m not really there to be touchy-feely. It’s quite a ruthless game show, and I’m there to push it along. I’m almost like an impartial observer, to be honest.
Have you watched Sandi Toksvig [the regular Fifteen to One presenter] do her thing, and have you guys swapped tips?
No, I haven’t spoken to her. I have watched it though. She’s definitely more touchy-feely than me. She has more sympathy for the people that are being knocked out. And maybe I would, if I was doing a daytime one with the general public, but because it’s celebrities, I’ve got no sympathy for them whatsoever. Actually that’s not true. I had sympathy for Warwick Davies, purely because he was doing a play in Bournemouth, and the only way he could get to the studio, film the show and get back to the play, was by helicopter. And he answered his first two questions wrong and was out. I felt so bad for him.
So you’re quite hard on the celebs?
Well, I wouldn’t say hard. Occasionally, they’ll give me a bit of a ribbing, because I’m being a bit too serious about the whole thing! But there’s no leeway, if someone gives the wrong answer, I’m not going to faff around and go “Oh, you’re nearly there, try again.” You’re either right or you’re wrong. And if you’re wrong, you go home. I think that’s what people liked about the original Fifteen to One. William G Stewart took no prisoners. You wouldn’t want him beside you bed in your dying hours. There would be no warmth coming from him whatsoever. And likewise, I just want to plough through. If you’re out, you’re out, that’s the way it goes.
Did you manage to maintain your air of impartiality even when it came to Josh [Widdecombe] and Alex [Brooker, co-hosts of Hills’ show The Last Leg] when they took part?
Oh yes, definitely. They were in different episodes. What was interesting about Alex, I don’t think he’ll mind me saying this, is that he did the celebrity version we did before Christmas last year [and] he didn’t answer that many, but he got through to the final three. And I honestly think it was because nobody wanted to nominate the disabled kid! He and I talked about it. Even when he had more lights left than anybody else, they would look at him and go “I can’t bring myself to be mean to him on national television”. So I think this time on the show, he had to battle using his wits a little more. He was less able to play on the sympathy vote.
Did anyone surprise you in terms of doing really badly or really well?
No-one did really badly, because those that were knocked out early usually went out to really tough questions. Nobody made a fool
of themselves, nobody walked away looking like an idiot. But the people who surprised me positively were the two people we had on from Made in Chelsea – Ollie and Cheska. I made jokes about both of their abilities at the beginning of each episode, and although they didn’t make it to the final three, they put in a really strong showing, and answered questions that were quite difficult. And, on top of all that, they were the politest people on set. If nothing else, they’ve been well-raised and well-educated.
So nobody came out with anything catastrophically stupid that will come back to haunt them?
No, not this time. Though in the one before Christmas, Alex Brooker made a bit of a howler. I asked him something like “What word game was originally known as whatever it was” and he came back and said Noughts and Crosses. We had to explain to him that noughts and crosses wasn’t a word game… But no, this time nobody made fools of themselves. But the interesting thing about this game is that anyone can get any question – so you might get someone amazingly intelligent, like Germaine Greer, who gets a question on football managers, and all of a sudden she’s out.
How do you think you’d do in it?
I think I’d be able to hold my own. Before the show, one of the producers comes and sits with me and runs through all the questions, so I know the pronunciations and so on. But there was one episode where she ran through a whole bunch of questions, and she was genuinely surprised at the amount I knew. I reckon, of the 15, I’d maybe make it to the final five. But then something would come up that was particularly British, and then I’d be knackered.
Was anyone particularly competitive?
Everyone! But what was really interesting was that they were a lot more forgiving of each other than I’d expected, in that no-one really wanted to nominate anybody else. People felt bad when they did. Even when you got to the final round, and there are only three people left, and you either answer a question or you nominate, almost every time, the first person to get a question right would then volunteer to answer the next question because they didn’t want to make it hard for anyone. The celebrities were a lot less ruthless than I’d expected, with the exception of Ann Widdecombe. Normally, people go “Okay, who’s got the most amount of lives left? Let’s have a go at them and even up the competition.” Ann just went for the ones who were about to go out, and she would keep pounding them until they were out, and then go for the next one. That’s what politicians do. It’s kill or be killed in their world.
You’ve had an amazing couple of years, and The Last Leg has done amazingly well. It, and you, have won a clutch of awards. Has all of that come as a surprise?
Yeah, it came out of the blue. In 2012 I was meant to be in England for six or seven weeks, doing The Fringe, and then I was going to hang around and do a few more gigs and then come home. And then I was offered ten nights of doing The Last Leg during the Paralympics, and I thought “Okay, we’ll give that a crack and then we’ll go back to Australia.” And then before we’d even finished the Paralympics, Channel 4 were talking to me, saying “How long can you stay around for, what would you like to do?” We never thought The Last Leg would become a series. It just felt so intrinsically tied to the Paralympics that there’s no way it would survive on its own. When Channel 4 said they wanted to keep it going, but for it to be a topical show, we were really hesitant. We just thought we’d give it a crack and see what happened. And now, I don’t know how many series we’ve done, but we’ve got another one in August, and probably another couple next year. It’s become a regular thing. And it’s also broadcast in Australia, which is something I love.
Are you bigger here than you are in Australia?
I hosted a music quiz show in Australia for seven years, and then hosted my own talk show for three years, so in Australia if I go shopping pretty much everyone knows me and wants to have a chat. I’m not at that point in the UK. It’s more like if I get on the tube, maybe two or three people might look at me sideways and tweet about it.
How do you divide your time between the two countries?
It’s close to half and half. Maybe a little more in the UK. It’s all down to Channel 4. Next year, I’m planning to do a stand-up tour, but hopefully there will also be a couple more series of The Last Leg, and I really want to do some more Fifteen to Ones, because it really is the most fun job in the world.