Who wants to be a millionaire… if Clarkson’s asking the questions? CHRISTOPER STEVENS braves the hot seat as the show returns with prickly new host

  • The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens played Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
  • He sat in the studio as new host Jeremy Clarkson posed some tough questions
  • Clarkson was rehearsing for the first taping, which airs on Saturday night
  • Former Top Gear host presenting a run of 20th anniversary episodes 

Like so many quiz fans, I’ve sat smugly through countless episodes of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and reeled off answers, convinced I could be rich if I ever landed a chance to appear on the show.

But when I had the opportunity last week to perch on the famous swivel seat and face those fiendish multiple-choice questions — from new host Jeremy Clarkson, no less — all my thought processes shut down.

Question One: For which movie did Leonardo DiCaprio win his first Oscar in 2016? Was it: A) The Departed, B) The Revenant, C) The Wolf Of Wall Street, or D) The Great Gatsby?

The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens played Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? as new host Jeremy Clarkson rehearsed for the 20th anniversary series airing from this weekend

Everything I thought I knew went straight into hibernation as my brainstem froze. All I could think was ‘I’ve actually seen only one of those four movies’ and I wanted to blurt out ‘Gatsby!’ and run.

No doubt it would have been worse if there had been real money at stake. This was a mere rehearsal, a chance for me to preview the revamped game show before it begins a week-long run on ITV tomorrow.

The biggest departure from the classic show is its change of host. Since the launch of Millionaire in 1998, presenter Chris Tarrant has been its face. But now in his place comes Mr Clarkson.

 Stevens said both previous host Chris Tarrant and Clarkson have a reputation for being straightforward blokes who don’t suffer fools

The former Top Gear presenter is a similar character at first sight: tall, curmudgeonly, hugely experienced in front of the cameras. Both Tarrant and Clarkson have a reputation for being straightforward blokes who don’t suffer fools.

Better still, Clarkson is a bona fide quiz fan, so he ought to be the ideal choice to revive the format. 

It’s no secret that ITV would love to bring back Millionaire on a regular basis if this trial run draws a big enough audience.

The first intimation that all is not going quite smoothly comes from the buzz outside the big studio at Media City in Manchester on the day of the first rehearsals. Technicians and assistants seem edgy: Jeremy is a bit nervous, they whisper. It’ll be OK, but he’s feeling the pressure.

That’s understandable. Clarkson has never tackled a show like this, so tightly scripted and timed. 

He is more used to the conversational nature of car shows, such as his current Amazon series The Grand Tour. He has never even worked for a commercial network, with advert breaks interrupting the flow.

When we come face to face in the Millionaire studio, Clarkson fixes me with a glare across the studio floor and announces loudly that my first question will be: ‘How many people died on the Titanic and what were all their names?’

Uneasy laughter trembles around the studio.

Would YOU win a million with our Clarkson quiz? 

£100: What is Jeremy Clarkson’s nickname?

A. The Hamster. 

B. Jezza.

C. Captain Slow. 

D. JClaz.

£200: Which band does Clarkson always play first in a new car?

A. Leviticus. 

B. Exodus. 

C. Genesis. 

D. Apostles.

£300: Where was he born? 

A. Detroit. 

B. Doncaster. 

C. Isle of Man. 

D. Monza.

£500: How tall is Clarkson? 

A. 5ft 2in. 

B. 6ft. 

C. 6ft 5in. 

D. 6ft 11in.

£1,000: Whom did Jeremy Clarkson punch at the 2004 British Press Awards? 

A. Alan Sugar. 

B. Tony Blair. 

C. Rupert Murdoch.

D. Piers Morgan.

£2,000: Clarkson received an Honorary Doctorate from Oxford Brookes University in…

A. Geography. B. Spanish

C. Engineering.

D. Interpretative dance.

£4,000: According to Clarkson, ‘you can never be a true petrolhead unless you’ve owned’… 

A. A petrol station.

B. An Alfa Romeo.

C. An oil well.

D. A tractor.

£8,000: What was Clarkson’s first car? A. Ford Cortina. 

B. Morris Minor. 

C. Jaguar E-Type. 

D. Mini Cooper.

£16,000: What is Clarkson’s favourite film? A. Local Hero (1983). 

B. The Italian Job (1969). 

C. Reservoir Dogs (1992). 

D. Casablanca (1942).

£32,000: What is his favourite moment from filming Top Gear? 

A. Driving to the North Pole. 

B. Meeting Helen Mirren. 

C. Hugging Cameron Diaz. 

D. Driving a hover van.

£64,000: Clarkson once bought a flat opposite a gym in the hope he’d glimpse… 

A. Cherie Blair. 

B. Catherine Zeta-Jones. 

C. Theresa May. 

D. Princess Diana.

£125,000: In 2013, Clarkson claimed… 

A. He enjoyed his steak well-done. 

B. He’d smoked half a million cigarettes. 

C. He bought a Tesla. 

D. He could do 100 press-ups.

£250,000: Which song title did Clarkson use as a book title? 

A. Stairway To Heaven (Led Zeppelin). 

B. Sympathy For The Devil (The Rolling Stones). 

C. Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen). 

D. Twist and Shout (The Beatles).

£500,000: In 2016, Clarkson saved four tourists who had…

A. Broken down. 

B. Been robbed.

C. Missed their flight. 

D. Floated out to sea on lilos.

£1 million: Clarkson once parked a fighter jet in his garden but the council told him to remove it. He claimed it was used as…

A. A burglar alarm.

B. A mini golf hole.

C. A birdwatching hide. 

D. A leaf-blower.

The format for the new series is largely familiar. Tomorrow night’s Millionaire players will build up from a £100 pot by tackling a few easy warm-up puzzlers, such as: ‘What part of its body does a woodpecker use for pecking? A) Beak, B) Tail, C) Wing, D) Foot?’ to get them used to the game. 

Only when the prize fund reaches £1,000 do the questions get tricky — at which point some contestants will want to start calling on their ‘lifelines’.

They can use the 50/50, which eliminates two of the four multiple-choice answers, Phone a Friend or Ask the Audience. And there’s now a new lifeline: Ask the Host.

Millionaire nuggets

  • Millionaire began life as a Capital Radio quiz game called Double Or Quits.
  • Former host Chris Tarrant, who presented the show from 1998 to 2014, at first said the name Who Wants Be A Millionaire? would ‘never catch on’.
  • The searchlight beams that sweep down to spotlight the contestant were originally designed for stadium concerts by rock giants Genesis.
  • Judith Keppel, from London, was the first person to win the million. She is now a regular on BBC2’s daily quiz Eggheads.
  • In the original version, the first correct answer was worth £1. But it was realised that this might bore viewers, so it was upped to £100.

As Clarkson is such a keen quizzer, this seems a jolly notion. When the questions flash up on his prompt screen, he doesn’t see the correct answers, and there is no producer’s voice in the earpiece feeding him clues. 

So when a player asks for Clarkson’s help, he can give it — if he actually knows the answer and feels like being helpful.

On the day I was there for the trial run, he gave one contestant a boost when she was flummoxed by a poser about wiring a plug: ‘What colour is the live wire in a three-pin plug? A) Blue, B) Orange, C) Brown, D) Green-and-yellow.’

As Clarkson pointed out, he grew up in the Seventies, when wiring a plug was a DIY rite of passage. Without hesitation, he told her the answer was ‘brown’.

But there was an added complication. As well as the new lifeline, Millionaire now allows players to set their own safety net.

Under the old rules, prizes doubled with every question but one wrong answer meant losing almost everything. Get the £16,000 question wrong and you forfeited all but £1,000 of your winnings.

There was a safety net at £32,000. Once players reached that point, with ten correct answers, they were guaranteed at least that amount. Now this has changed.

Instead, contestants can set the safety net where they want. If they reach £4,000, for example, the next question can be designated as the guaranteed jackpot. 

Provided they pick the right answer, they will take home a minimum of £8,000. The problem is, Clarkson has to explain this convoluted rule before each question, and ask: ‘Do you want to set your safety net now?’ 

The former Top Gear host was nervous as he posed tough questions and tried to get used to presenting a game show for the first time

Clarkson clearly enjoyed watching Stevens squirm as he tried to work out which film Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar for

It is needlessly complicated and repetitive. And as Millionaire was already a perfect format, topping TV ratings from Iceland to Argentina, it’s a mystery why the producers should want to change it.

Still, Clarkson seemed to be managing. And then I took the chair, and neither of us coped well.

So far, standing in the wings, I had been able to answer all the questions fired at other people.

But when I stared at the screen on the podium in front of the hot seat, my brain froze harder than a penguin stuck in permafrost.

The spotlights swept down and transfixed me in the chair. The familiar theme tune boomed across the studio, the sound of a trap snapping shut.

They started me on that question about the film which gave Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar, for £2,000.

I started to babble: I’m not a cinema fan, I don’t go to movies, I’m a telly addict. Films are too expensive — and who wants to sit in a room full of strangers slurping and crunching snacks, when you could be at home watching the television you’ve already paid for?

Under new rules, when a player asks for Clarkson’s help, he can give it — if he actually knows the answer and feels like being helpful

I did actually go to see The Great Gatsby, but that didn’t help. My brain was clutching at that answer for the wrong reasons. Helplessly, I looked up…and realised Clarkson was enjoying this.

Of course he was. He wanted me to fail. I’d just said that I was leaning towards D) The Great Gatsby and now I saw the ghost of a smirk on his face.

So, the answer wasn’t Gatsby. I did some more thinking aloud, and commented that I had barely heard of The Departed or The Revenant. He smirked again, just for a fraction of a moment.

I asked to use my 50/50 lifeline. Two choices vanished: Gatsby and The Revenant remained. 

At this point, I thought I’d found the answer — it wasn’t that Scott Fitzgerald farrago, so it must be The Revenant, a film title that meant nothing to me. (I wasn’t kidding: I really don’t go to the cinema.)

Now I wanted to see what Clarkson would do. I was sure I’d read his face and that he knew the answer. But would he tell me if I asked?

‘I want to use my other lifeline,’ I said. ‘I’m asking the host.’

Stevens said when he stared at the screen on the podium in front of the hot seat, his brain froze harder than a penguin stuck in permafrost

Later, I asked Clarkson whether he found it difficult to concentrate on just asking the questions, not trying to answer them in his head. ‘I did it with you,’ he admitted. ‘There was one where I was thinking ‘but you have to go back into host mode’.’

Grudgingly, torn between the desire to demonstrate his knowledge and the opposite urge not to help me, he confirmed that the answer was B) The Revenant. ‘I can’t believe I’ve just won you £2,000,’ he grumbled.

Then he had to go through the rigmarole of explaining about the safety net and asking whether I wanted to set it at £4,000. By now, my brain was unfreezing. 

I believed that if another question foxed me, I could simply read out the answers and watch Clarkson’s face, trying to provoke him into a giveaway smirk.

Perhaps that wouldn’t work for every player. But his tell-tale expressions could give me an edge, like having a friend in the audience to cough at the right moments.

As it happened, I didn’t need any more assistance. The next two questions (for £4,000 and £8,000) were ones I knew from my schooldays: ‘What is the fifth planet from the sun? A) Mars, B) Mercury, C) Saturn, D) Jupiter’; and ‘In golf, what nickname is given to a hole completed in three shots under par? A) Birdie, B) Bogey, C) Eagle, D) Albatross?’ (See below for both answers).

Clarkson quiz answers 


B: Jezza.


C: Genesis. He is very fond of the band’s Peter Gabriel era.


B: Doncaster, South Yorkshire.


C: 6ft 5in.


D: Piers Morgan — the pair had a long-running feud.


C: He is an Honorary Doctor of Engineering. Green protesters threw custard pies at the ceremony.


B: An Alfa Romeo.


A: A Ford Cortina.


A: Local Hero.


C: Hugging Cameron Diaz.


D: He bought a flat in Fulham that overlooked Princess Diana’s gym in the hope of seeing her. He didn’t.


B: He claimed he had smoked half a million cigarettes.


C: In 2007, Clarkson published Don’t Stop Me Now.


D: He saved the tourists by diverting his yacht to pick them up off Majorca in 2016.

£1 million

D: Clarkson told the council it was used as a leaf-blower. They didn’t believe him and he removed it.

At that point, we ran out of time. The klaxon squawked and I bolted from the chair. Later, I asked Clarkson whether he found it difficult to concentrate on just asking the questions, not trying to answer them in his head.

‘I did it with you,’ he admitted. ‘There was one where I was thinking ‘but you have to go back into host mode’.’

Let’s not forget that this was the first day of rehearsals. By the time the first episode airs tomorrow, Clarkson may well have learnt to adopt an impassive, unreadable face throughout the show.

Good luck to whoever takes that hot seat tomorrow night. If they can ride the wave of panic and survive until rational thought starts to return, they may just win a million.

Answers: D) Jupiter, D) Albatross

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? starts on Saturday at 9.15pm on ITV and continues throughout the week at 9pm.

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