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The programme will see actor Hugh Bonneville, who plays Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham, television presenter Melanie Sykes, and Fast Show star John Thomson join with members of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force to raise money for the Forces Benevolent Funds.
Hugh is teaming up with Lieutenant Gary Beels, a submarine engineer in the Royal Navy who completed a six-month tour of Afghanistan earlier this year. Based in Camp Bastion, Lt Beels was Operations Officer for the UK Medical Group, working 15-hours-a-day supporting the Navy medics on the ground to ensure that casualties were delivered, via medevac (medical evacuation) helicopter, to hospital in the fastest possible time.
Speaking ahead of filming, Hugh Bonneville said:
I am absolutely dreading my encounter with the ‘Smiling Tormentor’, otherwise known as Chris Tarrant. However, I have every confidence that Lt Beels is a genius. I only hope that when he realises I am as thick as two short planks he doesn’t make me walk one of them.
I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun on the night and hopefully we’ll raise some much needed money for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.
The show was filmed last night in Elstree, and this morning Lt Beels said:
It went really well. Obviously there was an element of nerves beforehand and, for about 15 minutes on TV, I am the national face of the Royal Navy, so understandably I was a bit anxious.
Lt Beels said TV quiz show host Chris Tarrant put the contestants at their ease:
Chris Tarrant was absolutely fantastic. What a nice man! He came into our dressing room in jeans and T-shirt and chatted away for 15 minutes.
Tarrant told the contestants that his late father was a former Army man, and then chatted about Afghanistan, asking Lt Beels:
What on earth was a submariner doing in the middle of a landlocked country?
Lt Beels said:
I went through the reasons why I was there and got the message about the fact the Navy go to Afghanistan to support the medical element and you could just see that Chris was genuinely interested and wanted to find out more and more about what we actually do in Afghanistan.
Lt Beels also praised his celebrity partner, Hugh Bonneville, saying that the actor’s father did National Service in the Royal Navy, which provided an instant icebreaker and the pair bonded over a shared love of sailing as well as drawing up a game plan. Lt Beels added:
We got on really well and discussed our strengths. Obviously, Hugh’s interests are dominated by the arts and my job in the Navy meant that I’m much more science- and engineering-focused, but I also have a broad general knowledge.
When the three military contestants stepped onto the set, they sat in the studio chairs for a run through of how to use their ‘lifelines’ and practise a few questions against the clock which, according to Lt Beels, settled their nerves. But nothing prepared them for the warmth of the all-military audience:
It was absolutely amazing,” he reports. “I felt like a sportsman stepping on the pitch at Madison Square Garden. It was great, and they were hugely supportive.
Once I sat in the chair, I thought it would be stress central but I focused on Chris Tarrant and the questions, it was really enjoyable and I felt so comfortable.
Melanie Sykes partners Major Nicola McCullough, an Army medic. Before filming the show, Melanie said:
I love ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’, even though it’s utterly terrifying. I’m only hoping that my partner, Nicola, is as clever as she is brave. That way, we stand a chance of winning a respectable amount of money for a worthwhile cause.
In 2005, Major McCullough worked in a number of field hospitals in Iraq and last year she spent 10 weeks at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan where she saw 600 patients. She said of being on the TV show:
It was a good experience but very nerve-wracking. On a scale of 1 to 10 of terror, I would definitely have to say 10!
Comedian and actor John Thomson is pairing up with quiz fan Sergeant Derek ‘Dutch’ Holland, from the RAF. John said:
It is a great honour to have been asked and to support our noble, heroic forces.
Sgt Holland joined the RAF in 1996 and has recently served a six-month tour of duty in Kabul, Afghanistan.
During his career, Sgt Holland has been awarded the Station Commander’s Commendation for Outstanding Achievement, and a Group Commendation in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
As experiences go, Sgt Holland believes that appearing on the popular TV quiz show for charity was ‘out of this world’, heightened by the knowledge that some of his colleagues were sitting in the 200-strong, tri-Service audience, who whipped up an extraordinary atmosphere:
I can’t put it into words yet,” he said. “But, as time goes on, I’m realising how lucky I was to be chosen. Anyone who gets the opportunity to go on the show should definitely go. But it’s a day that I will never forget.
In a change to the usual ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ Special format, all the money won will go to military charities rather than split with a member of the public. To find out who won what, tune in and watch tonight.