The Chase’s Anne Hegerty: ‘Being on the autism spectrum made me perfect for this show’

'Being on the autism spectrum, actually getting myself up, showered and dressed and to the studio is the difficult stuff.'

This week on The Chase, a team broke a new show record when they won £100,000 (NZ$196,000). Housewife Diane, 52, medical student Luca, 21, retired database administrator Tim, 62, and laundry assistant Gayna, 38, took home £25,000 each. They were up against professional quizzer Anne Hegerty, better known as the Governess. The Weekly caught up with Anne during a recent visit to New Zealand to promote the show – and found her far less frosty than her show persona:

Anne Hegerty was warned before she came to Auckland for a whirlwind trip to promote the TV show The Chase that Kiwis were rather fond of the quiz programme.

But she was so blown away by the response she got that just hours after arriving in the country Anne – best known as the formidable Governess – was messaging the other Chasers, telling them, “You’ve got to come to New Zealand – we’re treated like demi-gods here!”

As if to illustrate her point, moments after finishing a photoshoot with the Weekly at Auckland’s Westhaven Marina, she was walking through the car park when a vehicle pulled up and the driver called out, “Hey Anne, nice to see you. We love you on The Chase!”

“Thank you so much,” she responded. “Isn’t that nice?”

Later, in her hotel room, she says while The Chase is a success at home in the UK, she was surprised to find out how obsessed New Zealanders are with it.

Despite having been on the show for eight years, Anne still has “pinch-me moments” when she realises this is her life now, and the warm welcome from Kiwis is one of those times.

“It’s just been brilliant,”she says. “And I am always happy to say hello back and have a selfie if people ask. It’s the least you can do if they watch the show. One is always aware that it could all end tomorrow.”

That’s not likely, given how popular The Chase is, but if it did, it has been one hell of a ride for Anne, who accepts she will be forever seen as the Governess, or “Frosty Knickers”, as beloved host Bradley Walsh affectionately calls her.

On TV, she cuts a haughty and somewhat imperious figure in that school-marmish suit and carefully coiffed hairstyle. When just being herself, she’s warmer and funnier. With her hair in a softer style and wearing jeans and a top emblazoned with skulls, the quiz lover is a far cry from her intimidating alter ego.

Anne admits her life changed so much when she started doing The Chase that for a while, she felt like she was two different people.

“It really felt like it was happening to someone else, and there was me and this other woman. But I realised a couple of years ago that I no longer felt like that, and now it’s just me.”

That doesn’t mean her personality has merged with the persona of the Governess.

“It’s hard to say to what extent I am the Governess. My close relatives would say I am more like her in real life than most people would. I suppose I am quite no-nonsense like her.”

Anne’s role on the high-rating quiz show is just perfect for somebody who has spent most of their life just wanting to read and absorb information. Diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum when she was 46, Anne (now 60) didn’t have the happiest of childhoods.

“As a child it wasn’t that I couldn’t make friends, I just didn’t understand why one was supposed to. I was perfectly happy, just me and a shelf of books. I didn’t understand why I needed other people and that hurt a lot of feelings.”

She became a journalist but hated her work being edited, so she moved into academic proofreading. In 1988, she went on game show Mastermind and although she didn’t do particularly well, it opened the door to a social club of Mastermind contestants, which in turn led to a high-level quizzing circuit in the UK.

After the British round of the World Quizzing Championships, she was approached by “the largest man I had ever seen in my life. He said, ‘Hi, my name is Mark Labbett, you just beat me, who are you?'”

He mentioned he’d just filmed the pilot of a TV series called The Chase and when it was broadcast a few weeks later with Mark (the Beast) and Shaun Wallace (the Dark Destroyer) as the only hasers, Anne fantasised about being in the Chaser’s seat.

“Then I thought, ‘Right, back to proofreading.’ But less than three months later, I heard they were looking for a female Chaser and I thought, ‘Why not put my name forward?'”

A quiet confidence in her ability means she’s never really suffered too much from nerves.

“I don’t panic,” she tells. “I have done enough quizzing to know I am pretty good. To be honest, being on the autism spectrum, actually getting myself up, showered and dressed and to the studio, and having my make-up done, then getting in the suit is the difficult stuff.

“Once I am sitting in the chair answering the questions, that’s the easy bit, although every time they are about to ask a new question, there is this little voice in the back of my mind saying, ‘This is where you get found out, where they see you haven’t learnt enough stuff.’

“And I do get things wrong, which can be embarrassing, but being the Governess, I can put on this front of, ‘Well, that’s a rubbish thing to know, why would I want to know that?,’ and move on to the next thing.”

Three episodes of The Chase are filmed in a day, which means Anne gets to catch up with at least two of her fellow Chasers each time.

“When someone is in the seat, the other two of us will try to sit at the bottom of the stairs during the final chase to provide a bit of support, especially if someone loses.

“If Mark loses, he is going to come stomping down the steps and want to talk for half an hour, and it’s me he unloads to.”

Anne and Mark are in regular touch via WhatsApp, and when she’s at home in Manchester, she sees Jenny Ryan (the Vixen) once a week because they’re in the same pub quiz team.

Anne regularly competes in quizzes, visits an online trivia site called Sporcle and reads articles on the internet.

“It is research for my job but I would be doing it anyway, to be honest. It’s my default setting.”

Sports is her worst subject but she’s “pretty good” at royal history, religion and pop culture from 1900 to 1980. Anne says the fast-paced format of The Chase has been vital to its success, but it’s Bradley Walsh who’s the show’s secret weapon.

“He wasn’t their first choice of presenter, they were going to have someone who was a lot more serious, but he is the one who makes it work.”

And produces lots of laughs. Anne, who owns up to being “a tremendous giggler”, was the Chaser in the hot seat when Bradley famously lost his composure over a question about an athlete called Fanny Chmelar (check out the YouTube clip). He was laughing so much, he couldn’t speak and that set Anne off.

“I had to keep looking off to the side and not at Bradley, but in the end I finally lost it… I often find I have to try to keep it together because Bradley makes me laugh. Thankfully, the Governess’ haughty look helps me to mask the laughter.”

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