Lance Lovecraft arrives at the studio and meets the other contestants before the game begins.
The Weakest Link
"I still can't believe we're going to be on telly!" Dad rubbed his hands together in giddy excitement that had steadily grown in the last few weeks.
"Well, you better start believing it. We can't have you carrying on the whole night," Mum chastised him, waddling uncomfortably in her brand new heels, bought just for this very night. "Lance doesn't need to worry about you when he's busy answering questions and winning money."
"Alright!" Dad whined, turning around when he noticed his son had stopped walking behind them. "What's the matter, you?"
Lance gently ran a long, rose-gold painted fingernail over his matching lip gloss, staring intently at his reflection in the small handmirror he held. He let out an anxious exhale. "Do I look like a pillock?"
Dad stepped towards him, reached out and gently pushed Lance in the right direction with a hand between his shoulder blades. "Don't be daft."
"Nobody ever had a better-looking son," Mum was better than Dad at reassuring him, but he wasn't convinced.
"Hah. Why am I asking you? You're my parents. You have to say that," Lance grimaced at his reflection, brushing a lock of platinum-dyed hair from eyes hidden behind rose-gold contact lenses.
I shouldn't have put on that eye shadow. Bugger it. I look like a drag queen.
"I don't reckon. Nicky's an ugly bastard," Dad offered cheekily.
"Garth! Watch your mouth!"
Dad withstood another one of Mum's half-hearted smacks to the arm. "I'm just saying. He looks too much like his old dad."
Lance knew his tart-tongued father was trying to comfort him by making jokes. It might have worked had people not told the dancer how much he looked like his big brother - at least until he started modifying his appearance with hair dye, makeup and coloured contact lenses. Still, he appreciated the effort, though he wondered if Dad ever made fun of him when it was Nicky instead who needed cheering up.
"You look like a million quid, love. Try not to get stuck up here," she tapped the side of her head. "I know you can get in your own head and scare yourself. Don't do that. Don't start doubting yourself. You're a clever boy and you've never looked finer. You'll be terrific tonight."
"But... what if I make a total wanker of myself?"
Dad snorted. "You won't, son." He then chuckled. "You always do this! You get nervous and scared, then you knock it for six every time. How many times did you dance circles around the other kids in all those recitals and competitions after telling us you weren't good enough?"
They're right. I need to get a grip.
"And remember, if anyone gives you cheek, you can just vote them off!" Mum added.
Lance found himself smiling without meaning to. His parents never expected their middle child to be so unique. Nicky was perhaps too typical a teenage boy, with his filthy jerseys, horrible diet and failed attempts at being a ladies man. Lance had worn pointe shoes since he was old enough to dance, throwing his lot in with life as an entertainer with a keen interest in all things pop and glamour. Incredibly feminine and flamboyant by nature, he took his parents by surprise. But unlike so many horrid people he'd had the discomfort of knowing, Garth and Sue were nothing but loving and supportive.
The BBC Pacific Quay studio was a large building next to the River Clyde. Lance, his insides squirming with nerves, looked up in awe as he and his parents approached. It wasn't his first time in a studio nor on television, but this would be the first time he would appear on an episode of a televised game show! As he walked towards the reception on high-heeled boots, an older lady with a floral blouse underneath a long, black jacket stood up behind the desk from her chair. According to her badge, her name was Carol.
"Welcome to BBC Scotland. You're one of the contestants for The Weakest Link, aren't you?" She spoke in a Scottish accent so potent that Lance almost asked her to repeat herself.
"Ahh, yes!" Lance beamed at her. "Lance. Ahh-- Lovecraft. And this is my Mum and Dad."
"Garth and Sue," Dad introduced himself with his embarrassingly Cockney accent and leaned over to shake Carol's hand.
"Lovecraft. Like H.P. Lovecraft?" The receptionist seemed amused by the name and intimidated by Dad's embarrassing tendency to come on very strong. "Any relation?"
"Very distant," Dad laughed embarrassingly loud, and Lance turned pink.
Blimey. Make him stop.
"Right, well I'll get you to sign in here," she spun a clipboard around on the bench between them for Lance to look at. "You're in Studio B, which is on the second floor. I'll ask you to turn your phones off and keep them off until after filming comes to a wrap."
Lance read the consent form Carol presented him and signed his compliance with the rules and regulations of the studio with his signature. Where it asked for the charity of his choice, he wrote down Stonewall Equality Limited. If he won, he would not only be considerably wealthier, but BBC would also donate the total of tonight's prize money to Stonewall! Following that, Mum and Dad had another form to sign if they were going to be part of the audience in the show tonight. Lance could barely keep still as Carol then guided them towards the lift and used her card to send them on up to the second floor. The doors opened, and another woman, much younger and taller than Carol, met Lance and his parents. Her name was Ronda, and her accent was much softer.
"Well, you're definitely Lance," she stood with her arms folded, and it looked as though she were chewing gum.
"Definitely" Lance? What does she mean by that?
"Got it in one," he replied diplomatically, showcasing his newly whitened teeth with his most dazzling smile. "I guess I'm on the right floor, then."
"Yep. Through there," she pointed towards a double door to his right. "And parents, you're coming with me to the audience booth. So, say your good lucks and I love yous now."
"Oh!" Lance had thought that Mum and Dad would be with him for a while longer. They certainly weren't wasting time here.
Mum gripped his hand. "Good luck, love! Remember that you're smarter than you know you are. Don't let the nerves get to you!"
"We're proud of you no matter how it goes tonight, son," Dad left a noisy, wet kiss on Lance's forehead.
The divo hugged his slim frame with his arms as he watched Ronda take his parents down the hall and disappear around the corner. He turned on his elevated heel and faced the double doors that the lady had told him to go through. Once he filled himself with confidence, he drew his shoulders back and walked his way into the green room. Five other teenagers had already beaten him there, and they were mingling together. One person immediately caught Lance's eye.
That's Corey bloody Channing. From Ember Seal! What's he doing here??
Jamie... something old-school Scottish with way too many letters. Lance didn’t know to pronounce it, but he would recognise the actor anywhere. Immediately he blushed underneath his thick layer of makeup. Jamie was even more gorgeous in person, somehow - beautiful brown skin with those beautiful dark eyes, and even those two moles - one on his cheek and one on his upper lip. Unlike Corey, the actor wore thick-rimmed black spectacles. Lance decided the eyewear only made him fitter. Shyness overtook him as he remembered all the fanfiction he'd read - and attempted to write - about the heartthrob. Bobby would be going green with envy if he knew how smitten his boyfriend was with the guy standing only a few feet away.
"Oh. Wow. Alright," the other lad, a weedy teenager with comical bug-eyes and a feeble attempt at facial hair on his chin and upper lip, snickered as he saw the effeminate dancer strutting into the green room.
Up yours too, mate.
If this tosser thought he was original or witty by making fun of Lance, he was dead wrong. It was an old, tired and rather... impotent act. Instead of biting back, Lance simply pretended he didn't exist. "Hey, everybody. I'm Lance."
It was the actor who immediately forced himself to the forefront, thrusting his hand out towards the newcomer. "Jamie Ceannaideach."
Oh. So that's how you pronounce it.
Though he was gagging, Lance was adept at keeping the ecstatic hysteria on the inside where it belonged, but he let himself beam at the actor he'd had a crush on for months and months.
"Hi, Jamie! Oh my gosh, Ember Seal is one of my favourite shows right now, and I had no idea you'd be here tonight! Corey is an icon!"
Jamie's smirk, one that Corey Channing showcased when he was acting the duplicitous bad boy everyone loved to hate, widened with the words of praise. "Yep, that's my call to fame. What about you? What do you do?"
His question sounded more like a demand, putting Lance on his back foot. Jamie - not Corey, Lance reminded himself - sized the dancer up without a hint of subtlety.
"I'm a professional dancer, and I model for three different agencies," Lance answered him shyly.
"So am I!" He puffed his chest out with pride. "When I'm not on set, I do a lot of modelling and dancing. And singing," he added, just in case the rest of his powerhouse resume wasn't impressive enough.
Oh, great. So he does everything I do, except he's also a famous bloody television actor. How did I even get invited here tonight? What was the point of showing up?
"Hi! I'm Eliza: theatre actress."
The girl with very long, wavy black hair and very red lipstick was tired of being ignored and broke the conversation to introduce herself next. She was taller than Lance was, wearing heels of similar height and still beating his stature by an inch or two. She sounded Welsh.
"Lovely to meet you!" Lance returned her wide smile with his own.
"Grace Ojomo," a dark-skinned young lady with tight black curls and meek brown eyes spoke next.
"Paul. I develop apps," the tool who jeered at him earlier offered his hand to shake. Lance didn't want to, but he didn't need to make enemies before the game had even begun, so he forced a diplomatic smile and went ahead.
"Hi! I'm Alyssa MacIntosh," the plump, curvy and very pretty blonde girl introduced herself, and Lance was suddenly hit with another wave of recognition.
"Oh! Ohh!! Ahh-- Whispers of my Dreams!" He clapped his hands together, beaming at the singer.
Alyssa gave a girlish giggle and feigned modesty - not very well. "I'm so glad someone finally knew who I was! You're the first one to say anything!" Lance went to speak to the others again, but Alyssa wasn't done. "I mean, it's not like people don't recognise me in public a lot, even here in Scotland, and I was like, why hasn't anyone brought up Whispers of my Dreams? It spent weeks at the top of the charts. It's nice to meet a fan!"
Lance would hardly call himself a fan. Sure, he'd listened to and genuinely enjoyed the brief hit single earlier that year, but the girl wasn't exactly the new Britney, even if she seemed to think so.
"What's with the, er, makeup and the nails and stuff? You are a bloke, right?"
"I guess you'll never know," Lance replied dryly. He knew he'd get questions, and desperately wished he could remember any of the witty responses he'd prepared earlier while he was in the spacious hotel shower with just the right water pressure. "It's something I learned from MI-5."
MI-5? Ugh. Is that the best you can come up with?
The awkwardness of Lance's terrible comeback was mercifully fleeting. Jamie quickly launched into a lengthy, relentless diatribe about it being commonplace for men to wear makeup in the entertainment industry. Eliza tried twice to get a word in edgewise, but he talked over her as though she didn't exist. With an eye roll and a snort of suppressed laughter, she splintered from the group and sat on the couch while Grace followed her. Lance decided that Grace and Eliza were less offensive than Paul, Alyssa and even dishy Jamie - possibly, he realised with a cynical poignancy, because he didn't know anything about them yet. He sat down next to them and awkwardly crossed his legs, unsure of what to do now.
"So, are you acting in anything right now?" He asked Eliza, who seemed much more sociable than Grace did.
"Yes, I am! I get to play Ursula the Sea Witch in the Sherman Theatre's musical production of the Little Mermaid," she shifted to face him, her body language open and relaxed. It was refreshing.
He gasped. "I love The Little Mermaid! Especially Ursula! And it's a musical? So you sing too?"
I wish I could sing!
Eliza winked and sipped from a mug of black tea. "I'm not as famous as the pop princess over there, but I can carry a tune."
"She's being modest," the other girl told him in her soft voice, a cheeky look in her eyes. "She's so brilliant that she actually stole the role from someone else."
"I did not! That's... well, not a lie, but you make it sound so wicked of me!" Eliza objected, feigning offence.
Lance looked between them. "What do you mean?"
The girls, obviously having already established a rapport, giggled. Eliza exhaled and looked at her beverage. "Well, I started out as the understudy. You know what that is, right?" Lance nodded, but she explained anyway. "I knew all the lines and lyrics in case she couldn't perform for whatever reason. So, I stepped in for a few nights when the original Ursula needed some time off, and... well, the director asked her not to come back, and offered me the role permanently." She sipped from her mug again, eyes on the dancer, curious to see how he might react.
Oh, a professional backstabber?
Lance was amused. "Girl, you must have slayed! Congratulations!"
Her red smile widened. "Thank you, darling! I'm not sure it's a big enough deal to justify me being heretonight, but I wasn't about to say no to such an opportunity!"
"Same, though!" Lance liked Eliza, he decided. Confident, but not too cocky, and both easy and fun to talk with. "What about you, um-- I'm so sorry, I've forgotten your name."
She didn't seem to mind. "Grace Ojomo."
"Grace! I'll remember that. Promise! What do you do?"
"Nothing flashy or interesting," she began, but Eliza snorted loudly.
"She is a genius!" The actress pointed with her thumb to the girl. "Don't let her fool you with this cute, shy act of hers. She's here to win!"
"Are you?" He asked her, hands clasped over his knee. "A genius?"
Grace traced the rim of her glass with a small finger. "Last year, I was voted Britain's Brightest Star. The youngest ever."
In stark contrast, Lance felt bloody stupid. He wished he knew what that was. It sounded pretty significant. "Awesome! What-- what for?"
This time, there was no humility in Grace's eyes. Only pride. "Academic achievement."
Eliza hadn't been exaggerating. Grace really was a genius. That scared him. To be competing against someone so bright in a game based on general knowledge questions... how could he stand a chance? How could any of them? Especially him? He was just a high-school dropout. Why did he agree to do this?
I'm so in over my head here.
The girls continued to chat, with Eliza doing most of the talking. On the other couch, Jamie was shamelessly flirting with Alyssa, who seemed to enjoy the attention. Bugeyes, on the other side of them, looked very awkward. He probably wasn't much of a social creature. For a brief moment, Lance considered going over to talk to him, but he then remembered the nasty comments the app developer made about him earlier and his sympathy vanished.
The seventh person arrived considerably later than Lance had. He was very, very tall, thick in the middle and fair-skinned, with fiery orange hair, many freckles and blue eyes. He was cute, even if his nose was slightly long and bent. His slacks and bowtie matched his blue eyes.
"Nathan Saunders," he spoke with a predictably Irish accent and flashed some crooked but immaculate white teeth. "Pleased to meet the lot of you. What's everybody's names?" Following the introductions, Nathan spoke a little about himself to the group as though he were holding a press conference. "I'm from Waterford, Northern Ireland, and I founded my own charity: All About Autism, or Triple-A."
Oh, bum. Another great success story.
"Oh, I never heard of it!" Alyssa surprised Lance by showing brief interest in another person's life. "Is it a small charity?"
"Yes. For now," Nathan admitted, running his hand through his hair. "I'm hoping we'll get some exposure tonight, and the prize money certainly wouldn't hurt. So don't be afraid to make some big numbers tonight!"
"I'm guessing that you're playing for your own charity?" Lance asked him, and Nathan nodded.
"Call me selfish, but we need the money," the Irishman shrugged and offered a nervous grin.
"Oh, we'd never think you selfish! We're all playing for our charities tonight," Eliza reassured him.
Moments later, a fourth girl strolled in, and she received some looks from the others that Lance was familiar with. Her hair was huge around her face, spiked and fluffy, layered blue and pink and possibly filled with enough hairspray to plug the ozone layer. Her eyes were outlined by a thick layer of eyeliner, and she had piercings in her mouth, nose and ears. She wore a pink tee with tight black jeans underneath and neon-blue converse shoes. Lance was pleased to see that he wouldn't be the only one to stand on the set with a non-conformist presentation. Not far behind her, just as she uttered a cool hello, the ninth and final contestant joined the green room - a tall, powerful-looking fellow with dirty blond curls, sharp blue eyes and very real muscles hiding under his tight-fitting blue shirt.
"Alright, guys? I'm Cian," he spoke confidently with a deep, baritone voice and a soft Scottish accent.
Between the two who arrived at nearly the same time, the charismatic Cian was far better received than Casey was, and most of the teenagers flocked to him. Lance decided to wait his turn and instead greet the scene girl, who didn't seem all too desperate to speak with her rivals.
"Hi! I adore your shirt," he beamed, and she looked him up and down. "I'm Lance!"
"Hey," she greeted him indifferently, arms folded over her chest. "I'm Casey Adams. I'm an author."
That's it, then. Unless bodybuilder Cian turns out to be a potato, literally everyone is more of a teenage triumph than I am.
"Neat! What did you write? Anything I've read?" He asked her politely, pushing his own insecurity deep down where, with luck, nobody else would see it.
"The Glass Kingdom and Obsidian Arrowhead," she curled her slightly chapped lips in a smirk. "Maybe you read them. I don't know. What do you do?"
I should tell a bunch of porkies, like I invented the goldfish or something. At least I'd sound interesting.
"Model and professional dancer."
"Oh. Not something... intellectual?" She seemed genuinely surprised, and Lance's opinion of her darkened.
Is she for real?
"I'm afraid not, but don't underestimate me."
He turned from her, stung by her words as the veiled threat left his rose-gold painted lips. Cian, when at last Lance could get a word in with him edgewise, seemed much less aloof than many of the other contestants. He was very likeable, and he shook the dancer's hand with a firm but warm grip. What Lance liked most, though, was that Cian didn't stare at him with confusion or disgust.
"Hi! I'm Lance."
"What's going on, man? You a celebrity or Youtube something or what?"
Lance briefly closed his eyes to match his coy smile. "Not yet. I'm just a professional dancer. How about you? What got you arms like that?"
Cian flexed his colossal left bicep. "I'm an athlete. The boys and I came home from the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 with a gold medal in recurve archery." He said it so flippantly that Lance wasn't sure he heard correctly.
"You... what? You're an Olympic athlete?"
"Well, Commonwealth,” Cian corrected him. “I’ll be Olympic this year!"
"Mhm. Started with a plastic bow and those plunger darts me mam got me for my birthday when I was four, and it turns out I had a knack for it."
Wow. Not unlike my dancing.
"Well, bugger me! I thought you had to be over eighteen to participate in the Olympics-- and Commonwealth!" Lance exclaimed.
"I don't know how it is for all the other events, but you only have to be sixteen to qualify for archery. I’ll be eighteen for the London Olympics this year - it’s my birthday in three weeks! So, what does professional dancer mean?"
Lance was now growing weary of explaining his paltry activities to these people who had accomplished so much more than he had. "Oh, you know. Recitals, competitions and stage productions. Nothing special."
"Aye, I don't think that's true. You must be one heck of a dancer. Why would you be here if you're not special?" Cian reasoned.
"They need someone to go home first," Jamie piped up, and some of the others laughed out loud.
Paul, Casey and Alyssa. Though he'd been ready to give them the benefit of the doubt, Lance decided once and for all that he disliked all four of them. Lance came to the studio wanting to be mature, but Jamie had successfully gotten under his skin with his holier-than-thou arrogance since the moment he'd arrived. He struck back.
"Whatever, mate. I wear heels bigger than your todger."
The only person who didn't laugh at the dancer's reply was Jamie himself. It felt good to scorch the cockiness off his stupid face. It had been a letdown to meet the actor behind Corey Channing, the prettiest face of Ember Seal, just to find out he was an absolute prat.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, after the teenagers had all arrived and done enough mingling and socialising for the camera that recorded them, Ronda returned through the double doors and made her presence known with her loud barking voice.
"Alright, listen up! We're ready for you all on the set. Head on in, find your name on one of the podiums and take your spot. We'll go over the rules for both the set and the game before the Hostess arrives. Come this way, please. Quickly!"
"Good luck everyone!" an excitable Nathan was the first to follow the woman from the green room.
Lance and Grace trailed the rest of the contestants, walking together through the hallway in the direction that Ronda had taken his parents earlier. Nerves turned his mouth dry, and excitement made his belly writhe. He covered his face with his hands when he followed Alyssa through the doorway and saw the set. For years and years, Mum and Dad insisted on watching The Weakest Link at a quarter past five before starting dinner. It was surreal to see it for himself, and especially a podium with his name on it! Lance! The dozens of people in the audience, including the friends and family of tonight's contestants, all applauded and cheered as Ronda lead the teenagers inside. Mum and Dad were there in the second row on the third block of seats, Mum clapping loudly as Dad whistled through his fingers. They looked so proud.
The nine podiums were arranged in a semi-circle, all facing the centre stage where the Hostess would soon glower at her victims and fire off questions like bullets from a rifle. Cian's platform was first in the curve, then Alyssa, Grace, his own, Jamie, Nathan, Casey, Paul and finally Eliza. Lance was irritated to find out that he was going to spend the evening next to Jamie, yet on the other side, he was terrified that Grace, the dangerously clever girl, would make him look like a daft bimbo by contrast. Lance's shoes were noisy on the blue floor beneath him as he walked, and he nervously took his place behind his podium, looking behind him to receive comfort from his parents. It worked. It always did.
"Alright, I'm assuming everyone knows how the game works?" Ronda asked, standing in front of the centre stage. Everyone replied in the affirmative, but the woman seemed to want to make sure. "The Hostess will ask a question, you will answer it, and you'll either get it right or wrong. She'll then go to the next person clockwise, and so on and so forth. If you answer incorrectly or you pass, the money in the chain is lost, and you have to start again. Every right question in a row is worth more money than the one before it. The first in a chain is worth one hundred pounds, then two-fifty, five hundred, a thousand, fifteen-hundred, twenty-two-fifty, three thousand, four thousand and the final question in a chain of nine is worth five thousand."
Lance could visualise the money chain on the left side of the telly screen. So rarely did the competing team provide enough correct answers in a row to reach five thousand pounds. Had they been nine Graces, perhaps they would stand a chance, but Lance wasn't a genius. Alyssa wasn't either. That much was clear. What about the others? Eliza definitely seemed as though she knew her onions. Casey, several places to Lance's left, made sure everyone knew that she'd published two lengthy novels and made a lot of money. Was Jamie smarter than he looked? Lance didn't even want to look at him.
Ronda continued, her voice breaking a little under the volume of her shouting. "When it's your turn, you can choose to bank, which will save the money in the chain but you'll have to start a new chain. You can only bank a maximum of five thousand pounds per round. Once you've banked five thousand pounds or you run out of time, Freddy over there," she pointed to a weaselly man in the corner, "will deliver your boards and a marker, and you'll vote for whichever teammate you think you'll do better without. The Hostess will send them home, and the next round begins. Got it?"
Lance nodded, and others were verbal in their affirmation.
"The Hostess likes to have fun with the contestants. Remember, whatever she says is just for the camera. It's all part of the show. She'll probably try to embarrass you or take you down a few pegs, or maybe she'll tell you to sing or banter or... whatever she feels like. Just indulge her and do whatever she says. Before the game begins, you'll introduce yourselves one by one to the camera. State your name, age, what makes you special, where you live and what charity you're playing for tonight. Got that? Name, age, profession, where you live and what charity you're playing for."
I'm Lance Lovecraft, sixteen, a model and a dancer from Croydon. Hmm, maybe I should just say London. Croydon’s a bit… common. Oh, and I'm playing for Stonewall Equality Limited.
Ronda then went to work describing in detail the way the contestants were expected to behave: with each other, with the Hostess and the cameras. Don't look directly at the cameras - Jamie made sure to let everyone know that as an actor, he already knew that rule. There was to be no poor sportsmanship - something that Lance imagined some of these spoiled brats would struggle with. Speak when spoken to. No profanity. To Lance, it all seemed like common courtesy. It was strange that he had to be reminded to act professionally, yet he imagined there was a story behind them. Had someone flipped the Hostess the bird or called her something rotten? He wondered what had been edited out from the past sixteen hundred shows.
Once Ronda was satisfied that the show would run smoothly and the contestants agreed they were ready to begin, she retreated and another took her place. Upon her entry, the Hostess commanded the attention of everybody in the room. Dressed entirely in black, she reminded Lance of a mature age dominatrix. Her eyes swept the curve of competitors from left to right, but she did not greet them. The moment she stood high up on her stage, she turned her back on the teenagers and waited for the cameraman's signal. Lance peered at Grace, who was nervously tapping her hands on her podium. She noticed, and the two shared an excited smile. He looked to beautiful Cian and gorgeous Alyssa, and idiot Jamie, Irish Nathan, emo Casey, Paul with the face pubes and classy Eliza. Of the lot of them, only Casey looked as though she were comfortable. Everyone else was on edge.
The studio lights moved and blinked, and Lance supposed it was the cue for the Hostess to speak. There had been so little warning that the show was beginning that he was a little taken aback!
"Welcome to a special Teenage Triumphs edition of The Weakest Link."
The signature tones sounded through the studio, so loudly, and the lights shifted. Lance watched in awe as the camera raised and retreated to get everyone in the shot.
"The nine teenagers behind me in the studio today have been taking the UK by storm... until now." Lance couldn't help but crack a smile as the audience laughed behind him. He was getting personally roasted by the iconic Hostess! "They could win up to fifty thousand pounds for both themselves and their favourite charity. If they want to win the prize money tonight, they will have to work as a team, but eight of them will go empty-handed. The hesitant, the unprepared, the ones who make excuses: all will leave with nothing, as round by round we lose the player voted the weakest link. Let's meet the little treasures."
I'm Lance Lovecraft, sixteen, a model and a dancer from London. I'm playing for Stonewall Equality Limited.
"I'm Cian Miller, sixteen years old from Glasgow, and I was part of Scotland's archery team earlier this year at the Commonwealth Games. My charity of choice is the Samaritans."
I'm Love Lancecraft. Wait.
"I'm Alyssa MacIntosh, I'm seventeen, I come from Liverpool, and I recently released my first single 'Whispers of my Dreams,' available on iTunes. If I win tonight, my charity is Marie Curie."
I'm Lance Lovecraft. I'm sixteen and I'm a model and dancer. My charity of choice is the Stonewall Equality Limited.
"I'm Grace Ojomo, fourteen years old from Bristol, and I'm the youngest person ever to be awarded the title of Britain's Brightest Star. When I win the prize money, I will be donating it to Cancer Research UK."
Lance barely had time to register how confident the young woman to his right seemed before the camera turned to him and he swallowed.
"My name is Lance Lovecraft, I'm sixteen years old, and I'm a model and dancer from London. I chose Stonewall Equality Limited as my charity for their amazing work with the LGBTQ community."
Lance felt a deep breath leave his fingers, toes, belly and brain in addition to his lungs. Immediately the anxiety caught him on the backswing. Did he sound too pretentious? Or delve too much into Stonewall? Would people think that his mentioning the LGBTQ community was to make a statement? Well, it was in a way, but would that affect the way the other contestants thought of him? He didn't want to give any of them any reason to vote him off. He glanced at Cian, then Alyssa, and Grace. None of them looked at him. Everyone's eyes were on the boy to Lance's left.
"I'm Jamie Ceannaideach, I'm from Aberdeen, and I'm fifteen. I'm a singer, actor, dancer and model, most famous as Corey Channing in Ember Seal, and I'm representing St John Ambulance."
The repetition of the other contestants' resumes succeeded in making Lance feel small. These other contestants, as far as Lance understood, had mostly been groomed for success since they were born into families with means, influence and power. From what he'd gathered from the green room, aside from Nathan, the guy who founded his own charity before he even finished school and Grace, the girl with the big brain, he was the only one whose footsteps into the world of glamour and fame weren't already shaped for him. Private schools, wealth, endless opportunities. He dared not mention to his rivals that he was a public high school dropout. They'd vote him off in a heartbeat.
"I'm Nathan Saunders from Lisburn, seventeen, I founded the All About Autism campaign to bring awareness, ease difficulties and fight stigma. If I win tonight, that money's going right into All About Autism. We can use all the help we can get."
Though the audience clapped and cheered for each contestant as they introduced themselves and revealed their charity, their reaction to Nathan was more energetic than for anyone else.
Fair enough, I suppose.
"I'm Casey Adams, seventeen, I'm from Southampton, and I've written and published two novels. Ahh, they're-- wait, can I talk about my novels?"
"This is only a one-hour show, but by all means, if it makes you feel important," the Hostess remarked snidely, drawing some laughs from the other contestants and audience members.
"Reset, we'll take that again," one of the cameramen said.
"Oh, no," Lance murmured, loud enough for Grace to hear and grin with what he hoped was sympathy.
He turned around, eyes lighting up when he found Mum and Dad in the audience. Mum gave a little wave, and Dad winked. Suddenly, Lance felt guilty about his earlier thoughts. Maybe he didn't have a future set out for him with open gates and opportunities falling from the sky. But Mum and Dad, though there were some missteps along the way, loved him unconditionally and supported him. They never expected to have their lives turned upside-down with their second son, and perhaps they could have been more understanding along the way, but they always loved him. What did it matter what overachieving Jamie or up herself Casey or super smart Grace had in their resume? They couldn't possibly know everything. Worst case scenario, he made a bloody fool of himself and Mum and Dad told him on the plane ride home how proud they are. He smiled. The cameraman pointed at Cian again, and the boy introduced himself. Then Alyssa, then Grace. This time, Lance spoke confidently.
"I'm Lance Lovecraft, sixteen, I model, and I've won several competitions in ballroom and ballet dance. I'm playing for the Stonewall Equality Limited tonight because they've done amazing work for the LGBTQ community."
He didn't feel at all pompous for emphasising his achievements. In hindsight, he was glad that he had a second chance at a first impression. He would not be intimidated by Jamie, nor Casey, nor Grace. They needed to know that.
I'm fabulous. If they don't like it, they can bloody well shove it.
After securing a successful introduction from the already esteemed author, the camera pointed at the boy next to her - Whatshisface with the terrible moustache. Lance kept forgetting his name. He didn't even know what the guy did to end up here. He only remembered Bugeyes' nasty remarks about his appearance.
"I'm Paul Russo, I'm sixteen years old, I live in Derry, and I developed a series of apps for children that encourage recycling, exercising and reading. I'm donating my winnings to the British Heart Foundation - assuming I win!"
Oh, wow. That's actually pretty neat.
From Derry? Paul certainly didn't sound like he was from Northern Ireland. He spoke with a Geordie accent.
"I'm Eliza Stacey Brooks, seventeen, and I play Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid, now performing at the Sherman Theatre in my home town of Cardiff. Tonight, I'm also playing for Cancer Research UK."
So, they were three from England, two from Scotland, two from Northern Ireland and one from Wales. The lights changed once again, and Lance assumed that the second take was successful. The Hostess stepped up to her podium and gripped her screen.
"Now, the rules. In each round, your aim is to answer enough questions correctly to reach your potential target of five thousand pounds within the time limit. With every correct answer in a chain, the value of each question increases. If you answer incorrectly or pass, the chain is broken and you lose all the money in that chain. If before the question is asked, you say 'bank,' that money is saved, but you start a new chain from scratch. The fastest way to reach your five thousand pound target is nine correct answers in a row without banking. Remember that at the end of the round, only money that has been banked can be taken forward. The first round begins with three minutes on the clock. We'll start with the person whose name is first alphabetically, and that is our songstress Alyssa. Let's play The Weakest Link."
Here we go!
The pandemic's given me so much time to write, but in a cruel ironic twist, I've had major writer's block all year long! This is mostly nonsense born of watching reruns of my favourite game show, but I hope it wasn't a complete waste of time. 😊 Thanks for reading! ❤️