16 Celebrities Who Appeared In Game Shows Before Finding Fame

Olly Murs' unfortunate stint on Deal Or No Deal is not one we'll forget in a hurry.
Olly Murs, Miriam Margolyes, Amanda Holden and Aston Merrygold all have something in common
Olly Murs, Miriam Margolyes, Amanda Holden and Aston Merrygold all have something in common
Channel 4/BBC/ITV

We’re used to people using shows like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent to launch themselves into the spotlight – but what you might not realise is that plenty of household names made their TV debuts in a very different way.

Everyone from Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell to Stephen Fry and Johnny Vegas made their starts appearing on game shows back in the day, with varying levels of success.

Here are 16 examples of celebrities who made appearances on game shows years before making a name for themselves...

Amanda Holden – Blind Date

Long before shows like Cutting It, Wild At Heart and Britain’s Got Talent came calling, Mandy made her TV debut when Cilla Black tried to find her a match on Blind Date.

During her 1991 appearance on the show, Amanda introduced herself as a drama student who loved singing the blues as well as classics like Knees Up Mother Brown (??), as well as confessing her ultimate celeb crush was Jack Nicholson.

Sadly, though, it wasn’t to be, with the future BGT star going home without a date… which her potential suitor seemed more than a bit gutted about when he clapped eyes on her for the first time.

Simon Cowell – Sale Of The Century

But Mandy isn’t the only member of the BGT panel with a surprising game show appearance near the top of her CV.

Simon Cowell’s very first TV appearance was as a contestant on Sale Of The Century, two years before his eventual co-star’s stint on Blind Date.

He may be best known now for his business decisions, but his time on Sale Of The Century ended in him leaving with 20 quid’s worth of cooking utensils. We wonder when the last time he picked them up was…

Olly Murs – Deal Or No Deal

Olly Murs’ optimism came back to bite him somewhat when he was a contestant on Deal Or No Deal, during which he turned down an offer of £26,000 and ended up pocketing just a tenner.

The future chart-topper appeared on the Channel 4 game show two years before shooting to fame on The X Factor, and after becoming a household name, he was invited back to compete in a celebrity special.

Unfortunately, he fared even worse second time around, ending up with just 50p. To make it up to his chosen charity, Olly pledged to donate £5000 of his own money.

Naughty Boy – Deal Or No Deal

Someone who fared much better on Deal Or No Deal was record producer Shahid Khan, who we all know better as Naughty Boy.

He appeared on the show the same year as Olly, but was somewhat more successful, dealing at £44K, which he put towards launching his career as a music producer.

It was money well spent, too, with Naughty Boy going on to work with stars like Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé.

Aston Merrygold – Stars In Their Eyes Kids

We know him best as a member of JLS, who became one of The X Factor’s most successful acts ever in 2007, but Aston has actually been singing on screen for a lot longer than that.

As a teenager, he appeared on Stars In Their Eyes Kids, telling host Matthew Kelly: “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Michael Jackson.”

He performed a cover of The Jackson 5’s Rockin’ Robin, ultimately finishing in second place.

Michael Underwood – The Crystal Maze

And speaking of celebs who appeared on TV classics as teenagers, let’s talk about Michael Underwood, who was a contestant on a kids’ special of The Crystal Maze when he was 15.

The presenter was the first of the young contestants to take on a challenge, but failed to win his team any crystals in either of the physical or skill-based tasks he took on.

Michael’s presenting career began almost a decade later, when he began hosting the dream-fulfilment show Whatever You Want.

Joe Wicks – The Bank Job

Minus his trademark beard, Joe Wicks suffered a very stressful blunder when his buzzer appeared to not be working, leaving him rather vexed, as you can see in the video above.

Stephen Merchant – Blockbusters

Just four years before The Office would achieve huge success, Stephen Merchant was a contestant on Blockbusters back in 1997.

Despite getting off to a good start, it wasn’t ultimately a strong showing for the comedy writer and actor, finishing with 15 points to his opponents’ 50.

Alex Horne – Countdown

Another comedy star with a previous game show appearance in their past is Taskmaster favourite Alex Horne.

Alex did a great job on Countdown, winning three consecutive shows in 2008 during Des O’Connor and Carol Vorderman’s tenure, before he was eventually bested.

Having gone on to become a popular comic, Alex has returned to Countdown several times, appearing as a guest in Dictionary Corner as well as a panellist on the show’s 8 Out Of 10 Cats specials.

Johnny Vegas – Win, Lose Or Draw

We know him best as Johnny Vegas, but in 1996, he appeared on the game show Win, Lose Or Draw under his legal name Michael Pennington.

During the episode, he did repeatedly reference his comedic ambitions, as well as the fact he performed under the stage name Johnny Vegas.

The celebrity guests for his episode included puppeteer John Eccleston and Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker.

Mark Labbett – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

Mark “The Beast” Labbett is one of the UK’s most famous quizzing experts, so it’s probably no great surprise that before finding fame on The Chase, he gave a few game shows a go, including Mastermind and Fifteen To One.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was perhaps his most successful attempt. Having failed to land in the hot seat when he played Fastest Finger First in 2005, Mark – who was then working as a supply teacher – returned a year later, leaving with an impressive £32,000.

Much later, he made an appearance on the rebooted version of the show in 2020, serving as Charlotte Church’s “phone a friend” during a celebrity special.

Anne Hegerty – Mastermind

Anne Hegerty on Mastermind
Anne Hegerty on Mastermind

Like her co-star on The Chase, Anne “The Governess” Hegerty competed on Mastermind way back in 1988.

Her specialist subject was “The Life And Works Of Lorenz Hart”, the lyricist behind standards including Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, The Lady Is A Tramp and My Funny Valentine. Sadly, no clip exists of Anne in action, but enjoy this snap of her looking ever-so-80s in the Mastermind studio all the same.

Stephen Fry – University Challenge

Then in his early 20s, comedian and actor Stephen Fry appeared as a contestant on University Challenge in 1980, representing Queen’s College, Cambridge.

He’d later achieve huge success as a quiz show host, when he began presenting the hit panel show QI.

Miriam Margolyes – University Challenge

Miriam Margolyes
Miriam Margolyes

Another iconic Cambridge alum to compete on University Challenge was the always-outrageous Miriam Margolyes.

We say “always-outrageous” because Miriam has long claimed that this appearance on University Challenge was the first case of anyone saying the f-word on the BBC after struggling to contain her disappointment about a botched answer.

The moment itself was censored, though Miriam has insisted it was very much apparent what she was saying – though sadly a clip of the explicit outburst doesn’t appear to exist.

Sir Captain Tom Moore – Blankety Blank

Around the celebrations for Sir Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday, the BBC dug out this old clip of him competing on Blankety Blank, where he tried to match his answers to celebrity panellists like Freddie Starr, Ruth Madoc and Roy Kinnear.

He went out on the first round during a 1983 Christmas special – but at least he got to keep the iconic Blankety Blank cheque book and pen, eh?

Meghan Markle – Deal Or No Deal

Deal Or No Deal worked a little differently in America, where contestants had briefcases opened by models, rather than boxes being unveiled by their fellow players.

One such model was the future Duchess of Sussex, then an aspiring actor by the name of Meghan Markle. She would, of course, later achieve success as part of the cast of Suits, before her humanitarian work led her to meeting (and, indeed, marrying) Prince Harry.


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