Fresh out of Oriel College, Oxford, with a masters in mathematics, 22-year-old Rachel Riley is the new Carol Vorderman, taking on the role of human calculator in the revamped Channel 4 afternoon quiz Countdown. Riley was planning on a career in marketing but beat 1,000 rival applicants to the Countdown job where she will work alongside the dry-witted Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling.
If she really can get her consonants in a line and follow Vorderman's career path, then the potential rewards are immense. Vorderman was on £1m per annum, though she quit the job earlier this year after being asked to take a 90 per cent pay cut. Riley's starting salary of £100,000 a year is hefty enough for someone straight out of university. "This is the best graduate job in the world," she says. "There's only one cool maths job around and I was lucky enough to get it."
For the Countdown auditions, Rachel and other applicants were tested on their maths skills, having to answer complex sums within 30 seconds – with the Countdown clock music in the background to add to the pressure. She was then shortlisted alongside five other candidates who took part in screen tests in Leeds.
Expect Riley to become a cult figure with undergraduates – a key Countdown demographic – next year. Like most students she was an obsessive watcher of the show, formerly hosted by Richard Whiteley, Des Lynam and Des O'Connor. "I've had the Countdown theme as my mobile-phone ringtone for years," she says. "Prior to my audition I bought five Countdown puzzle books and tackled over 500 different numbers games in order to hone my skills."
If the new series is a success, expect Channel 4 to explore further television projects with Riley to broaden her profile.