Your starter for 10: Who is the cleverest student ever?

A: Gail Trimble, a classics student from Corpus Christi, Oxford, who almost single-handedly carried her college to victory in ‘University Challenge’

Gail Trimble can press a buzzer with alarming speed but, more importantly, she has a head full of a rich panoply of general knowledge that ranges across literature, languages, botany, and mathematical puzzles.

In all the decades University Challenge has been testing the wits of the nation’s undergraduates, old hands are saying there has never been a contestant to match her. Last night, she led her team, Corpus Christi College, to victory over Manchester University in the final of the six-month long general knowledge quiz show. The result was quite close, by the standards of Corpus Christi, in that Manchester managed to chalk up a score of 190 to Corpus Christi’s 275.

It was the first time in the contest that the little Oxford college, which houses only 400 students, had failed to achieve a three- figure win. This time, at least, their opponents held them down to just seven “starter” questions, making it less of an embarrassingly one-sided contest than Corpus Christi’s appearance against Exeter University, which produced the most decisive win the show has seen since 1971.

Corpus Christi’s success was almost entirely down to their captain, who has scored more points than her three teammates put together. She has been nicknamed the new Stephen Fry, but that may be doing her an injustice. Fry is clever, of course – but could he, without warning and without hesitation, answer questions ranging from what does Mathilda in a poem by Hilaire Belloc have in common with Miss Havisham, in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations, to a mathematical puzzle about the difference between 10 metres squared and 10 square metres? Because Ms Trimble, a 26-year-old classicist, did.

Yesterday, Ms Trimble declared herself bemused by her new-found status as a sex symbol, a status allotted to her by some – but by no means all – of the bloggers who have commented about her on the web.

“I’m glad people are being nice about me rather than nasty,” she told Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. But she added: “I very much think this would not be happening if I was a man. People would not feel it necessary to comment on my looks so much.”

She attributed the span of her knowledge to a stimulating childhood in a household filled with books, and to her “amazingly supportive” parents, who are both scientists, from Walton-on-Thames, in Surrey.

Ms Trimble was educated at a fee-paying school, Lady Eleanor Holles in Hampton, Middlesex, where she achieved 11 GCSEs – 10 at A* and one A – and four A-levels in Latin, Greek, English Literature and Maths – all grade A.

In her “undergraduate profile” on the Oxford University website, she is lyrical about the pleasures of learning Classics. “The best academic experiences tend to be completely unexpected – lectures on Plato’s Symposium on Monday afternoons in the summer, given in a remote room somewhere in the orchards in Worcester, where we would hear brilliant thoughts on Plato as the sun streamed in and ducks walked past the window,” she wrote.

On the radio yesterday, she confessed to gaps in her general knowledge that included any questions on biology or sport. When challenged with a few pub quiz questions by a tabloid newspaper, she had to admit she could not name the manager of Chelsea FC, the winner of Celebrity Big Brother, nor even the British lead actor in Slumdog Millionaire. (The answers, for those who also do not know, are Guus Hiddink, Ulrika Jonsson, and Dev Patel.) By contrast, on hearing Jeremy Paxman read out a list of names, she instantly recognised them as characters from the works of Jane Austen.

Fingers on the buzzers: Questions from last night's final

*1: What everyday concept did Iris Murdoch describe as “… the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real”?

*2: To what set of attested languages, i.e. those of the Germanic, Slavic, Romance and other families, do the initial letters P.I.E. refer?

*3: If a tap leaks a millilitre of water every second, how many 10-litre buckets will it fill completely in a day?

*4: Giving its name to an early form of capacitor, which city to the south-west of Amsterdam is home to The Netherlands’ oldest university, founded in 1575?

*5: Which of Shakespeare's plays is the only one to be set in Vienna and concerns the city’s Duke adopting a disguise in order to observe the actions of his subjects, including his deputy Angelo?

*6: A taco terrier is a cross between a toy fox terrier and which other breed of dog, originating in a country of Latin America?

*7: Which French obstetrician, who died in 1957, gave his name to a method of childbirth involving exercises and breathing control designed to give pain relief without drugs?


1: Love (in the essay: ‘The Sublime and the Good’, 1959)

2: Proto-Indo-European

3: Eight (8.64)

4: Leiden (the leyden jar)

5: Measure for Measure

6: Chihuahua (from Mexico)

7: Fernand Lamaze (the Lamaze technique)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent