Boy, 14, becomes youngest ever 'Countdown' champion

A 14-year-old boy has become the youngest contestant to be crowned champion of Countdown. Conor Travers, who plays cricket and chess when not doing homework, solved conundrums within a second and found solutions to numbers games that Carol Vorderman thought were impossible, to gain a place in the final.

Yesterday, he beat 33-year-old Matthew Shore to claim the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy - and become the youngest winner in the Channel 4 show's 24-year history.

Despite winning eight consecutive games, he said the final was particularly nerve-racking. "I was worried that I'd play below my best," he said. "It took me a while to get to sleep the night before, but once I got to sleep I was fine. My friends and family think it's brilliant. They are all a bit shocked, but very proud."

He said that, at first, he found being in the studio intimidating, but then you "just get used to it".

Vorderman, who has presented the numbers and letters games on the show since its launch in 1982, said: "Conor is fabulous. You could sense he was feeling the pressure in the studio. He was very quiet and we tried our best to keep all the usual studio kerfuffle to a minimum. We were all nervous because the standard had been so high."

Ratings for the show rose all week, as Conor stunned audiences with winning words, despite not always knowing their meaning. Although he was good at maths and English and able to read books by the age of four, it was only last year that Conor learnt that he had an aptitude for the letters, numbers and anagram quiz show. He was off school, unwell, when he started watching the programme, and realised that he was achieving higher scores than the contestants, prompting him to apply for a place on the show.

His mother, Maureen, father, Martin, a building company director, and four-year-old sister said they were very proud of his achievement, having supported him all the way through the series. They said they had great belief in his ability, and when he kept beating contestants with an average score of 111, as opposed to an average winning score in the nineties, they realised he could win the final.

With winning words in letters games including craniates, tzardoms, protamine, valorise and renegado, Conor's best win of 124 points became the highest score of the season.

Before his victory yesterday, the youngest winner of the show was Wayne Summers, 15, who became champion in 1992.

Des Lynam, who took over as presenter of the show after the death of Richard Whiteley last June, said: "The finals produced a really high standard and there was a huge weight on the slim shoulders of Conor who had been seeded number one.

"I thought his appearance might have changed dramatically since his earlier shows. Fourteen-year-old boys can change quite a bit. But all that had happened was that Conor had grown his hair a bit. He's a shy, modest, intelligent boy with a waspish sense of humour and has become something of a reluctant star.

"The other finalist, Matthew Shore, is another worthy contestant who again plays to a very high standard indeed. Between them they produced a cracking television show."

And what will Conor do now, as Britain's newest young celebrity? A spokesperson for Countdown said: "He is such an unassuming little boy. He's into letters and numbers, not celebrity." Yesterday he was back at Cardinal Newman School in Luton continuing his GCSE studies.

Conor will be appearing in Countdown's Champion of Champions season which starts on Monday.

Young & gifted

* YINAN WANG

When the 12-year-old moved to England from China, he struggled to communicate. Last year, aged 14, he was awarded a place at Oxford University to read materials science. He has already completed a maths degree from the Open Univeristy.

* RUTH LAWRENCE

A year after passing her maths O-level at eight, she became the youngest Briton to gain an A in A-level pure maths. At 13, Ruth, from Huddersfield, graduated from St Hugh's College, Oxford, with a starred first in maths, having completed her degree in two years.

* VANESSA-MAE

Playing piano at three and violin at five, she was guest soloist with the London Philharmonic and recorded a classical album before she reached her teens.

* NIGEL SHORT

At the age of 10, the chess prodigy defeated Viktor Korchnoi, a grandmaster. At 14, he became the second youngest International Master in history, after Garry Kasparov.

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