SHE captured the nation’s hearts in the I’m A Celeb jungle last year but is best known as the imposing Governess who tries to stop contestants from winning on ITV’s The Chase.
But for Anne Hegerty, or “Frosty Knickers” as game show host Bradley Walsh affectionately calls her, the path to fame has not been smooth.
The 60-year-old has lived with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, since she was a child but was only diagnosed after recognising her symptoms on a TV programme — aged 44.
Before her TV break she also struggled with debt. At rock bottom she was so broke that she was using vouchers to buy basic food.
But today, in an exclusive interview to mark ten years of The Chase, she reveals how becoming a Chaser on the hit show changed her life.
Not only was she able to pay off her mortgage and debts, she also fulfilled her secret lifelong ambition of becoming famous.
Anne tells The Sun on Sunday: “I was struggling, I was hungry, I was a freelance copy editor but had very little work.
“I had to go to Asda, it’s the best supermarket if you’re poor as they have a good basic range, Sainsbury’s is for rich, posh people.
“I would take vouchers, do sums in my head just to get some eggs and bread or a tin of cheap Irish stew. I’d be starving and want two tins but couldn’t afford it. The poorer you are the hungrier you feel.
“I would walk three miles from my house into Manchester city centre if I got work, as I couldn’t afford the £1.40 bus fare.
“One of the worst nights was when I walked into Manchester to go to the Mastermind Club (Anne appeared on the quiz in the late Eighties), a society for anybody who has ever sat in the show’s big black chair.
“I didn’t have money to buy a drink and nobody offered. I spent the entire evening at this table at the back of the pub alone, with tears rolling down my cheeks, thinking, ‘Will someone just buy me a f***ing drink, please?’
“It was dreadful. I don’t know where I’d be without The Chase, it changed my life.
“I love having lots of money, I think it’s brilliant.
“I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich and rich is better. There are very few problems that money can’t solve.
“It’s fantastic knowing if you have one you can buy your way out of it.”
Anne’s Asperger’s means she is meticulous in everything she does but she cannot deal with more than one thing at a time, gets frustrated if she has to rush and needs to plan ahead in great detail.
She says: “My parents thought I was stubborn but I was asked to do things that were unbearable to me.
“I couldn’t understand the concept of putting things away or doing chores. I would get shouted at. I was at my best being alone reading my book.”
Life was not easy for her and little brother Jonathan, now 55.
They were brought up in London by mum Shirley and dad Kenneth, who “had a lot of jobs — one day he would sell pot plants, the next he would invent a new moisturiser”.
Anne adds: “Dad needed his own space, he wouldn’t even eat dinner with us. He couldn’t stick to one woman or one job but he encouraged me. Mum didn’t.
“She’d had to focus on education as a child so she went the other way, she couldn’t be pleased when I did well.”
It’s better in my head. When it happened I was somewhere else
Yet Anne had no option but to succeed and recalls: “I was about eight when I realised I could remember things.
“The stairs at primary school had paintings of the royals. It went from George V to George VI — I just looked at it and realised they’d left out the Duke of Windsor.
“The teachers set up an information desk with encyclopedias, manned by two children. I managed to kibosh it unintentionally on the first day.
“I asked them what mitigate meant. They couldn’t locate it. The teacher said there wasn’t such a word but I said, ‘It was in Portia’s Speech from the Merchant Of Venice’.
“She went off, came back and crammed a piece of paper in my hand saying, ‘Mitigate — make less severe’. I realised I’d have to teach myself.”
Anne worked as a journalist before proofreading academic books and the Rough Guides travel titles.
Her hobby was doing quizzes, and in 1987 she went on Mastermind with the specialist subject of songwriter Lorenz Hart.
She laughs and says: “My filthy little secret is that I’ve always wanted to be famous and I don’t get nervous being on TV. I didn’t do terribly well on the show but I joined the Mastermind Club.
“We’d meet every month. It was dull and so full of older blokes that somebody suggested inviting some Mensa friends to boost numbers.
“Any group that can be livened up by Mensa must be pretty much dead!”
But one of them told her about the “Grand Prix” circuit where people compete doing written quizzes.
She says: “It was my kind of thing — just me and the questions. It kept me sane. It was a very tough time. I didn’t have a lot of work, I was skint.
“I needed to claim benefits but couldn’t get my head around the paperwork.
“I stopped paying the rent on my house, which is shared ownership, and finally a leasehold officer and social worker showed up.
“I wasn’t coping.”
Sainsbury’s is for posh people. Asda is the best if you’re poor
They helped Anne claim the benefits she was due, but she still had huge debts.
That changed in 2009, when she went to the UK meeting of the Grand Prix World Championships and met Mark Labbett, 53, better known as “The Beast” on The Chase.
She says: “I was greeted by the largest man I’d ever seen in my life. We got chatting. He’d just filmed a new programme called The Chase.
“I watched it and remember fantasising, thinking, ‘How cool would it be to be a Chaser’.
“At the next meeting I was asked, because The Chase wanted a woman.”
Anne was a natural and says: “It felt like everything that led up to that moment had been the hard work.
“I loved the stardom. I paid off the mortgage, bought a new car and jewellery too.”
I have always wanted to be famous. It’s my dirty little secret
But there has never been an engagement ring.
Anne says: “It took years of psychotherapy before I even considered dating.
“I lost weight, replaced my glasses with contact lenses and felt a lot more confident.
“But I find it really hard to hold down a relationship.
“The longest was with a man I met at the Mastermind Club. I’d fancied him for years and we were together for four months.
“Even though he lived in Brighton I still felt suffocated in Manchester.
“And sex was always better in my head, I felt like I was somewhere else while it was happening.
“It made me realise I needed space both mentally and physically in life, and I can’t make it work.
“I don’t think I ever will. I still get attracted to people but having a relationship isn’t fair on the other person.”
Sadly it has meant Anne has never had the children she longed for, though she is “an aunt to Jonathan’s three and was delighted that Mark asked me to be godmother to his son — I love buying him presents”.
It was Mark who persuaded her to go on last year’s I’m A Celebrity.
She recalls: “The producers said it would be fun and they’d look after me, and Mark reminded me that ITV is our bread and butter.
“It turned out to be great, we are all still in touch, we have a WhatsApp group.
“I wouldn’t do it again, my trials freaked me out.”
The Chase — which features Anne, Mark, Shaun Wallace, 59, Paul Sinha, 49, and 37-year-old Jenny Ryan as the Chasers — was named Britain’s top quiz show at the National Television Awards.
Anne, Mark and Shaun are also on the Australian version.
She says: “We are close. Paul is my quizzing partner, Mark and I speak on the phone all the time and Jenny’s the captain of my Monday night quiz team in Bolton.”
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But Anne is rarely at that Monday quiz as she has a rented house in Watford to be nearer to work.
She adds: “I worry The Chase might end, and I will get found out.
“I still save supermarket points but these days they are Sainsbury’s.
“There is an Asda opposite but it is years since I’ve been there. I couldn’t find my way round.”
- The Chase, Monday-Friday at 5pm, ITV.