A LUCKY Larne woman is celebrating after landing a whopping £40,000 cash windfall on a TV game show.
On Saturday night, millions of viewers watched 29-year-old Ciara Hunter scoop the jackpot on the BBC National Lottery show, In It To Win It.
The show, hosted by Dale Winton, sees five contestants battle it out for a share of a big money prize fund by answering a series of multiple-choice questions. Each question answered correctly adds £5,000 to the pot, and by the time the horn sounds at the end of the show, those contestants who find themselves in winners row have a chance to claim a share of the jackpot - provided they each answer a final question correctly.
And Ciara, who is originally from Larne but now lives in Ballyclare with her husband Karl and baby daughter Charlotte, was one of three contestants to make it to the final round on Saturday night’s episode, which was filmed in November.
Had all three finalists answered their questions correctly, they would have landed the tidy sum of about £13,000 each. But much to Ciara’s joy, she was the only one to answer correctly and walked away with the entire prize fund.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” a thrilled Ciara told the Larne Times.
“I would have been delighted to share the money three ways, but to win it all was just amazing. I had put £25,000 into the pot over the course of the game, but I could have left with nothing if I had not answered that final question correctly.”
Luckily for Ciara, who is an English teacher at Fort Hill Intergrated College in Lisburn, the final question fell firmly into her area of expertise.
“For the last question, I was asked ‘Lizbeth Salander is the main character in which novel’. I actually didn’t know the answer, but thankfully it was multiple-choice and I was able to rule out the other two possible answers and make an educated guess that it was the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
“Thank goodness I got it right - being an English teacher I never would have lived it down if I had got it wrong!”
Despite winning the money in November, Ciara was unable to share her joy with her family and friends until the episode was broadcast at the weekend.
“I had to sign a confidentiality agreement and wasn’t allowed to tell anyone I had won. It was horrible not being able to say anything, especially when people would ask me how I had done. Everyone is always telling me that I can’t keep a secret, so as you can imagine how difficult I found it to keep this one for five months,” she added.
But it was all worth it in the end as Ciara gathered her family and friends at her Ballyclare home on Saturday to watch the drama unfold.
“It felt great finally being able celebrate after all these months. Since the show aired, people have been leaving me loads of facebook messages and coming up to me in the street to congratulate me,” she added.
Ciara, a former pupil of St Mary’s Primary School in Larne and Garron Tower in Carnlough, feels that the timing of her big win could not have been better.
“I just got married in 2010 and my child was born in September 2011, so this money will be a big help for my family. We have used it to pay off a few bits and bobs and we plan to splash out on a car and a holiday, but the rest we will probably put away for the future”, she said.
Ciara described her experience on the programme as “nerve-wracking but incredibly exciting”.
She said: “The show was filmed in Glasgow, but I wasn’t able to bring my husband along as he had to stay at home and look after Charlotte, who was only six-weeks-old at the time. Instead, I brought my two younger sisters along for support.
“I was really nervous, as I had no idea what kind of questions I was going to be asked. But Dale Winton was great and went out of his way to put all of the contestants at ease.”
Ciara, whose maiden name is McFaul, was selected to take part in the show after a rigorous interview process.
“I was told by a friend in Larne Drama Circle that the show was looking for applications from people from Northern Ireland. About 3,000 people from across the UK applied, and I was chosen to be one of just 60 contestants to take part in this series.
“I am so glad that I decided to apply. It was the first time I have ever taken part in something like that, but now that I have a taste for it I would love to try out for another game show. Who knows, maybe I could make a career out of it!” Ciara joked.