He’s 6ft 6ins, weighs 27 stones and he’s known as The Beast. Mark Labbett is one of the brightest blokes in the world and is about to break into the big time on US television.
He also happens to live in Rotherham and not many would get that right in a pub quiz.
Mark has made his face and his brain famous via The Chase, ITV’s hit quiz show that attracts up to five million viewers as contestants try to beat The Beast or the other ‘Chasers’ in the general knowledge game show.
But not many do.
Hardly surprising when you consider 48-year-old Mark has an IQ of 155 a masters degree in maths from Oxford, two law qualifications and a teaching certificate.
He also has a photographic memory – or Eidetic Memory to give it its proper name – that helps him remember words and pictures exactly as they appeared on pages in books he’s read going all the way back to when he was seven years old.
This is a man who can do the 144-times-table instantly in his head – I tested it and it’s scary – a man who gave up a potential career as a lawyer because: “It was so easy and so dull”.
So what’s the Beast like in his own lair?
He’s a charming, friendly, quick-witted, fast-talking giant who knows the importance in life of being able to make a good cup of tea. Not that Mark needs to be making tea any more.
If the well-reviewed US series of The Chase recorded with Mark and former Baywatch actress Brooke Burns takes off he will be making money – lots of it.
Born in Tiverton, Devon, Mark, the son of an intelligent but under-educated meat inspector, had ‘the best education money can’t buy’ at Bishop Wordsworth Grammar School in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
He discovered his talent for quizzing when he worked at Butlins in Minehead and regularly emptied the quiz machines.
“I would start with £3 and end up with £200. I bought my first car with winnings from that,” said Mark in his Rotherham flat.
With 10 GCEs and Five A levels, Mark studied maths at Oxford, law in Glamorgan and then became a maths teacher, a job he did in South Wales for 20 years.
“Being a teacher is the best job in the world and I would be still doing it if I had the time. I used to earn £100 a day as a supply teacher and every time I do a job now – say a quiz in Sheffield makes me £500 – I think that would take me a week to earn that as a teacher. Though I have to say that my blood pressure went down by 30 points when I stopped teaching full-time!
“I love being The Beast – especially in the American version of The Chase where they really crank up my character – and I’m enjoying being a ‘D List’ celebrity.
“But the thing about celebrity is that it ends. When it does I’ll go back to being a teacher, hopefully having earned enough to buy a decent house, but I’m enjoying it for what it is.”
Mark caught the eyes of the quiz world with a £32,000-winning appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and £16,000 winnings on Millionaire Live and earned around £60,000 from quiz shows.
Now he can hardly walk down the street for people wanting to have pictures taken with him and, of course, ask him quiz questions.
“People come up to me in Tesco or Morrison’s with shocked looks on their faces and say; ‘What are YOU doing here?
“Shopping? Is my reply. Why else would I be there? I think people imagine I have someone to do that for me because I’m on television.”
Are there any downsides to TV fame so far?
“I really love living round here but I don’t stay out late if I go into Sheffield. When people have had a few drinks they come charging over for a picture and you can’t reason with a drunk so I just go home before the madness starts.
“I always pose for pictures when they ask but when they’ve had too much to drink it’s no fun.”
Then there’s the attention from females...
“I’m an overweight, middle-aged bloke and I know how much female attention I get now,” said Mark who currently has a girlfriend. “If I’m getting that much attention what are the fit young lads getting?
“I’m glad I was a teacher for 20 years first, I know how to behave but I have some sympathy for the footballers, it must be hard to resist as a young man.”
So with brains like his what might he have been other than a quiz genius?
“I could have been a doctor or an actuary (an insurance risk assessor) and I would have made a fantastic tax lawyer. I do tend to overthink things sometimes but am in the perfect job for me now, apart from teaching.