In its day ‘Sale of the Century’ was the most popular quiz show on Australian television. The prizes and cash jackpots they gave away were enormous, assuming you could answer a vast array of general knowledge questions and be quickest on the buzzer. During the height of its popularity the show had a daytime edition and an an evening edition. My mother had appeared on the former and my father on the latter. So! Why not keep up this somewhat bizarre family ‘tradition’?
I had auditioned for the show not long after my rag-trade world collapsed. The audition consisted of sitting a written, general knowledge test and a quick interview so that the producers could be sure you’d be presentable on screen. There were around two hundred people applying on this day in a large auditorium in North Sydney. Before we all left, each person was told their test result. If you had answered more than thirty out of the fifty questions correctly then you were on the list. I made thirty-nine correct answers and was advised “You could be called up any day. It could be soon or in a years time, or never. We draw the names at random, out of a barrel.”
So there I was, busily painting the walls and buying furnishings for my new slimming salon when the phone rings. I had long since forgotten about the audition of nearly a year ago and was shocked when they asked me if I could make it to the studio next week. All five shows for the week were taped on one day.
“We pay for your flights and you and any other contestants flying in from Sydney will be picked up at the airport”
“But I am just about to open my new business. Literally about to open the doors in a few days time!”
“Well we can put your name back on the list if you can’t make it this time, but there is no telling how long it will be before you are chosen again.”
“….Okay yes, I will do it!”
Suffice to say the next few days were hectic. I had already placed a full colour advertisement in the local newspaper and had taken a few bookings, though not as many as I’d hoped. I felt sheepish telling prospective clients that I would have to close one day next week, but when I told them why they were totally enthused and encouraged me to make the most of it. And so it was that my business opened and I taped my first ever TV appearance within the same week.
The entire ‘Sale of the Century’ experience was a lot of fun. They did indeed roll out the red carpet for us as we were taken to the Channel 9 Studios. Poster-sized photos of their top celebrities and presenters lined the halls, the make-up artists and hair stylists went to work on us and by the time they were ready to film the show we contestants were all acting like best friends, wishing each other well and wringing our hands with nervous anticipation.
One of the ladies I’d been on the plane with was a retired school teacher and walking encyclopaedia. I was competing against her in the first show and despite her speed with the buzzer and incredible body of knowledge I did manage to inch ahead into the lead by the end of the second round. By the end of the show however, she had beaten me to the buzzer almost every time and knew answers to questions that I could have only dreamt up. She was amazing and she actually went on to be one of the biggest winners in the history of the show.
I was delighted for her and quite amazed at the haul of prizes and cash I had amassed after making it through only one show. Tennis rackets, sporting shoes, a Beatrix Potter Collectors set complete with a huge Peter Rabbit stuffed toy, $700 cash and more. The best thing was the glowing introduction the host (then Glenn Ridge) had given me at the beginning of the show. Each contestant was asked to say a few words about themselves. I kept mine short but Glenn asked several questions about my new business and even insisted I give the phone number. You can’t buy that sort of advertising – thank goodness I had invested in an answering machine!
The show was aired a few days later and I had a small taste of that surreal state known as celebrity. In the first instance I received a huge volume of calls, and messages on my trusty answering machine, from people who had seen the show and wanted to come in for a slimming treatment. Thank you ‘Sale of the Century’ for helping me get my little business off to a great start. The second effect was a lot stranger to me. Wherever I went in Manly for the next few weeks complete strangers came and said hello to me, or I would notice them staring. They had seen me on TV. The weirdest part for me was the degree of familiarity from these people. I had to be friendly and chatty whether I wanted to or not.
Thankfully this wore off after a while and life got back to what might be considered normal. I began grappling with the realities of running the business, studying homoeopathy, managing my ever-fluctuating health and trying to carve out a new path for myself in the world. My sanity was saved by frequent walks on the beach and less frequent visits to my mother’s beautiful farm out near Mudgee, NSW.Very little of my new life was as I had expected it to be and the roller-coaster ride continued as the business struggled, my studies became more demanding and self-doubt loomed like a dark cloud eternally on my personal horizon.