‘I have always been as thrilled to receive a plastic apron as I am to win a holiday,” says serial comper Ann Currie. “That’s what comping is all about!”
Now in her seventies, Ann, from Cockburnspath, has been entering competitions for the last forty years.
“Until 1970, probably the only three things I had won were an Easter cake in a raffle, a tin of 500 cigarettes and coming second in Morecambe’s ‘Miss Sunshine’ contest,” she says.
But in August 1970, a daily newspaper requested that wives write in stating how the start of the football season affected the household – Ann won £5 for the star letter. After that, she didn’t really take an interest in competitions until June 1974 when she won a portable TV in a World Cup competition. And with that, her hobby was born. “Probably at that time, I became hooked,” she says.
Ann’s husband is an avid football fan, so she tried competitions with a football theme. Prizes of books, whisky and games came her way. “Competitions at that time were based more on slogans, compared to the instant win and luck of the draw ones which are more prominent today,” she explains.
By the 1980s Ann was well in her stride. She entered competitions in newspapers and magazines, and kept an eye out during the weekly shop for items with competitions on the packaging. “There were often competitions on the back of a packet of biscuits.”
She won holidays, grocery and store vouchers, a skiing holiday to Thyon 2000 in Switzerland, a Caribbean evening at the Heathrow Penta Hotel followed by a flight on Concorde over the Bay of Biscay, more whisky and wine, toiletries, kitchen appliances, a barbecue, tickets to the Open Golf, clothing, a Christmas menu for six people and a year’s supply of tonic water. “The list is endless,” she laughs. “The 80s was a really good decade – there were some week’s I’d get something through the post nearly every day.”
But like most compers, Ann had long, lean spells too. “It was 1993 when I started to win again,” she says. Football match tickets, inter-City travel tickets, hair-styling, a hamper of Italian goodies and an Easter weekend at the Turnberry Hotel in Ayrshire all came her way.
In the year 2000 Ann won one of her most memorable prizes to date – a day working as a conductress on a London bus.
“It was a Werthers Original Childhood Dream contest,” she explains. “You had to write in and tell them what your childhood dream was for a chance of winning it. It sounds strange but mine was to be a bus conductor!
“When I was a child we lived in the country and we had no car. The bus was the only way to get around. I sat at the front next to the conductor and was fascinated by it. I used to make buses at home out of cardboard boxes and empty cotton reels. I would cut out people from my mother’s JD Williams catalogues and stick them on – they were the passengers!”
Werthers Originals picked Ann’s entry and she was sent to London to fulfil her childhood dream.
“They put my husband and I up at the Rembrandt Hotel and we ate in a French restaurant before I spent a full day at Willesden Bus Garage learning ticketing and then acting as conductress on a routemaster bus from Willesden Down to Oxford Street,” she says. “It was a fantastic experience – though I certainly couldn’t run up and down a double-decker bus now!”
After that Ann was on a roll. She won a Hibs season ticket, more wine, cash for crosswords, tickets to the Touring Car Championship at Knockhill, music festival tickets, a two-day break courtesy of VisitScotland and a digital camcorder.
More prizes followed, including tickets to the Royal Highland Show, tickets to The Taste of Edinburgh Show, tickets for a Boyzone Concert at Edinburgh Castle, a Baxters hamper, an English Heritage hamper, dinner at The Birdcage and a pair of trainers.
Although Ann has never counted the actual number of competitions that she has won, she has catalogued them all, “in a rather haphazard manner” she says, in two bulky notebooks. “I always make a point of writing a letter of thanks to the promoters and I think this is very important,” she insists.
Although Ann only enters competitions that appeal to her, she says she sometimes wins a runner-up prize which proves to be not entirely suitable. She cites one of her recent prizes – a trampoline – as a prime example. “I entered a competition to win an adventure holiday, but got the runner-up prize which was a huge trampoline,” she explains. “Needless to say I didn’t have much use for it.”
Ann also enjoys doing quizzes and crosswords, and once won £500 for the latter.
She has appeared on television twice – winning Premium Bonds on 70s show ‘Try for Ten’, and cash and Oxford dictionaries on ‘Crosswits’ in 1985, when she was partnered by former Dr Who actor Colin Baker.
“I was nervous until I got into my stride,” she admits.
Ann and Colin got through to the final, but were thwarted by the very last question. “It was ‘a discoloured timepiece’,” she remembers. “The answer was ‘Black Watch’. We didn’t get it.”
In 2010 Ann was chosen to participate with three others from different areas of Scotland in the Daily Record’s Active Nation keep-fit campaign. She won six months’ gym membership and re-learned to swim at Eyemouth leisure centre under the watchful eye of manager Henry Gray, as well as a make-up and photographic session in Glasgow and £100 John Lewis vouchers.
She has since munched her way through a hamper of Inverawe Smokery delicacies and wondered where to fly to with a Jet2.com flight prize.
“I still enjoy comping,” Ann says of her unusual hobby. “I do them and forget about them, so that when a surprise package, letter, email or phone call arrives indicating a win, it really makes my day.
“I haven’t yet won a car or the lottery, but there’s always tomorrow!”
She adds: “Friends are usually enthusiastic about my wins but those who moan ‘I never win anything’ don’t seem to realise that you have to be in it to win it!”