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30th November 2012

Mastermind success for blind University of Manchester student

‘Festive Fifty’ expert Rachael Neiman through to the semi-finals

A PhD student at the University of Manchester is through to the semi-finals of Mastermind after an impressive performance on the show last Friday.

Answering questions on her specialist subject, John Peel’s Festive Fifty, Rachael Neiman secured her place in the semi-finals with 33 points overall.

Rachael, who studies English and American Studies, was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of two and was partially sighted throughout her childhood, before becoming totally blind in her teenage years.

Her impressive performance, which featured no passes at all, also earned Rachael the ‘round of the week’ award on the Mastermind website.

The infamous Mastermind chair is often said to intimidate contestants, but Rachael says that it actually had the opposite effect. “There’s nothing you can do once you’re in the chair,” she said. “Once you’re there you have to get on with it.”

Peel’s Festive Fifty was an often-eclectic list of the best songs of the year, as voted for by listeners. Although you would never guess from her impressive showing in the chair, it wasn’t Rachael’s first choice of topic.

“I actually chose the subject on the spur of the moment,” explained Rachael. “I was a big John Peel fan, so I thought it would be interesting to go back and research the earlier shows I hadn’t heard before.”

Rachael was first bitten by the quizzing bug after appearing on University Challenge as part of the University of Manchester team in 2009. “I hadn’t done many quizzes before then,” Rachael said, “but I got a bit addicted from then on!”

Not content to simply listen to music – or remember lists and lists of facts about it – Rachael is also heavily involved in the industry. She runs her own record label, Cherryade Records, and has a slot on Dandelion Radio, a station dedicated solely to continuing Peel’s legacy.

Well and truly addicted to quizzing, Rachael plans to appear on Only Connect, Brain of Britain and Pointless in the future. “I might try and get my thesis polished up, too,” she said.

The airdate of the semi-finals has not been announced yet, but Rachael tells us to expect to see her on our screens again “around February or March.” Just as Peel chose an eclectic range of music, Rachael is choosing an eclectic range of topics – her next chosen subject will be the work of Victorian lesbian novelist Sarah Waters.


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