It’s been just over a year since Darragh Ennis was introduced as The Chase’s latest quiz whiz, regularly joining viewers in their living room on weekday afternoons and instantly catapulting to UK fame. With almost 16,000 followers on Twitter, various fan pages and now a BAFTA nomination under his belt, you’d think life would be completely different now for the new Chaser than it was a year prior – but you’d be wrong.
“My life hasn’t actually changed day to day at all,” he admits over the phone.
With Ennis the Menace’s debut as a Chaser coinciding with the beginning of the pandemic, he’s not yet seen the public much. “Most people have been really really positive but it’s almost exclusively online because I haven’t had the thing of being stopped by people very much because I never go out.
“And when I do, I wear a mask so no one recognises me. So yeah, it’s not been too intrusive, which has been great to be honest. I’ve had a handful of people ask me for photographs in the real world, I get a lot of double takes, you know, if I’m waiting for a bus or something people sort of walk past me and then look again but most people don’t say anything.”
Ennis joined The Chase’s line-up of formidable masterminds in November last year, becoming the first former contestant to become a Chaser on the show, and while he’s since flexed his trivia muscles a number of times on the ITV daytime show, we’re discussing the upcoming series of Beat the Chasers – his first time ever on the spin-off show.
Speaking over the phone, Ennis is just as quick as his Chaser alter ego, but much friendlier – a delightful chatterbox. “It was brilliant fun,” he says. “And honestly, I know this is a terrible thing to say, but an awful lot easier for me than doing the regular show.”
As for why, Ennis explains that quizzing as a team alongside four other Chasers took a lot of the heat off. “If [there’s] something you don’t 100 per cent know the answer to, you just give it a second and one of the others might 100 per cent know so that doubt is ruined – but the time pressure is so much more.
“And if you make a mistake, you get daggers from everybody else,” he laughs. “But really good fun, genuinely a great thing to do.”
That being said, working as a team when answering quick fire questions does have its downsides. “The sort of competitive part of me got a bit annoyed sometimes because it’s hard to beat the others to the buzzer,” he says. “If you were trying to buzz in and someone else buzzes in and gets owner one, you know it, you’re like, ‘Oh if I’d been on my own, I definitely would have gotten that’ – so it swings both ways really.”
Filming Beat the Chasers – the ITV prime time show where contestants can take on up to five Chasers for the chance to win big money – during the pandemic meant Ennis formed a close contact cohort with his fellow co-stars: Mark Labbett, Shaun Wallace, Anne Hegerty and Jenny Ryan (unfortunately Paul Sinha was ill during filming).
“We got to chatting a bit more because people imagine that we all live in a house together. We don’t – we don’t actually see each other all that much because during the regular show, we only see the person who’s either on before us or after us.”
However, getting to know the other chasers wasn’t the biggest perk for Ennis. “This is going to sound terrible,” he warns. “The main thing that I got from it was that…I had to stay in an apartment in London to isolate from other people in between episodes so I got to have night’s sleep because I’ve got small children. So it was a bit strange. It was a change from the normal people but yeah, it was nice.”
Of course, filming in socially-distanced times meant there could be no audience this time round which made a big difference (or so Ennis was told by his co-stars). “The others said the atmosphere and the interaction between Brad and the audience was a part of the show and it helped really build in the tension in the studio.
“But I wasn’t in the previous one so it wasn’t unusual for me – I had enough unusual stuff to get used to.”
It’s been a generally unusual time over the last year for the new Chaser, who works as a lab manager and a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University when he’s not filming – although his day to day life has mainly stayed the same.
“This is a tiny part of my life in terms of time – 90 per cent of my working life is I’m a scientist in a lab, still doing exactly what I was doing four or five years ago, almost every day. It’s just the few days, the sort of five or six or seven weeks of the year in total that I work on TV that I’m not there.
“It’s very grounding when I go to record for The Chase, I get on the train or get in my car and I drive home and I still have to make dinner and put the kids to bed. I still live in the same house, all that kind of stuff.”
Before the start of his TV career, the Dublin-born scientist had never been a hard-core quizzer, but was “a big nerd” with lots of random knowledge. It wasn’t until a friend of his in Oxford asked him to fill in for an absent member of his pub quiz league team that he got involved. “He asked me to join in and I just stuck with it. So that was long ago – six years ago maybe seven years ago.
“As part of that quiz league, a lot of quiz shows, they sort of advertised looking for contestants and ITV put out an ad saying they were looking applicants for The Chase.”
Ennis competed as a contestant on The Chase in March 2017, appearing in an episode that would later become one of the most controversial in the show’s history. While Ennis did remarkably well, beating Paul Sinha and winning £9,000 for his team, one teammate took an offer of £300 while the remaining two accepted minus offers of £1000 and £2000.
While they won a total of £6,300 in the Final Chase (mainly thanks to Ennis), the public took to social media in outrage.
“That day was, of the whole process, the weirdest day because I sort of got inundated by people on social media, absolutely inundated. I gained thousands of followers in like an hour.
“I was watching the news after the show and they were debating Article 50 in parliament and I was trending higher than that on Twitter in the UK. It got completely out of hand. People started a fundraiser for me. Really bizarre. Very, very bizarre.”
Twitter was flooded with the hashtag #justicefordarragh, and in a way, justice was served – producers on the show had approached Ennis prior to his episode airing, to ask whether he’d audition to be the next Chaser.
“That was probably the hardest point of keeping the secret of me auditioning for the show because a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh you should be the next Chaser, you’re really great,’ and all this and I was so tempted to say, ‘But I am going to be’ but I obviously couldn’t at that point. I don’t think I’d even go the gig officially at that point, I was still interviewing.”
When asked by ITV producers whether he was interested in being a Chaser, Ennis “jumped” at the chance. “Who wouldn’t want to do this job?” he says.
In fact, he was so keen to be on the show that he gave the wardrobe department free rein when it came to his costume, which is how his iconic bolo tie look came about. “They asked me what I would wear and I said I would wear literally anything. I didn’t care. If they wanted to put me in a chicken suit, I’d do it once I got the job.
“I didn’t really have any say whatsoever – I was just given it. Same with my nickname, I had no real say in that either.”
While Ennis has only been on our screens since November, getting there took two years in total. “A long process but I needed to do a lot of work myself,” he says.
“I talked to [producers] since, obviously not at the time, and they said they were happy with how I interacted and I wasn’t nervous on set and all that kind of stuff, but my actual knowledge levels were nowhere near enough. I had big, big gaps in my knowledge that I needed to fill so I had to fill those and that takes time.”
How exactly does Ennis brush up on his quizzing skills then? “I do four different online quizzes every week so I’m one of the Irish teams in the national tournament, I’m on one from Oxford and then I do two individual ones.
“So doing lots of quizzes really helps but I also read and study. Most nights, I spent at least an hour or two going over notes, learning lists. I used to read for fun but I rarely do now so I read a lot of history books and things like that to try and get things straight in my head.”
When I comment on how much work it takes being a Chaser, Ennis replies: “It is actually a job – this is another thing people don’t realise. None of us wing this. I would probably say I do the least extra work out of all of them because there’s just not enough time. I know definitely that Paul does tonnes, Jenny does tonnes, Ann has always done tonnes – she loves that kind of thing.
“Mark learns his lists, he’s always learning new things, he’s always trying to learn the new numbers ones. We all work away at this in different ways but we all work away at it.”
Now settled into his role, Ennis has a few ideas as to which famous competitors he’d love to face on future celebrity editions of The Chase or Beat the Chasers.
“What we really want is someone who’s good. I would love to come up against one of the big quiz shows hosts so maybe, you know, like [Jeremy] Paxman, or or our nemesis, Alexander Armstrong. They seem to always know the answers when the cards are in front of them, but it’d be nice to see what it’s like when they don’t have them there.”
As for his future with The Chase franchise, Ennis reveals that he’d love to follow in the steps of his co-stars Anne Hegerty and Paul Sinha and present a spin-off show.
“I thought about the idea of being a presenter on a popular science show so talking about scientific research, biological research – what it really means but not in a difficult, nerdy way but in a much more accessible way. I’d love to do that because I think it’s a bit of a gap.”