Judith Keppel: Garden Designer To Millionaire

By Tharmini Kenas

14th January 2020

Judith Keppel: Garden Designer To Millionaire

We all love a good rags to riches story. It gives us hope to face our daily struggles. British households had their moment of hope when Judith Keppel emerged the first winner of the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in the UK in November 2000. 

From a garden designer struggling for money to a millionaire, Judith Keppel’s story is hopeful and interesting. 

Judith Keppel’s Background…

Judith Keppel

Image Source/The Sunday Times

Judith’s two marriages ended in divorce and she is now living on her own. 

He first husband Desmond Corcoran was an art dealer and they had three children together- two daughters, Sybilla and Rosie and a son, Alexander. The couple divorced in 1980. 

Her second marriage was to comedy scriptwriter Neil Shand. They had no children and the marriage ended just after two years. 

Judith struggled with alcohol sometime after her first divorce but she attended Alcoholics Anonymous and has not touched alcohol for over three decades now.  

After her second divorce, she tried to turn her life around and trained as a psychotherapist. But, it didn’t quite work out and she enrolled in a garden-design course. 

Fast forward a few years, she has a million pounds! 

Wait! Judith Keppel Has Royal Blood? 

Judith Keppel

Image Source/Financial Times

Oh yeah! Her great-grandfather Arnold Keppel was the 8th Earl of Albemarle while her grandfather Walter was the 9th Earl of Albemarle. 

And it doesn’t end there! Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall is Judith’s third cousin. 

Coincidentally, her million-pound question in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was closely related to the royal family. 

And That Brings Us To The Million-pound Question…

Which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?

By choosing option B (Henry II), Judith earned her millionaire title. 

Interestingly, she had spent about £100 phoning the quiz show more than 50 times to secure her place. Talk about taking chances! 

Judith Keppel

Image Source/Metro

Judith has never even participated in any sort of quiz competitions before her appearance in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Believing that her general knowledge could give a run for the money, her initial aim was to win a few thousands to ease her financial strain. 

“I noticed the questions weren’t that difficult and the prize money was huge, I wasn’t aiming for the million, I thought £32,000 would be nice.”

But, soon she was caught up in the high the show provided. According to Judith, 

“I find it fascinating to see the way people’s characters come out in those moments where they have to make a decision on whether to play safe or gamble the lot.

“I felt on a roll, but quite detached from it all and it was as if someone else was taking the decision to play on.”

Her Reaction After Winning A Million Pounds Was Unexpected…


Shouting, tearing up, jumping up and down, kneeling down, dance moves, punching the air, and clapping loudly are probably some of the ways one would celebrate the moment of winning a million pounds. 

But, Judith did none of these. On the contrary, she was extremely calm, collected, and poised. All she did was smile and hug the show’s host, Chris Tarrant. 

Fun Fact: Other quiz champions after Judith Keppel are David Edwards, Robert Brydges, Pat Gibson, and Ingram Wilcox. 

Apparently, she was just stunned. 

“It seemed completely unreal. The thing is I’d be concentrating on holding myself together for such a long time that when it came to the end, I couldn’t suddenly let go and be excited. 

“I wasn’t a very good contestant for them because I should have burst into tears and screamed. But I couldn’t.”

Judith Keppel

Image Source/ITV

She even credited her win to luck rather than her talent. 

“I don’t think you have to be terribly clever to win something like that; for Mastermind, yes, you need to know your subject inside out.

“But for most quizzes, you just have to be fortunate in the questions you get. I would have been flummoxed by most questions on sport or science or soap stars. The answer to my only sports question was ‘tug-of-war’, but to be honest I’ve no idea what the question was.”

Judith’s Quiz Book Aims To Bring People Together

Judith Keppel

Image Source/MyLondon

Judith released her quiz book containing 1000 quizzes in 2001. With four difficulty levels of which are 344 easy questions, 232 tricky questions, 224 hard questions and 200 very difficult questions, she wants the book to reach a wide range of people. 

“I think quizzes are a great way to bring people together, and I’ve tried not to make the questions in my book too difficult because there’s nothing more dispiriting than doing a quiz where you can’t answer the questions.

“I imagine a family sitting down and doing my quizzes together, so there are questions for everyone: grandparents and teenagers.”

Now, The Most Interesting Question: What She Did With The Million Pounds She Won? 

Could it be a luxury car, a dream vacation around the world, lavish dinners, or multi-million pound home?

Well, none like the above. 

Drinking coke to celebrate right after her win, she went to a money management class in the following days. 

Looks like Judith Keppel is one sensible woman! 

Judith Keppel

Image Source/Daily Mail

She also hired a financial adviser, sold her house in Fulham, and bought a house in France as well as a small London flat. 

She went for a couple of vacations in India and Laos, gave some money to her family and contributed to a tiger-conservation charity. 

But, the highlight of it all is the financial freedom that came with the winning money. 

“I suppose I felt a bit freer when I went into a clothes shop or a shoe shop. It was a lovely feeling being able to relax.”

That sounds like something we would like too, doesn’t it?

But, Judith Is Also Working Harder Now Than Before!

Judith Keppel

Image Source/Belfast Live

Being a sensible person that she is, she didn’t take the million pounds for granted. Instead, she got to work! 

Her winning has led her to author a quiz book, compile quizzes for The Daily Telegraph and appear in various other TV shows such as the quiz show Eggheads, Celebrity Eggheads, The Big Call, and more. 

Fun Fact: Some of the celebrities who participated in Celebrity Eggheads include Iwan Thomas, Matt Dawson, Paul Ross (he once co-hosted with Ruth Langsford!), David Hamilton, John Hammond, Phillip Taylor, Mike Bushell, and Toyah Wilcox, to name a few. 

Her busy schedule kept her going and made her more financially secure.

“It’s been terrible at times. There was one point where I was so busy that I wasn’t seeing my friends and was neglecting my garden and working every day and every night.”

Judith Shares Some Tips That Might Lead You To Your Million Pounds…

On how to be a good quizzer,

“Well, I’ve no idea what makes me a good quizzer. I think I have a quirk in my memory that means I remember trivial things easily. 

“For Millionaire I didn’t do any revision because I thought it would scramble my brain, but I do for Eggheads. I read the Telegraph’s sports section every day because sport is my downfall.”

And, another rather interesting tip…

“I’ve always thought I wouldn’t have done Millionaire if I’d been married. I just feel my husband would have said something like, ‘Don’t be so silly’, and then I wouldn’t have done it. 

“And I think there are a lot of women out there in similar situations who maybe don’t have the confidence to go on TV. It’s a real shame.”

So, what are you waiting for? Go for it like Judith Keppel!

[contact-form-7 id="114190"]