Mugging up for Mastermind

I'm a celebrity. You might not realise it yet. You might have me down more as a funnyman of moderate repute. If you were shown a picture and asked to identify me, you would - assuming it rang any bells at all - say something like: "Oh, is it that guy? You know the one. That bloke . . . you know." It has been a pleasant, underwhelming existence, unlikely to be commemorated in those books of great men and women stocked by school libraries.

But now that has all changed. I've been asked to appear on Celebrity Mastermind. I will soon be sitting in that legendary chair, trying to remember who scored Italy's third goal in the 1982 World Cup final. I will, officially, be famous.

As the trappings of fame go, being invited to take a hardcore general knowledge test in front of the watching public is not the most luxurious. It's less a case of wallowing in a hot tub and eating quails' eggs; more a case of spending every waking moment revising with a thoroughness I've not applied to any intellectual task since my education ended in 2001. Even if I get to the Cheltenham Festival - where I'm speaking today - and find a hot tub in my dressing room, I'll only be able to relax in it if I can have a copy of Bumper Football Facts and Figures propped open at eye level.

From what I can make out so far, celebrity status involves more study than I ever imagined. You can only take your hat off to Katie Price and Paris Hilton; they must have to hit the books really hard. Of course, the truly scary thing about Mastermind is not being found out on your own topic - although that would be mortifying - but facing the general knowledge round. Unless I find a quick way of absorbing all the world's accumulated knowledge, I am going to feel horribly vulnerable at this point. The things I know, on any subject, tend to be hugely outnumbered by the things
I don't. I can never remember who was in which film; I forget the plots of books I read only a few months previously; I often fail to remember having put bread in the toaster five minutes earlier.

I'm aware that this absent-mindedness can be a sign of genius, but I'm afraid my televised interrogation will show it up as a sign of not being very clever. What knowledge I do have is probably too specific to be of much use, unless I get lucky and the researchers have prepared questions on the career of Super Furry Animals, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and my holiday in Italy this summer. Even then, I'm a bit hazy on that trip to Pompeii.

But, for now, I should get on with being a megastar. I suppose I should start planning a million-pound bash for my 30th birthday. Maybe I'll get my PA on to that. I've got a full afternoon with The Encyclopaedia of World Soccer.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 26 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, New York / London