Indian duo tops BBC spelling bee

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 7.12.04

London, Dec. 7: A thirteen-year-old Indian girl, Gayathri Kumar, who spoke only Malayalam when she came to Britain from Kerala in 1996, has won a national spelling championship conducted by the BBC among 10,000 children aged between 11 and 14.

Gayathri was able to spell a string of words of varying complexity that included apocalypse, mezzanine, troglodyte, claustrophobia, geisha and resuscitate.

For its TV programme Hard Spell, the BBC held 10 UK-wide regional heats, with five children going through to the finals.

Gayathri, from Ormskirk, near Liverpool won, pushing into second place, Nisha Abraham Thomas, 12, from Wolverhampton, another Indian origin girl. Nisha came second when she misspelt dachshund.

It will be for psychologists to work out the significance of the Indian one-two.

Gayathri?s father, Suresh, 41, a GP, and her mother, Priya, 37, an anaesthetic, arrived in Britain in 1992 from Kerala. Gayathri, who had been left with relatives, came four years later with no English but showed a natural ability to pick up languages ? she now speaks fluent French and Spanish as well. Her father?s advice on the night was: ?Take your time and think about the word, and most of all, just enjoy the experience.?

The programme has proved to be a great success in an age when many young people either cannot spell or rely on the language needed to send text messages on their mobile telephones.

After being declared Britain?s first Hard Spell champion, a delighted Gayathri said: ?I?m extremely happy that I won the first ever Hard Spell competition in the UK. When I arrived at Television Centre I was so tense, I was just numb, and I didn?t even think I?d be going through to the finals.?

The programme?s presenter, Eamonn Holmes, who presented Gayathri with the Hard Spell trophy, enough cash for a holiday of a lifetime for her family and ?5,000 worth of media equipment for her school, commented: ?I?ve been truly amazed at the standard of spelling from these young kids and the sheer enthusiasm for a subject which will be invaluable to them in life. Congratulations to Gayathri and well done to all the kids who took part.?

Gayathri, who is passionate about reading and writing, said: ?I really wanted to win Hard Spell because I know it would make my dad really proud and I?d like to go on holiday somewhere like Russia or Brazil.?

Her tip for Hard Spell contestants is not to rely on the computer spell-checker but to ?write down the words you get wrong and carry the list around with you, looking at it when you have spare time?.

Her headmistress, Miss J. Brandreth of Merchant Taylor School for Girls, said: ?We?re hugely proud of her at school. Gayathri has displayed her characteristic ability to cope under pressure with a natural determination to succeed.?

Gayathri comes from a normal Indian family with pushy parents. She has a three-year-old brother Rahul who is also said to be good at spelling words such as precocious.

One day Gayathri hopes to be a novelist.