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Child Genius? Thomas is just having fun . . .

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Child Genius television show finalists Thomas Frith and Jasamrit Rahala talk to ANN CLARKSON about their new found celebrity status

Some of Mensa’s younger members shone in the television spotlight during the third series of Channel 4’s Child Genius programme.

Mensan Thomas Frith, 12, from Leeds, won the competition with an astonishing display of mental skills across a range of tests and challenges.

And Jasamrit Rahala, from Slough, put in a strong challenge to make it to the final – even though he was only 10 at the time of filming.

The five-episode series, made for Channel 4 by Wall to Wall Productions, featured Mensa’s gifted child consultant Lyn Kendall as an expert adviser.

Mensan Julian Barascu from Kent was also featured prominently before being eliminated at the semi- final stage.

Both Thomas and Jasamrit said the response from the general public since the final was aired had been overwhelmingly positive.

For Thomas, being asked for his autograph and spending a day with the Eggheads were amongst the spin-offs, while Jasamrit said his dad Santokh was having to get used to people shaking his hand as he negotiated the local shops!

Thomas said: “Generally it’s been “Are you the person who won Child Genius?”

“They all seem pretty happy to know they (the contestants) are not some random people on TV and that you actually exist.”

He said the biggest thing he had got out of the show was meeting other children of the same ability as himself – and finding a never-ending supply of double chess mates.

He said: “It was good to meet the other people there, because they were at the same level as me and it was fun in between the rounds.

“We played double chess after every round, at the start of the day and at the end of every day.

“At school every Friday lunchtime there is a chess club so I can play it then – but other than that it’s hard to get four people who have the time and know the rules.”

Thomas especially gelled with fellow 12-year-olds Jack and Giovanni – and, as a consequence of the programme, got invited to meet some other famous bright sparks.

Thomas’s mum Deborah explained: ““We were invited up to Glasgow to meet the Eggheads and had the most amazing day – the whole crew were unbelievably friendly!”

Thomas, also practices four musical instruments and enjoys numerous sports, had something else to celebrate this summer – an A* in his A Level maths.

Deborah said: “He took it in primary school and was one per cent off an A*because he “only” got 88 per cent on one paper. It niggled him a bit so he re-took it and got 100 per cent, so now he’s got his A*.

“If there is a right answer, if you can get 100 per cent, Thomas wants to get it.”

Thomas’s positive, happy outlook proved a hit with viewers and, beyond doing well in the UK Maths Trust Challenge, his aims for the future are remarkably level-headed: “I would like to enjoy life,” he said.

“Recipe for success – how do you define success? Anyone who sees winning as the best thing has clearly never won many things. It’s always good to be beaten, because you can always learn to do better.”

For a child who masters so many things so quickly, Deborah said Thomas actually likes to be in the company of people who are better than him, so he can improve. He is studying piano, cello at a music school, bassoon with Leeds Music Service and trombone at school.

At the music school, he is far from the best instrumentalist.

Deborah said: “The children there are incredibly talented musicians – he’s not up there with them and he loves that.”

He also enjoys sports like football, rugby and table tennis – and the fact that he has to work hard at them.

Jasamrit said that although some people had resented his success, others had been very positive. He said: “When my father goes to the local shopping centre people notice him and are so honoured to shake hands. They are like “I know you from somewhere” and they remember the show - they want to meet me but I can't be bothered to do shopping!”

A highlight for Jasamrit was when he achieved a joint high score – with Thomas – in the human anatomy round after just half an hour to learn the bones of a skeleton.  

He said: “I learnt nearly all of them in 30 minutes-ish, which gave my mother the thought that I was a natural doctor!”

As well as Child Genius, Jasamrit’s attention this summer has been taken up with entrance exams for secondary schools. He was offered five scholarships, some worth up to 100 per cent, and started at Herschel Grammar School in Slough this term.

He added: “I have many hobbies like sports such as badminton, basketball, cricket. I play the violin at grade 2 and hope to do grade 3 soon along with other instruments.

“In my new school I would like to pursue a whole range of instruments. Alongside the academic side I would like to join a sports team.”

Jasamrit has many big ambitions for the future, from creating a hidden element in the periodic table to winning the Nobel peace prize for creating an element stronger than titanium which is flexible and be fitted into suits for protection.

He would also like to be a professor and to buy his parents a big house – and retirement at 27 or 28 to enjoy life “to its full extent” would also be good!

Critics of Child Genius often complain about “pushy parents” but Thomas and Jasamrit’s parents don’t fit that mould at all.

In fact, Deborah comes across as far more pushed than pushy – and many parents of gifted children will have empathised with her exhausting daily regime of trying to keep up with Thomas’s insatiable energy for learning while working as a teacher and running a home that also includes husband Nicolas and five children.

Thomas’s father, Peter – who was also gifted – died from leukaemia just before Thomas turned two.

Deborah described the Child Genius experience – and the reaction since – as “incredibly positive”.

She said: “Everywhere we go I would say we are recognised and people come up to us – they are just so lovely about the programme and about Thomas.

“He just loved it. It was the right thing for him to do.  

“We watched it last year and Thomas was answering one of the specialist rounds about string theory. It was his sister who said “You should go on that.”

“Then we had an email from Mensa about this year’s series. There was a quiz to do, and it went from there.”

Thomas was the standout competitor from the start but Deborah said there was no resentment from the other families. She said: “The parents were really lovely. It was getting a bit embarrassing but they were totally fine.

“Thomas was desperate for Jack to keep going, it wasn’t about him. He was also desperate for Ieysaa, the chess champion, to stay in so he could play chess against him.

“He just wants to find people he can aspire to, people he can have a really good conversation with.”

Deborah has avoided the temptation to send Thomas to a high-flying private school, instead preferring for him to attend his local state academy, Horsforth School – although she admits Thomas is lucky that the school is able and willing to adjust to his needs.

She said: ““The school are fantastic actually, flexible. I have always maintained he needs to have some time with his peers so he has lessons like PE, drama and English with his year group.

“Last year he did physics with year 10, computing with year 12, maths and mechanics with year 13 – and further maths he started learning himself.

“On the day of the further maths exam, the school had got into the UK maths trust competition and it was the same day – so he went to do that instead. It’s given us some breathing space. He will continuing with further maths this year.

“He loves being in and out of different classes with different people.

“People often say “I can’t believe he isn’t going to Leeds Grammar or you haven’t sent him away to Eton or something,” but I like the school and he is mixing with local children.

“Every lunchtime he does an activity and after school he does a club so he looks for other ways to entertain himself, whether it’s sport or music or other academic stuff.

 “It’s not about collecting GCSEs and A Levels. I don’t want him just sitting loads of exams.”

Jasamrit’s family also found the Child Genius experience positive, although dad Santokh did say they had experienced a little jealousy from some acquaintances.

He said: “Without doubt it was a positive experience and one that made us release how gifted and talented Jasamrit really is. It is one thing learning maths and English at school and then passing exams and another learning something within an hour, like in the bones memory round, while you stand in a hall full of people, TV cameras, time pressure, contestant pressure and personal pride at stake.

“As a family it brought us together and gave our six-year-old daughter a great base to think about the effects of hard work and its benefits. She often says that when she is big enough she will win and give the cup to Jasamrit because he worked very hard.

“The public have been absolutely amazing with people stopping me in the street, congratulating me and some saying thanks for putting Slough on the map!

“Jasamrit is a classic case of someone who likes to work hard, push himself and always tries his best, takes defeat well and loves to meet children of similar intelligence.

“For a 10-year-old we are so happy for him, how he handled each challenge and the pressure, and still remained a happy relaxed little boy.

 “He just wants to learn new things all the time - he loves that feeling of reading something new that challenges and interests him.”

This story also appears in the November issue of the Mensa Magazine