Robert calls bingo at the Cwmbran Mecca Bingo. He recently won the Welsh heat of the Bingo Caller Of The Year and will be trying to capture the national final at the end of November. As well as this distinction, Rob has one further claim to bingo fame – he’s the man who called the numbers for the first three winners of the Mecca Millionaire games. Playing Bingo caught up with him to ask him a few questions about the up and coming final and how it feels to have helped create the UK’s first three bingo hall millionaires.
Playing Bingo: How did you first become a bingo caller?
Robert Willard: I went for an interview, and didn’t get the calling job but they offered me a job in the cafe. I trained anyway for stand-in and eventually, about four years ago, the original caller left and they gave me the job.
Playing Bingo: How did you end up calling the Mecca Millionaire games?
Robert Willard: I’ve been calling link games pretty much since I started and we went to meeting to arrange a rota for the millionaire game. I got the rota to call Tues afternoon, Friday afternoon and evening and also Saturday evening.
Playing Bingo: How does it feel to have called the numbers for a number of £1,000,000 winners?
Robert Willard: The first one was pretty much a blur! There’s another caller in my club that does Wednesday and Sunday and we had a friendly bet as to who would get the first. When it was me I was shaking and so excited you’d have thought it was me who had won! When I got the second one on the 5th October there was no way I could have realised that I would also make it three just one week later. The odds were one every 45 days and I smashed those by making it three in just 42!
Playing Bingo: What spurred you on to enter the 2007 NBGA Bingo Caller Of The Year competition?
Robert Willard: This is the fourth year I’ve entered now: the first time was in 2004 and I was so nervous I nearly had a heart attack! Then I got the regional title in 2005 and for some reason totally bombed in 2006 but the fact that I’d got it in 2005 made me more determined this year after last year’s disaster. My family and my General Manager Shaun gave me a push too.
Playing Bingo: How do you fancy your chances, going forward to the 2007 NBGA Bingo Caller Of The Year final?
Robert Willard: I know it’s going to be a tough one this year so I’m just going to go and do my best and hopefully I will know enough and be good enough to nail it.
Playing Bingo: What would be your top tip to offer a new bingo caller just starting out in the job?
Robert Willard: I would say always be yourself and just enjoy every minute because when all the people who play bingo get to know you it’s a great feeling to go to work knowing you’re going to have a good day spending time with people who are your friends. You get a lot of respect from people and learn to respect them back.
Playing Bingo: What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you when calling the numbers?
Robert Willard: We once had a power cut in the middle of a game and we had to stop because it’s all computerised and you find that no matter what the circumstances if they can’t have bingo there’s hell to pay!
Playing Bingo: Do you enjoy a game of bingo yourself?
Robert Willard: I go and play very rarely. Surprisingly the actual playing doesn’t really appeal to me!
Playing Bingo: How much of an effect has the smoking ban and the introduction of the 2005 Gambling Act had at your club?
Robert Willard: It hit everybody quite hard in the first place but it seems to be gradually picking back up because people realise that it’s in concrete and they just have to go with the flow, and I think they are starting to adapt.
Playing Bingo: What do you think the future holds for the bingo industry?
Robert Willard: I think it will be here to stay whether it be in the bingo hall itself or online. Neither will die out because people love bingo and socialising and in the bingo hall they get it all in one neat little bundle. You can’t beat a decent night out at bingo.
Playing Bingo: If you weren’t calling bingo, what would be your ideal job or profession?
Robert Willard: I think I would be running a pub or restaurant because I was pretty good at that too, when I was doing it.