How Challenge Anneka attracted 12m viewers at its peak

From 90s jumpsuits to revealing ‘pure squalor’ of Romanian orphanages: How Challenge Anneka saw team of volunteers take on charitable causes against the clock and attracted 12m viewers at its peak

  • Challenge Anneka ran from 1989 until 1995 and was fronted by presenter Anneka Rice
  • Format involved Rice and team of volunteers taking on complicated task against the clock
  • Challenges included building of a swimming pool for orphaned seals and construction of a suspension bridge
  • In 1990, Rice famously overhauled a Romanian orphanage, where children were living in ‘pure squalor’ 
  • Yesterday, the 63-year-old announced that her show is returning and will air on Channel 5 

It was a show that, at its peak, had up to 12million people glued to their televisions – and kept soundman Dave very busy. 

In Challenge Anneka, presenter Anneka Rice and her team of volunteers took on complicated tasks against the clock, usually to raise money for charity.  

Famous challenges on the show, which ran on the BBC between 1989 and 1995, included the building of a swimming pool for orphaned seals and putting up a suspension bridge in Cornwall.

Clad in a trademark pink and blue jumpsuit, Rice had the job of persuading volunteers and businesses that the cause or project was worthy enough to put their hands and resources to. 

A regular presence on the show was sound technician Dave Chapman, who was seen holding a boom mic as he shadowed Rice.   

Her most famous and hard-hitting task came in 1990, when she was given the job of overhauling an orphanage in Romania. 

She exposed the horrific conditions of ‘pure squalor’ in which some 700 children lived without electricity or sanitation, where there was ‘sewage running along the corridor’. 

Other projects were less successful, including the renovation of a horse carved into a Dorset hill, which failed when the chippings used by the TV team fell away, upsetting locals in the process. 

Yesterday, Rice, now 63, revealed she will once again be the face of Challenge Anneka, with Channel 5 set to reboot the series more than 30 years after it first aired.

It was a show that, at its peak, had up to 12million people glued to their televisions – and kept soundman Dave very busy. In Challenge Anneka, presenter Anneka Rice and her team of volunteers took on complicated tasks against the clock, usually to raise money for charity. Above: Rice in 1989

A regular presence on the show was sound technician Dave Chapman, who was seen holding a boom mic as he shadowed Rice. Above: The pair during the show’s original run

Rice’s most famous and hard-hitting task came in 1990, when she was given the job of overhauling an orphanage in Romania. Above: Rice with some of the children

Before Challenge Anneka, Rice starred in Channel 4 game show Treasure Hunt with veteran newscaster Kenneth Kendall, who stayed in the studio as she flew around the country by helicopter. 

The show saw contestants attempt to solve up to five clues, whilst sending instructions to Rice – the ‘skyrunner’ – against the clock so she could find ‘treasure’ hidden in various locations. 

At the time, Rice was among the most sought after talents on television. The show ran until 1989 and then for one season in 2002 but Rice gave up her presenting duties in 1988 to have a baby. 

Her place was taken by tennis player Annabel Croft. 

The format for Challenge Anneka was first tested during Children in Need in 1987 and proved to be a hit with audiences. 

The 1990 episode of Challenge Anneka that saw Rice go to Romania came about after former teacher Monica McDaid wrote to the BBC to tell them about the appalling situation in an orphanage in the town of Siret. 

Rice was then informed of her impending challenge on the late Terry Wogan’s chat show.  

Clad in a trademark pink and blue jumpsuit, Rice had the job of persuading volunteers and businesses that the cause or project was worthy enough to put their hands and resources to

The format for Challenge Anneka was first tested during Children in Need in 1987 and proved to be a hit with audiences. Above: Rice with the Royal Engineers during the Challenge Of A Lifetime segment on Children in Need in 1987

Speaking last year to BBC Radio 4’s Reunion programme, Rice told of the impact that her visit had.

One orphan, named Viorel, was filmed looking ‘utterly vacant’ and ‘rake thin’ during filming of the show but is now married to fellow former orphan Mariana.

The Challenge Anneka episode saw the presenter and a hard-working team begin to build a new home for the 700 children, many of whom had physical and mental disabilities 

The presenter told how ‘kids were just lying tethered to cots half naked in the dark’ with ‘sewage running along the corridor’.

Many had open sores because their nappies hadn’t been changed for days. Countless were malnourished and many had shaved heads

Rice added: ‘I knew I wanted to do a project in Romania but I had no idea when I went on Wogan [Terry Wogan’s chat show where she was informed of the challenge] that was about to happen, what Monica’s challenge was, or really the extent of deprivation we were going to find.

‘Romania was a law unto itself. No-one knew anything about it.

‘The stories that were coming out were just so shocking so we just went on a wing and a prayer.’

In a clip from the episode, was seen Rice showing viewers conditions inside the orphanage, saying they were ‘pure squalor’.

‘As soon as you look beyond the trappings here and you see the cots, you see them in nappies, you see them with open sores because they haven’t been changed for days on end,’ she said. 

‘You see them piled into one cot.

‘This is where they live, this is where they eat, this is where they don’t know how to play.’

Challenge Anneka proved hugely popular during its original six-year run. Above: The star in her trademark jumpsuit in 1989

Speaking of Viorel three decades later, she said he had become a ‘strapping man’ and was living with his wife in a home built by charity workers who helped the orphans.  

‘It just 100 per cent demonstrated the arc of those 30 years and the extraordinary legacy all started by Monica writing into the BBC 30 years ago,’ she added of the experience of meeting him. 

But the Romania challenge was just one of more than 60 that were completed in Challenge Anneka’s original six-year run. 

The show did return for two special episodes on ITV in 2006 and 2007 but the original BBC series’ are what made the most impact. 

In a 1993 episode, Challenge Anneka helped to turn a burnt-out Leeds school into a nursery run by the local branch of disability charity Mencap.

Speaking to the Guardian, Leeds Mencap’s chief executive Cath Lee said that Rice was ‘the catalyst’ to success that saw the charity go on to run play schemes and other services for more than 2,000 children and carers in the region. 

‘It [the show] understood the magic of community projects. How pulling together communities to share their skills, energy and resources can achieve amazing things,’ she added.

Before Challenge Anneka, Rice starred in Channel 4 game show Treasure Hunt with veteran newscaster Kenneth Kendall, who stayed in the studio as she flew around the country by helicopter. Above: Rice in the Treasure Hunt helicopter

The show saw contestants attempt to solve up to five clues, whilst sending instructions to Rice – the ‘skyrunner’ – against the clock so she could find ‘treasure’ hidden in various locations. Above: Rice with Kendall

At the time, Rice was among the most sought after talents on television. The show ran until 1989 and then for one season in 2002 but Rice gave up her presenting duties in 1988 to have a baby

In another episode of the show, firefighters were called in to water a community football pitch during a heatwave. 

Other challenges included the building of a jetty on a remote island and converting a chapel into a homeless shelter. 

Whilst being best known for Challenge Anneka and Treasure Hunt, Rice has also presented other shows and in 2019 featured on Strictly Come Dancing.  

Rice and her husband Nick Allott separated in 1993 and the presenter went on to have a child with TV executive Tom Gutteridge. However, in 2014, Rice revealed that she and Allott had still not divorced. 

She admitted that she and her husband would divorce ‘one day’ but added ‘God knows when’. 

The 1990 episode of Challenge Anneka that saw Rice go to Romania came about after former teacher Monica McDaid wrote to the BBC to tell them about the appalling situation in an orphanage in the town of Siret. One orphan, named Viorel, was filmed looking ‘utterly vacant’ and ‘rake thin’ during filming of the show but is now married to fellow former orphan Mariana. Above: Rice and Viorel reunited with a photo of them during the presenter’s original visit

Thirty years on: The hit BBC1 show featuring Anneka Rice, now 63, saw the presenter taking on elaborate projects. Pictured, Anneka in 2019

Announcing the return of Challenge Anneka yesterday, Rice told her fans to ‘dig out your lycra from the 1990s … there will be more instructions soon.’ 

‘The last few years have shown us all the power of community and how it’s good to be part of something bigger than ourselves,’ she said. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she added: ‘There will always be a room for challenge on television, because it’s about kindness, it’s about community, it’s about the power of the collective. As humans we are totally hardwired to be altruistic.’

She said the episode featuring the Romanian orphanage ‘absolutely floored her’ because ‘it was like one humanitarian crisis 30 years ago, rolling into another one.’ 

Rice said the return of the show will help to challenge stereotypes about gender roles on television, just as her original show did for female presenters.

Rice and her husband Nick Allott (pictured together) separated in 1993 and the presenter went on to have a child with TV executive Tom Gutteridge

Discussing the forerunner to Challenge Anekka, Treasure Hunt, she said: ‘It put a woman absolutely in control right in the centre of the action driving the narrative. It really changed the face of TV and in a lot of ways, and I want to sort of fly the flag for women today’. 

She added: ‘Forty years ago, you have to remember where women were placed in television. They were usually either draped over cars as a prize on a quiz game or they were behind a news desk.’

‘I feel just the same as they did 30 years ago, but possibly there’s more conversation about how we look, or about how we might be coping with it, whereas for men they just get on and do it, and their image and brand stays intact.’

Channel 5’s reboot will seek to tackle challenges faced by Britons in 2022 and highlight everyday heroes.

Rice added: ‘I can’t believe this is actually happening. The last few years have shown us all the power of community and how it’s good to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

‘The whole team is as motivated as ever to make a difference and shine a spotlight on people and organisations who need help.

‘Three decades on, the issues may look different but at their core they are the same; they’re about people and communities.

‘And we may look a bit different too but our hearts and willingness to get stuck in are the same.’

Anneka took to Twitter on Monday to share a quick promo clip, in which she was seen with Chapman. 


Rice took to Twitter on Monday to announce the return of Challenge Anneka. She was seen once again with soundman Dave Chapman 

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