Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, coughing scandal

What the words say

In 2001, Charles Ingram won one million pounds on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He was accused of cheating during his time on the show and, two years later, he was found guilty in court of winning by deception.

You can read the background here. Ingram, his wife Diana, and another contestant used a series of coded coughs to work their way to the money.

In 2003 they gave an interview to the TV show This Morning. You can see an extract here.

Charles: Well, I should make one thing clear and I’ll only say it once and that’s it. And then I’ll move on and talk about the victim side of it

We didn't cheat on that show. There was no plan to cheat on that show. I won that money perfectly honestly and fairly and squarely.

And while I was sitting there in the centre of the studio, I didn't notice any coughing at all. I was entirely unaware of it.

As for the victims. I've heard a lot of people say that this is a victimless crime. Well actually there are victims, the three defendants were the victims.

We should not have been found guilty on the evidence that was presented in court. We were found guilty on a very good story. Pieces of the jigsaw crammed in together, that weren’t… that were ill-fitting and indeed pieces were missing and they were wallpapered over.

Interviewer (to Diana): why did you cough then Diana?

Diana: I..I think I needed to clear my throat."

Interviewer (to Diana): why were you looking at the monitors?

Why was I looking at the monitors? Well because that’s the only way you can see Charles face

 Interviewer: Why not just admit it?

Charles: We didn't do it. We really didn't cheat. I certainly did not cheat. In the middle of that room, I heard no coughing whatsoever."

Let’s break it down

When analysing someone’s words, there are over 20 things we look for that can indicate deception. The more indicators we find the higher the chance is that the person talking is being deceptive.

This interview is a treasure trove of indicators.

Safer ground

People don’t like to lie, they prefer to tell the truth, it’s easier to do. One tactic to avoid lying is to move the conversation to “safer ground”, something that is truthful, real and you can talk about for a long time without having to go through the stress and thought processes of lying.

Straight away Ingram says that he’s going to deal with the cheating allegations only once then move on to the victim’s side of the story. When someone is truthful and hiding nothing, they will not mind spending any amount of time convincing you of the truth.

Caveats and loopholes

Several times during the interview Charles appears to offer denials that he cheated but every single time he denies cheating he adds on caveats which change his words from being a blanket denial to a very specific denial. Have a look:

We didn't cheat on that show - “that show” is very specific. “The show” would be a blanket denial of cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Only Charles knows which show he is referring to with “that show” and as he doesn’t say, we don’t know.

while I was sitting there in the centre of the studio I didn't notice any coughing - the most truthful words are the most straightforward. Here, Charles only says he didn’t notice any coughing while he was sitting in the centre of the studio. In interpretation terms this does not rule out that he did hear coughing, when he was standing, when he wasn’t in the centre of the studio for example. Does Charles consider that when he was getting ready to play the game he was sitting in the studio, when the show was underway does he think he was playing, competing, or taking part rather than sitting?

We really didn't cheat. I certainly did not cheat. - once more what starts off as a blanket denial “we really didn’t cheat” gets given a caveat “I certainly did not cheat”.


To avoid lying, a deceptive person will often use very personal and specific definitions of words or phrases. It means they feel truthful and don’t bring about the stress and complexity of lying. It does however, mean the listener can be deceived if they don’t share the specific definition being used.

We’ve seen it already with the potential double meanings around “that show” and “sitting in the centre of the studio”. The definition I’m most interested in is the word “cheat”.

To many people cheat means to break the rules, to earn something that you shouldn’t through dishonest means, to deceive to get an advantage, to take short cuts.

However, some people don’t cover all of this in their internal definition of cheat. Some people see taking shortcuts as a smart thing to do. Some people don’t see exploiting loopholes as cheating, they’re within the rules if not the spirit of fair play. Some people see gaming the system as a way of making the world work for you rather than cheating.

Charles is adamant there was no cheating, but we don’t know his internal definition of cheat and therefore what his words really mean.

Persuasion skills

The most truthful way to deny something is to say you didn’t do it. And that’s all. People telling the truth generally don’t feel the need to add any persuading wording into the mix. Truthful People tend not to say that they REALLY are telling the truth.

Throughout this extract, Charles adds persuasion to his denials.

We didn't cheat on that show. There was no plan to cheat on that show. I won that money perfectly honestly and fairly and squarely.

Have you got that? There are 19 words after the first sentence. The additional words do nothing to add to the meaning of what is being said, they are there simply to persuade.

I didn't notice any coughing at all. I was entirely unaware of it. - “I didn’t notice any coughing” would be straightforward. Once again a lot is added to persuade us he didn’t hear coughing. He didn’t hear any coughing AT ALL, not only did he not hear coughing, he also didn’t hear ANY coughing. He wasn’t just UNAWARE of it he was ENTIRELY unaware of it.

I heard no coughing whatsoever. - and again, he didn’t just hear no coughing, he heard no coughing WHATSOVER.

We really didn't cheat. I certainly did not cheat - we get the point.

Use of persuasive words is not an automatic indicator of a liar but they should be investigated. Here we are seeing double and triple persuaders around cheating and hearing the coughing. He is at pains to get those points across.

Repeated repeats

When analysing someone’s words you get a great deal of insight from looking at the words, phrases, and concepts they repeat.

The things that get repeated are often very important to the person repeating them and can often help us understand what is going on beyond the surface.

Charles Ingram repeats a few things here. Most of them also appear in the section above on internal definitions.

“That show” is said twice.

He mentions the centre/middle of the room twice, it’s important to him to get that across.

Cheat is said very often. In fact, it’s the only word he uses to describe the situation. He never uses any synonym of cheat like deception, fraud, or swindle.

Victim is another word or concept repeated often and it’s easy to conclude that feeling victimised is top of his mind.

But that makes for some interesting reading too. Charles takes issue with the phrase “victimless crime”. He takes time to say he disagrees with the assertion it is victimless. He spends no time querying the word “crime”.

Diana too

It’s not only Charles who raises red flags. Diana does too.

On her first answer she stutters on the word “I”. When someone stutters it’s an indicator of stress and of thinking carefully about what they are about to say. It’s a fair assumption that the words that follow a stutter will be key ones.

Here they are “I think I needed to clear my throat”. It’s two years on from the event, Diana has been through a criminal trial around what happened in that studio and the best she can offer is she THINKS she needed to clear her throat.

The “think” already makes this a weak answer but it gets weaker. She was asked why she coughed. Even if she was uncertain, the direct answer would be “I think I was clearing my throat”. However, she merely “needed” to clear her throat. This is not an answer that convinces.

Question question

Diana’s next answer is a classic in analysis terms. Firstly, she repeats the question. This tactic is often used by people to buy themselves time to construct what they are going to say next. And what Diana says next is very revealing.

Well because that’s the only way you can see Charles face

She is asked why SHE was looking at the monitors. She replies with why YOU would be looking at the monitors. She doesn’t state why she was looking at the monitors.

As I say often, people don’t like lying and will perform mental and linguistic gymnastics to tell the truth.

Getting tense

When people are truthfully recalling past events, they tend to tell them in past tense. When people aren’t being truthful, they’ll often slip into present tense as they are describing images they’re building in their mind at that time.

Here, Charles is in the past tense all the time he’s talking about the past however Diana slips into the present tense once. In her non answer to the monitors question

Well because that’s the only way you can see Charles face

An occasional slip of tenses doesn’t prove deception. With this one example we’d normally let it pass but it happens on a set of words that has already been flagged so it brings more of our attention to it.

Convincing argument

One tactic used to deceive is to state things as indisputable facts in the hope they will be accepted and no discussion about their validity will follow. It’s an attempt to control the direction of the conversation and steer it away from areas that may be more vulnerable.

Ingram does this a couple of times here. As we’ve seen, at the very start he says he will only talk about the cheating once and then he will go on to talk about victims. The interviewees are too savvy to let him away with it, but he states it forcibly.

Next is when he says We should not have been found guilty on the evidence that was presented in court.

This is merely Ingram’s opinion, but he states it as a fact. It’s an attempt to head off the question “you say you didn’t cheat but a jury says you did”.


Analysing one minute of the Ingrams talking has thrown up a plethora of red flags and indicators that there is more going on here than is being said. I conclude that the Ingrams haven’t said enough here to convince me that they weren’t involved in deception.

There are other indicators in this extract too. Maybe you’ve spotted some of them, if so get busy in the comments. There’s a big one that I haven’t mentioned yet. I’ll write it up soon. Subscribe to make sure you get it.