Hands up anyone who hasn’t secretly harboured the thought their child is gifted. Well, prepare to get realistic. For, as of last night, we know what a bona fide child genius looks like and, moreover, how high the bar is to earn that title.
Twelve-year-old Rahul Doshi memorised an entire pack of cards in order in an hour, offered the work of Edward Jenner as a specialist subject, and proved he could spell diaphoresis, to be crowned the cleverest child in Britain after he won Channel 4’s Child Genius competition, which tests 20 youngsters aged eight to 12 on their spelling, maths, memory and knowledge of science and history.
Hosted by Richard Osman, competitors are whittled away in rounds until only the smartest remain. It’s like the Hunger Games, but with ridiculously complicated mental arithmetic and brain-crippling anagrams.
Rahul was great at talking to adults but not interested in playing with children his own age: ‘I don’t want to play silly games, what’s the point?’
In fact, so tough have the questions been this year that viewers have been left struggling with the sight of children in apparent breakdown, their floods of tears being mopped up by child psychologists. Then there was Susan, a self-confessed “helicopter mother”, who called out other parents for cheating, insisting she had seen them mouthing the answers to their offspring. Footage does indeed suggest that Child Genius is a hotbed of pushy parents flash-carding facts at their kids morning, noon and night.
Yet today, here in the Doshi home in north London, there are no signs of desperate hot-housing. A multi-coloured stone globe in the corner of the sitting room and a glass-and-wood chess board are the only hints that here resides a young man with an IQ of 162 (higher than that of Albert Einstein).
And there is no missing Rahul - who won the nation’s attention not just with his focused approach to the competition, but also his rather natty shirts and ties. About to enter Year 8 at Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet, when I visit he is wearing his lucky pink shirt with a darker pink collar and tie, the outfit he wore in the first round and semi-finals of the show. Behind serious glasses, his eyes are so sparkly with intelligence I swear you can see the neurotransmitters whizzing away in his brain.
So how does he feel about his victory? “Really happy,” he says, squashed up on the sofa next to his nine-year-old sister Ria. “It didn’t sink in straight away, but it was really nice.”
His pharmacist mother Komal, 43, adds: “It was a such a relief.”
“I was bursting with pride,” says his father Minesh, a 45-year-old IT manager.
Neither of them were surprised, though. Not only had Rahul been in the top two in every stage of the competition but they also knew their son was really, really bright from the age of three.
“He was picking up newspapers and flicking through them every day,” says his mother. “So, I decided to teach him to read; within a week, he had learnt phonics.”
Rahul is off to perform open heart surgery after the show #ChildGenius— Bogs_Of_Justice (@BogsOfJustice) August 16, 2017
Rahul on child genius is the cutest n smartest little boy ��— miranda edwards (@mirandaedwardsX) August 17, 2017
Once he started nursery, the Doshis noticed Rahul was great at talking to adults but not interested in playing with children his own age. “He’d say, ‘I don’t want to play silly games, what’s the point?’”
They worried he was being unsociable, but admit now: “He was uncomfortable with his own age. Now he’s older and the kids are more mature, he fits in better and has made some good friends. But it was a worry.”
At six, Rahul was enrolled in a Kumon study class for extra maths and English. “He thrived on it,” says Komal. “We’d have to argue with him to go to bed. He was soon doing really high-level stuff.”
By age 10, Rahul was working on GCSE maths questions. That year, he also won a bike in a school writing competition. Not surprisingly he easily passed the 11-plus to get into grammar school.
They both deny being tiger parents. “I would never say, ‘If you don’t do this or that, you’ll be in trouble,’” says his mother. Nor has Rahul’s life been all work and no play. He is a voracious reader – favourite books included The Secret Garden and all the Harry Potters. He has also reached Grade Five in piano and enjoys public speaking and playing his father at chess and table tennis.
Last summer, Minesh challenged his son to take a Mensa test out of curiosity. Rahul’s score of 162 is the highest possible, achieved by only one per cent who take the test. The family was stunned. Not long after this, Minesh heard Channel 4 was looking for entrants to Child Genius and within weeks of applying, Rahul had been offered a place.
Anybody can work hard and do spellings, but the way he could make sense of the various Royal family trees left me gobsmacked
Rahul's mother, Komal
Filming lasted from January to March, and Rahul found himself juggling school work with the competition. “I did my homework at lunchtime, and then prepared for the show in the evening,” he says.
As the weeks progressed, it became clear he had more than a fighting chance.
“I truly realised he was a genius on the day he did the historical recall round,” says Komal. “Anybody can work hard and do spellings, but the way he could make sense of the various Royal family trees left me gobsmacked. It really hit me personally – though I think Minesh already knew.”
Rahul’s parents weren’t worried about him placing too much pressure on himself. “As long as he has prepared himself to the maximum he can, he doesn’t mind losing to someone else,” says his mother.
Rahul adds: “I liked to focus and reflect before I went in to compete – I worked that out for myself.” He was also cautious about making friends. “It would be harder to try and beat a child who is my friend.”
In fact, he did become chummy with his arch-rivals Joshua and Ronan. Ria, meanwhile, found herself part of a sociable gang of Child Genius siblings, and Komal says all the parents got on well.
What is it like to see the other children failing though? “When Joshua broke down,” says Komal, “all the parents were willing him to carry on. I felt awful for him. We were lucky Rahul never put us in that position.”
She also salutes the Channel 4 crew. “It was a collegiate atmosphere. They were never afraid to stop the filming – for 10 minutes if necessary – to allow a child to gather their composure.”
In the final quick-fire round, Rahul recalls being full of adrenaline, hitting the buzzer as fast as he could. And then suddenly it was all over and he had won and was being presented with a silver trophy that comes up to his waist. He adds: “It’s been a bit surreal, basically, watching it last week. I felt nostalgic.”
So does he have a new challenge? “I want to get back to my piano, so I can reach Grade Eight.”
Further down the line, he hopes to do something with maths, possibly as a financial advisor. “I’m still a bit young,” he points out. “I’m not sure which university I want to go to or what course.”
What about the rest of the family? “If Ria wants to apply, we won’t stop her,” says Komal. “But they are very different kids and she is much more into art and drama.”
Komal says she would not have liked to do the competition herself as a child, but Minesh admits he would have loved to. “The kids want me to go on The Chase as I know all the answers.”
We’d better watch this space; Dad Genius may be about to take the stage.