While celebrating New Years Eve with a few friends we got onto the subject on how on earth Thérèse O’Hagan-Smyth is always winning stuff: food, exclusive events (I once met Ne-Yo at something she won), multiple holidays a year and, my personal favourite, her own range of beer brewed on top of Selfridges with Camden Town Brewery. How can anyone be that lucky? The answer – Comping. I started recording to find out more.
Sam: We’re here to talk about your competition entering hobby, otherwise known as comping. When did you start?
Thérèse: About 2 years ago. I haven’t really done very much this year to be honest. I entered into a competition in 2012, summer, by accident and…
S: Is that the first time? Because I feel like I’ve got memories from the whole of the time I knew you of you going on holidays you’ve won.
T: I wish! No, it was in 2012. I had never heard of comping until I accidentally entered a competition for a make-up bag selection. I won it and just got this massive bag of makeup, it was amazing and I was like whaaat, I’m not the sort of person who wins competitions!
It was just in a magazine I’d been reading. I was living in London and was working and got this crappy magazine about fashion and makeup and I entered this competition. It was just a form online where you enter your name and address. I forgot about it completely until this massive bag which arrived in the post and was worth like £400.
S: My co-host is Emma. She’s very jealous of Therese’s competition winnings.
T: I was like ‘Does this happen!’ I googled it and found the Money Saving Expert comping forum. Anybody who is into comping and finds competitions posts them, which is brilliant. I went on the forum and entered millions; literally I entered thousands of competitions per week.
E: What are the highlights of what you’ve won?
T: Trip to Paris for two was amazing; we won a hotel by the Eiffel Tower, a £200 meal in some amazing restaurant, £700 spending money.
E: SEVEN HUNDRED POUNDS?!
T: Yeah! It’s brilliant though because if you win things they are normally really good to you, for instance if you want to change your trip. We were able to change our return Eurostar so we could extend the trip and spent all our spending money on Disneyland.
We went to Edinburgh and had an 11 course tasting menu. We stayed in this manor house in the middle of nowhere outside Edinburgh and I had to change my dress half way through, 5 courses in I was like ‘I can’t breathe anymore’. And with wine tasting too, it was incredible.
I have won vodka, whiskey, champagne, lots of alcohol definitely. Lots of t-shirts, people are good at giving away t shirts.
S: Were there lots of events?
T: Lots of events. I went to see Jessie Ware at the top of the Gherkin. She was brilliant and we talked to her after and she’s so down to earth and we were just chatting to her and she’s so lovely. It was funny because the cast of Made in Chelsea were there, except they were sitting behind the stage where they couldn’t see thinking they were cool.
We went to a Laura Mvula concert and she’s amazing. I was looking on stage and I was like ‘I know them!’ and it turns out I used to be in orchestra with her sister and her brother who play in her band.
So then we went to their after party at some private members club and then on to Soho House and it was like the best night of my life, it was incredible.[nimbus_image align=”none” type=”drop-shadow”]
[/nimbus_image] S: The first time you got this £400 of makeup and that triggered your excitement, then what happened, did you just do every competition? How did you know which ones to enter?
T: Then I got hardcore, Money Saving Expert was my saviour. They have a forum where people post every competition they find, if I find one that people haven’t posted I’ll post it. The website is very good. You can is and it lets you bookmark the competitions by the time it expires. Which means you can enter them in your own way. By that I mean you can enter them as they come out or wait and enter them just before the deadline.
S: I spend a little bit of time on that forum and in one article people were saying they only make like £2.50 an hour based on how much time they put in. Is that your experience?
T: I don’t really see it as a money making thing. I enjoy it but I haven’t enjoyed it so much in the last year which is why I haven’t done many recently.
E: It sounds more about the experiences than the money.
T: Yeah it is, I mean I know people on there who have won up to £50k in a year.
S: Oh really? Do you consider that better than what you’ve done.
T: Ooo definitely. The prizes do have a monetary value and would probably only be worth a couple of grand a year but they are great experiences I would never otherwise do. One of my best experiences is Bateaux London, the restaurant boat, I thought was incredible.
S: Oh yeah I’ve been on that, it was great, I must have spent about £400.
T: You get 5 course meal and unlimited wine and it’s beautiful. I did it during the Olympics, I won it and it was one the best experience of that year. It was so good I have just booked it again and spent £700 for all my family.
But again I’m not doing it to make money. There are people who do it to make money, they sit for 8 hours a day and I have so much respect for them because I could not do that.
They will sit and do thousands of competitions a day, I think there is something like a 1% chance of winning, but if you’re doing 1000s a day, you’re getting some pretty good stuff.
S: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try comping?
T: I wouldn’t give up everything to do it. I would set aside an hour each night or a morning. Just stick to that hour and make sure to bookmark all the things from Money Saving Expert. Even if you don’t get amazing prizes to begin with, you will get all the freebies like shampoo, razors, it’s so random -miniatures of vodka.
E: So fun stuff to get in the post?
T: Yeah, even if you get minimal winnings, it’s so nice to get a parcel with a little something in it. Then when you win something amazing it’s just so good because you get an email saying you’re going to Scotland next month with 11 courses of food and you’re like aaaahhhhh. It’s so good.
S: What would you say has been your best experience and your worst experience.
T: Best experience would probably be Edinburgh or Paris, I don’t particularly like Paris much but the experience was amazing. I’ve won loads of other stuff and I know I keep mentioning those two but they were my favorites. My worst isn’t that bad, it’s quite funny really. When you enter competition there are often second and third prizes which you don’t really think about because you’re entering for the main prize. I got a Caroline Quentin ‘Cornwall’ DVD and I was like…what?!
S: Do you still have it?
T: I do still have it, it’s in my DVD rack as a memento. It was clearly some third prize in a lovely Cornwall canal trip competition, it was so funny.
S: Final question I have for you, I’ve heard a lot about comping robots that people use to enter competitions.
T: Don’t, because a lot of competition sites can tell you’re using bots and will disqualify you.
S: Have you ever used one?
T: No. I’ve never used them because I read all the stuff about it before and for the amount I’m doing it’s not worth it. If comping was my career, I might test them out but as a hobby, no way, because I’ve read horror stories about people winning stuff and then getting disqualified for using a bot.
You can use form fillers such as roboform, but out and out comping bots I wouldn’t. They’re also not fair on everyone who is entering by hand.
S: I said that was my last question but I’ve got another, you know how on Facebook and Twitter you see pictures of a bunch of iPads with a caption saying you could win them if you repost. Are they fraud or legitimate?
T: Mixture. Some of them are complete fraud and you can tell. Look at the company, look at what they’ve done before, google them. I do a lot of that. But be careful I used to do it a lot but ended up getting so many complaints, I got messages being like why are you liking all these brands. It was a lot of alcohol.
My co-host is Emma McGurk, many thanks to both her and Thérèse O’Hagan-Smyth for letting me post this interview. You can hear the full comping interview below. Sorry for the horrible background noise, the Pudding Bar on New Years Eve is not the best recording location.