THE audience leapt and cheered in delight, her daughter burst into tears and rushed to embrace her, and Chris Tarrant showered her with hugs, kisses, and a cheque for #1 million.

But Judith Keppel remained cool, calm, and collected after scooping the biggest prize in British television history.

The most tense, exciting, and compelling, if irritating, TV drama to grip audiences in recent years finally lived up to its name last night, creating its first millionaire.

After 122 episodes of the phenomenally successful quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, the 58-year-old, from Fulham in south-west London, said she felt ''rich'' and ''wonderful'' after becoming the first person to overcome 15 questions and the quizmaster's teasing and tormenting style.

In a nailbiting show, the former bereavement counsellor was left waiting an agonising three minutes during an advert break between giving her final answer to the last question and learning if she was right.

When eventually told she was a millionaire, Ms Keppel, who is a distant relative of Camilla Parker Bowles, said she felt as if she was at a football match. ''There was a roar. The whole thing was rather unreal, rather like a dream,'' she said.

The former convent girl used up her Ask The Audience lifeline on the #16,000 question on Saturday night when she was stumped by: ''Prime Minister Tony Blair was born in which country? England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales?''

A slim majority - 53% - of the audience voted on their keypads for Scotland, leaving her struggling to decide what to do, knowing if she answered incorrectly her winnings would drop to #1000.

She told Tarrant she thought she would go for Scotland.

When the quizmaster, famous for keeping contestants on tenterhooks, reminded her what she had to lose, she replied: ''One thousand pounds would be a nice Christmas. I'll risk it and go for Scotland.''

Ms Keppel, who has three children and two grandchildren, still had two lifelines - 50/50 and Phone A Friend.

Her route to #1m nearly faltered on the #64,000 question about the origin of duffel coats.

She used her 50/50 lifeline to whittle the possible answers down to Belgium and Holland but resisted using up her third and final lifeline of phoning a friend.

Instead she said she used deduction to decide on Belgium. ''It sounded more French. So I chose Belgium. That was my real gamble.''

It paid off because she needed to phone a friend on the next question, about Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.

Tarrant said her strategy had saved her. ''She was very clever at using her lifelines,'' he said. ''She could have used her phone a friend on the duffel coat question but she said 'no, my friends wouldn't know this'. Then, on the next one, she phoned her friend, Jilly, who said, 'I know the answer darling, go for it'.''

Despite the mounting tension exacerbated by the Pet Shop Boys-esque background music and Tarrant's relentless determination to plant seeds of doubt, she confidently answered the next two questions: the young of which creature is known as a squab, taking her to #250,000, and, for #500,000, Who is the patron saint of Spain?

She did know the answer to the million-pound poser, Which King was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?, almost immediately and managed to ignore Tarrant's grave warning that she would lose #468,000 if she answered wrongly. ''I did A-level,'' she reassure her host, and herself, ''I'm fairly sure.''

Afterwards, she said: ''I was fairly sure of it,'' she said. ''When the choices came up, then I knew it, but there's something about the huge sum of money which sows a lot of doubt in your mind.''

Tarrant insisted the show, now in its eighth series, had not been ''dumbed down'' after accusations it was timed to help beat the BBC in the ratings war.

''It's obviously luck and coincidence. We don't say 'oh well, Victor Meldrew is dying tonight, let's slip her a couple of easy ones'. The questions are hard.

''We refused to dumb the questions down. We said it will happen one night. We always said it would come out of the blue and it has. I'm delighted. I'm thrilled to bits.''

Ms Keppel also remained unphased by the row. She told a press conference she was looking forward to spending the huge amount of money and said people would be wrong to assume she was already rich. ''Money has not been a terrible problem and I'm obviously not on the breadline,'' she said. ''But I'm really looking forward to spending it.''

Ms Keppel said she had phoned the quiz show more than 50 times to secure a place on the show.

''BT rang me up and said, 'Do you realise your telephone bills are rising?' They thought I had a rampant teenager.''

She added that she had been so engrossed in the build-up to the show that she began to view the world in terms of multiple choice questions.

And is that your final answer?

Question 1: #100

Complete this phrase. As sick as a...

a) Partridge

b) Puffin

c) Parrot

d) Penguin

Answer c

Question 2: #200

Which legal document states a person's wishes regarding the disposal of their property after death?

a) Would

b) Shall

c) Should

d) Will

Answer d

Question 3: #300

Complete the title of the James Bond film The Man With The Golden...

a) Tooth

b) Gun

c) Eagle

d) Delicious

Answer b

Question 4: #500

Which of these fruits shares its name with something superior or desirable?

a) Apricot

b) Grapefruit

c) Plum

d) Mango

Answer c

Question 5: #1000

In which sport do two teams pull at the opposite ends of a rope?

a) Tug of War

b) Basketball

c) Ice Hockey

d) Polo

Answer a

Question 6: #2000

Where would a cowboy wear his chaps?

a) On his head

b) On his arms

c) On his legs

d) On his hands

Answer c

Question 7: #4000

Which of these zodiac signs is not represented by an animal that grows horns?

a) Taurus

b) Capricorn

c) Aquarius

d) Aries

Answer c

Question 8: #8000

Sherpas and Gurkhas are native to which country?

a) Russia

b) Ecuador

c) Nepal

d) Morocco

Answer c

Question 9: #16,000

Prime Minister Tony Blair was born in which country?

a) England

b) Northern Ireland

c) Scotland

d) Wales

Judith used her Ask The Audience Lifeline.

53% said Scotland

Answer c

Question 10: #32,000

Whose autobiography has the title A Long Walk To Freedom?

a) Ranulph Fiennes

b) Mother Teresa

c) Nelson Mandela

d) Mikhail Gorbachev

Answer c

Question 11: #64,000

Duffel coats are named after a town in which country?

a) Belgium

b) Holland

c) Germany

d) Austria

Answer a

Judith went 50-50 and was left with a) Belgium and b) Holland. She correctly chose the right answer.

Question 12: #125,000

Complete this stage instruction in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale: ''Exit, pursued by a...''

a) tiger

b) clown

c) bear

d) dog

Answer c

Judith phoned a friend for the correct answer.

Question 13: #250,000

The young of which creature is known as a squab?

a) salmon

b) horse

c) pigeon

d) octopus

Answer c

Question 14: #500,000

Who is the patron saint of Spain?

a) St James

b) St John

c) St Benedict

d) St Peter

Answer a

Question 15: #1 million

Which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?

a) Henry I

b) Henry II

c) Richard I

d) Henry V

Answer b