Meet the compers: Neill Johnstone

Today I’m chatting to another blogger in my ‘Meet the Compers’ series of Q&As. Over at Gary Wasabi’s Golden Luck Muscle (definitely one of my favourite blog names!) you can read stories of comping successes – and failures – as well as enjoy his fantastically entertaining Prize Unboxing videos. You might also know him as @mustardbomb, if you follow him on Instagram – but in real life, he’s commonly known as Neill!

Now, let’s get on with the interview… I hope reading it makes you laugh as much as I did!

First of all, I’m intrigued by ‘mustard’ and ‘wasabi’ in your blog and usernames! Are you a fan of hot and spicy plants?

Well, I do like mustard in my scrambled eggs, but I’m afraid the story is rather more convoluted than that! My first ever Twitter handle was “themustard” – a tribute to Norwich, the ancestral home of Colmans and the site of most of my life’s milestones. However, not long after the birth of my eldest son, what started as a homage to the Fine City, mutated into a tribute to his neonatal nappies – the midnight mustard bomb being (I’m sure) familiar to most parents. I’m not actually a fan of soupy poop, but it’s a bit late now.

The name “Gary Wasabi,” meanwhile, is the lovechild of a cartoon strip that I never wrote and my late cat, who was named after a former neighbour of mine. And Gary Lineker.

Clear as mud? Just promise me you’ll add some dijon to your next grilled ham and cheese sandwich and we’ll call it quits. You won’t regret it!

(what Neill might not know is that my maiden name was John – so I had my own mustard nickname back in the day too – “Miss D John“! That’s before I married a fizzy drink, of course…) 

Tell me how and when did you discover the world of comping?

I suppose you could say I discovered it as I child when I saw my first advert for Compers World, or whatever it was called at the time, and I remember thinking how cool it would be to win things on a regular basis. I then spent the next few decades doing absolutely nothing to make this happen.

That’s not to say I’d written off the idea (unlike, say, my dreams of becoming a stuntman); rather, I kept getting distracted. It wasn’t until the umpteenth nudge from the MoneySavingExpert newsletter that some kind of penny clicked and I reasoned that if I entered enough comps, I’d be knee-deep in iPads, tellies and protein shakes. Well, you can probably guess how that panned out…

Which websites, forums or resources do you use for comping?

In the early days, my comfort zone extended no further than Prizefinder as it’s easy on the eye and straightforward to navigate. The trouble is, as I’m sure you say elsewhere, it’s also the forum of choice for thousands of other compers, so if you’re looking for short odds, it’s not so fantastic.

For this reason, I now spend a lot of time on Facebook. That’s not to say I enter loads of Facebook comps – quite the opposite in fact, as these also have so many entrants and can spam up your friends’ newsfeeds. Rather, I mainly use it for comping chit-chat and intel. In the first instance, your Lucky Learners group is a brilliant place to keep abreast of what’s happening in the community. Second, there’s your Superlucky FB feed (anyone who doesn’t select Get Notifications for this is really missing a trick!). I’m also a member of a few specialised FB groups, including one for local compers and one for effort-based comps – it’s impossible to over-emphasise the importance of community in this hobby!

The other thing it’s impossible to over-emphasise is the importance of doing things for yourself. For this reason, I’ve bookmarked searches for a whole load of things from my wishlist, and use Tweetdeck to monitor Twitter for interesting comps. Tweetdeck is an utter gem of a tool and has led me to the holy grail of comping – single entrant comps – on more than one occasion! (For more info on Tweetdeck, I recommend Nikki Hunter-Pike’s introduction on Glam and Geeky Mum).

What’s your favourite prize, and why was it so special?

It’s hard to pick a favourite, but certainly one of my most cherished wins came in my first year of comping, when I won an iPhone. I had barely a dozen wins under my belt at this point, and when I got the winning notification I felt almost sick with excitement!

The promoter was a phone repair company, so I’m pretty sure the handset was reconditioned, but my old phone was so dire (it didn’t even have a selfie cam!) that anything would have been an improvement. That phone changed my life (or at least made me more pleasant to be around!). From then on, every call I made, every text I sent, reminded me that I could be – and indeed was – a winner. For a novice comper, that’s like getting a hundred pep talks a day! On top of all that, I was able to enter so many more photo comps that it single-handedly pushed my comping game up a gear – making me even more lucky!

When did you decide to start blogging at The Luck Muscle – and why?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but when my kids were born, everything stopped: not just the writing, but also reading, listening to music, even watching movies. Everything that had previously defined me disappeared, suffocated by sleep deprivation and drudge. I was never one to say that parenthood wouldn’t change me, but I wasn’t expecting it to completely consume me!

In an attempt to put some positive spin on things, I started filling my spare moments with comping, and then more comping, and then … then it was advent season!

That December, I comped *way* beyond my natural appetite. I was putting so much time into chasing that winning buzz that if I wasn’t comping, I was itching to get back to it and tick off the day’s draws.

As any experienced comper will tell you: that ain’t healthy.

Come Christmas Day, I was bereft and fidgetty, thinking, “Now what am I supposed to do?!” That hole lasted well into January, accompanied by an extended period of low mood. There were, of course, other factors contributing to that mood, but the signs of compulsive behaviour will be obvious to anyone with experience of addiction.

I’m not putting comping on a par with gambling, but it’s important to recognise when your hobby has become an obsession – and mine clearly had. In an effort to drag myself out of my funk, I thought long and hard about how to make myself happy. I thought about how I’d enjoyed writing, but felt I’d lost the creative spark. Eventually, however, it dawned on me: if I got back on the comping wagon – but this time approached it more mindfully – I could still spend all my spare time thinking about comping, but this time the two hobbies would balance themselves out.

And in case anyone is wondering why I call it the Luck Muscle, I’m a firm believer that if you want to get lucky, you have to work at it – exactly as you would if you wanted killer abs, except with less sweat and more granola.

Your youngest son is fast becoming a star of your prize unboxing videos on YouTube! Which prize has he found most exciting so far?

Ha! That boy’s a liability! As far as he’s concerned, the best thing he’s ever unwrapped was Steve, his fluffy Weetabix. Make of that what you will!

What’s the most disappointing package you’ve opened in your unboxing… and did it make the final cut of the video?

To date, I’ve been pretty lucky – my most questionable wins all arrived before I started the unboxing! So, unless you count the broken Pepsi glasses from the recent Walker’s comp (which the promoter kindly replaced), my first-ever video probably showcased the greatest volume of disappointment – but I like to think I was keeping it real!

Do you have a winning comp entry that you’re particularly proud of?

My first big win was a ridiculously expensive cartridge for my record deck and £100 to spend at my local record shop. The brief was simply to upload a picture of your vinyl collection, with the option to add a little explanatory text. Most of the entries were from insanely serious collectors with shelves and shelves and shelves of records. There was no way I could compete on quantity, so I staged a picture with my then four-year-old son (who has not cooperated on a single picture since then!) and wrote a couple of sentences about how my father’s and grandfather’s records were all mixed in with mine, and how my lad would be the next guardian of the family trove. It was then that I learnt that while a picture may say a thousand words, the right caption can really swing it – a lesson that served me well on a couple of Pinterest comps too!

What’s your favourite type of competition?

I love to see promoters require real engagement with their product. Case in point: when the last Human Centipede movie was released on DVD, the promoter ran a giveaway where the marquee prize was a humungous telly. So far so normal. However, instead of your common or garden entry form, the only way to enter the draw was to submit a photo of yourself on your hands and knees. Why? So the promoter could photoshop all the entrants into a giant centipede, obviously!

Distasteful? Certainly. But absolutely relevant to the movie; absolutely memorable; and absolutely the only time an entry mechanic has required anyone to have their mouth digitally stitched onto a complete stranger’s anus.

This level of immersive experience, however, is hard to come by, so I try to focus on the comps that will bring me the most pleasure. Obviously, creative comps are far more enjoyable than form-filling or retweeting; however, when your brain is addled by fatigue, inspiration can be hard to come by. For this reason, I’m currently spending a lot of time on Instagram, where the comps I find tend to have fewer entrants than their equivalents on Twitter or Facebook, and there’s better scenery along the way. Lots of people complain that Insta is a pig to search. I won’t deny that. But if you start a private chat group for you and your comping buddies to share comps, you’ll have an inbox full of comps before you know it!

What would be your top comping tip or piece of advice?

ENJOY YOURSELF! Like any hobby, comping should be fun, so go easy on yourself. You can’t enter everything, so don’t even try!

What a brilliant interview, full of great tips. Thanks so much Neill!

Don’t forget to check out Neill’s blog at http://luckmuscle.blogspot.com!

18 Responses

  1. Hayley Lynch says:

    We need to win Neill a stage He is a natural comedian.

    • Neill Johnstone says:

      You’re too kind! Although with my kids in tow, I feel more like a ringmaster on the brink!

  2. Laura Walker says:

    Neill my new Instagram tagging friend! I did wonder about the mustard and the love muscle well erm…goes off to drag my mind from the gutter

  3. Sharon says:

    Have only recently discovered Neill and think he’s hilarious – reminds me a bit of Harry Hill (no offence to Neill I hope). I definitely see him going places in the future (and not just with comp win holidays) We need more compers like him to keep things light-hearted and fun! Go Neill!

    • Neill Johnstone says:

      Thank you for the kind words! I’ll let you in on a little showbiz secret: Harry Hill gets hairstyling tips from my YouTube channel 😀

  4. Davina says:

    A kind, generous & hilarious comping pal to have

  5. Sheila Reeves (CakeReev) says:

    Great interview, enjoy Neils blog and his posts on FB- although I hadn’t come across the Human Centipede story, now need to explain to my husband why I’m sniggering :))

  6. Nikki Hunter-Pike says:

    I knew an interview with Neill would be the most entertaining meet the comper yet! I’m surprised no pictures of him in his crocs and socks made it into the article though ( I challenge him to use a picture of them in a creative entry!) – my favourite sentence of this entire post though has to be

    ‘the only time an entry mechanic has required anyone to have their mouth digitally stitched onto a complete stranger’s anus’

    Actually crying!

    • Technically, my comment that the mouth-anus mechanic is unique is based on suspicion rather than hard facts. If anyone can provide evidence to disprove my assertion then I will happily retract my statement.

  7. Chris Hunt says:

    I also enjoy Neil’s blog and take on things. Its so refreshing (and unusual) to find a male Comper to follow. He has a great, dry humour and I like it that he wins lots of small prizes that he seems completely unimpressed with.

    • Neill Johnstone says:

      Oh my! Do I really look unimpressed?! I must try harder to look chipper – I love all my wins like I do my own children, if not more so, as they don’t wake me up at 3AM to tell me the covers have fallen off their bed and they’ve lost their teddy.

      • Diane Wood says:

        Lol, you see, for me, it’s not Harry Hill you remind me of but Jack Dee and so it totally fits

  8. Absolutely brilliant – i adore neill’s blog (and actually came across it via a comp but have kept reading it ever since). Such words of wisdom there too – comping in moderation is a lesson I learnt the hard way also. I’m so so glad that the mustard and wasabi have finally been explained. I thought it was some joke that everyone else understood except for me so have always been afraid to ask!

    • Neill Johnstone says:

      Truthfully, I was always afraid that someone would ask about the mustard & wasabi and I’d have to explain myself!

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