But years ago there were fewer channels. No-one had a handheld portable device to transmit their own material and there was an element of mystery, even around those on the small screen. ‘They’ were removed from ‘normal’ people and one would be a little starstruck if one met them, because ‘they’ were the people on one of our TV channels. They entered our living rooms at night to share information about the world, information which we can now access easily at the touch of a button. Those were the days when it was easier for anyone from the telly to sneak into Safeway (remember this shop?) with a hangover without the fear of a member of the public capturing their untidy hair and unmade up face on a smartphone … the days of autograph books not selfies … the days of genuine interest in reading about a ‘celebrity’ ... in print … on paper.
At the turn of the century, I appeared as a presenter on BBC and Channel 4. If a stranger approached me, I assumed that they were asking for directions rather than about a TV programme I’d worked on. They’d say… “You're from the telly aren’t you?”... “Do you work with X? What’s he/she like?” (Insert person more famous than me) … “Do you get your hair and make-up done?” or even … “Can I have your autograph?”
In this blog, I share with you the "Secret Life of a Television Presenter" - a D-lister in the era before I’m a Celebrity, Love Island and Strictly. Names and some locations have been changed but all are based on real events. These are my memories of events ... and if you watched The Family Brain Games on BBC2 earlier this year you might realise that my memory is not very good. The 14 year old girls, my daughter included, nailed it!
Without further ado, let's leave the Green Room, where the guests of the show wait before they go on, and enter the Studio. Going live in 5 - 4 -3 -2 - 1…. Welcome to the ...
1. WARDROBE: Trust your Instincts
Years ago, the presenters of a prime time show I was working on gathered in a central London boutique hotel for a photo shoot. On arrival we were met with warm flannels and mint tea. The wardrobe co-ordinator had sourced a rack of expensive designer clothes which on the face of it sounds fantastic BUT on closer inspection I realised that they were mostly beige, ‘alternative’ and size 0, or 2. Not my size by any stretch of the imagination or the flimsy fabric. The other female presenter could have worn any of it - literally - she had been a model before. A bin bag would have looked amazing on her. Lucky. I felt more horse than clothes horse and managed to persuade wardrobe that a belt from the rail would set off the clothes I had arrived in perfectly. Oh thank you belt!
The golden rule to filming on location: Turn up in something suitable for filming and NEVER take anything to a filming shoot that you DO NOT want to wear. You WILL be asked to wear it!
2. HAIR AND MAKE-UP: Trust the make-up artist.
This is the departure lounge before going live. My favourite make-up artist, Alison Smith, now works as a bridal specialist. She is a total legend. Her tips include Delilah Take Cover Radiant Cream Concealer, MAC Lip Conditioner for dry lips and Airbase airbrush applied foundation - it’s great for covering spots and blemishes as it just erases them rather than layering heavy concealer on to them. L’Oréal Tec-ni-art Constructor is the best heat protecting and holding spray for using with straighteners and curling irons and Nars Laguna is a good bronzer. Once when a presenter was overheating, she placed an iced towel on said presenter's wrists - a great way to cool down instantly. Two more tips from me: don't upset the lighting cameraman and Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream …..I say no more!!!
3. THE ASSIGNMENT: It’s All in a Day’s Work
There were incredible trips to beautiful locations to meet fantastic people. And trips that you wished were over before they’d even begun: swimming with dolphins in the Bay of Islands and watching life-saving brain surgery on the one hand … and scaling an ice wall in Cumbria or flying in a helicopter in a storm off the south-western Pacific Ocean on the other. The whole range of emotion and experience comes to mind when I think back: sometimes it was very good and uplifting and sometimes it was heartbreaking and gave you food for thought. Overall, no day was the same: real people, real experiences and real life.
4. THE ACCOMMODATION: Not as glamorous as you think.
So you imagine that a television presenter always experiences the height of luxury on location but they don't. During a Test Match one year I was in Nottingham and had to stay in the only place that hadn't been booked... for a reason. The man behind the desk had three teeth and wore a loose string vest. It was a hot night. His lady friend checked me out and then checked me in. The room, just yards from the ‘reception’ desk, was so small you couldn’t swing a cat in it and with the toilet just behind a door by the bed and the sheets seeming very tired themselves, it was a night I can’t forget. I didn’t unpack - I just lay down on the bed and tried to get to sleep. If it wasn’t for the paper wall separating the bedroom from the washing facilities, my foot would have been able to flush the toilet. I woke up early declining the breakfast part of the deal and left.
5. ACCIDENTALS: Ooops I didn’t mean to say that.
On an early job on the TV Travel Shop I remember breaking down into fits of laughter when talking about the diamond geezers (geysers) in St. Luica. When demonstrating a piece of technology on Tomorrow’s World Live that involved pressing buttons, I said, "So first you do a number 1 … then you do a number 2." Again, uncontrollable laughter. And filming at a popular tourist attraction in Cornwall one evening, my Indian co-presenter and I decided to do the countdown to a live programme in various accents. The outside broadcast truck held their breaths, wondering if we’d go live speaking Gaelic, Urdu, Swahili or Australian … very silly and very childish. Naughty, naughty, naughty! It makes you understand why children get in to trouble at school sometimes.
6. FAN MAIL: “Wait a minute Mister Postman ….”
I remember when my agent told me that I had received fan mail for the first time. Oh how excited I was that day! Until I realised the letter came from Block E, Her Majesty's Prison. I did of course read some of these letters and they were usually normal, and I always wondered if I was meant to write back...
7. CELEBRITIES: Shh
Obviously I can't reveal anything personal about those I worked with - and I worked with many. But I will share one tiny fragment of a story with you: one night when the whole crew and cast were in a hotel in Hampshire the fire alarm went off in the early hours. We all emerged bleary eyed in our nightwear except for our lead presenter - a total legend. He had dressed in lightning speed and was down well before the rest of us. Now how did he do that?!
When I finally decided a few years ago that I wasn’t going to commit myself 100% to life as a television presenter, I told my agent Hilary that when she wasn’t looking, I might just pop up on TV when she was least expecting it! In jest, I said I would enter myself onto a TV gameshow like The Chase or Mastermind!
I started an instagram page @jumpingyak - connected to my new business and when I posted a photo of my children playing chess with my father similar to this one...
a message came in from a casting producer looking for contestants for a new show about Family Intelligence. We were reluctant … but with a bit of persuasion we agreed to do it. After several screen tests, written tests, computer tests and psychological screening they said, "You’re in!" So my dear Hilary, I delivered. I hope you tuned in.
Until next time, I leave you with a link to a hilarious stop motion film made by my daughter: Follow Da Leader. I hope it makes you laugh ... and if it does, please share it.
(Please be aware that as an Amazon Associate, I have provided links above to beauty products you might be interested in.)