in the Sunday Times, 11Jan2009
How to become a property tv presenter
It’s only when I blow my nose that I remember about the make-up. Although I’ve seen quite a few chaps wearing foundation on the Victoria to Brighton line, it’s a first for me. I try to avoid the gaze of the guy opposite: it may be my imagination, but he seems rather keen for a chat.
The nightmare journey had started, flatteringly enough, with an invitation to audition for a television property show on Real Estate TV. Admittedly, the channel is not exactly mainstream (you can find it on the internet or Sky 262 and 263), but, with children to feed, when I heard they were looking for a presenter, I thought it worth a shot. I promptly directed them to my website, which includes a couple of pieces of television work and a photograph of me taken when I was still the right side of 50.
“Don’t humiliate yourself,” my girlfriend warned me after I had been summoned to a screen test. “They’ll pick someone younger, better-looking and at least slightly well known.”
“Hang on. What about my experience and gravitas?” I shouldn’t have ignored her trademark sigh.
The audition was at a studio in the London Stock Exchange. “Let’s try to get rid of those bags under the eyes, shall we?” the make-up lady said as I sat down in the chair.
“What about my hair? Is that okay?” She surveyed the admittedly sparse arrangement and pronounced: “It is as it is.” Hardly the ringing endorsement I had been seeking. After a few more layers of foundation, I was pointed towards a sofa to await my turn.
My main concern, of course, was my ballooning insecurity about my appearance. But there was also the nagging thought that the last thing the world needs is yet another property programme. With hardly anyone buying, selling, lending or borrowing, what, besides the gloom, is there to talk about?
Indeed, the landscape of property programming is already beginning to shift, reflecting the current depressed state of the market. That nice George Clarke (no bags under the eyes there) has been presenting The Home Show, on Channel 4, which explains how to make the best of staying put, rather than doing up and moving on. In Country House Rescue, bossy Ruth Watson has been advising the owners of failing stately homes on how to avoid meltdown.
And before you worry about Phil Spencer having to darn his own socks, rest assured: he’s currently back on our screens with Kirstie Allsopp in the new series of Relocation, Relocation (Channel 4, Wednesdays 8pm), and Location, Location, Location will return later in the year. Allsopp has another upcoming series, Kirstie’s Homemade Home, which is apparently full of thrifty tips for making your own soap and patching up wonky furniture.
Anyway, back to the audition. I and my budding fellow Phils and Kirsties were told we would have to read a script from the Autocue and interview an expert about opportunities for investment – neither of which bothered me, as I had done them before. The real challenge was that we would also have to talk straight to camera for five minutes. It is known in the trade as a “rant”, or a “spiel”, and you would be mad to try it without a prompt card.
After answering a few questions, put to me by a grey-haired man, about the housing market in France (on which I had claimed some expertise), it was time for the moment of truth. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s have a go at the spiel.”
I adjusted my position on the stool and whipped out my prompt card. I was going to knock them dead. “Put the card away, please,” he said sternly. “We don’t want you looking down. And don’t bother speaking for five minutes, a couple will do.”
He did a silent countdown with his fingers and off I was supposed to go. I looked down the barrel of the camera and spluttered. How was I going to cut my rant by half? What I heard myself say made little sense and, although I recovered slightly towards the end, the hint of hysteria never left my voice.
“Right,” he said. “Let’s try the Autocue. Have you read from an Autocue before?” I nodded feebly as various newsreading disasters flashed before my eyes.
Once, at BBC Look North, where I was renowned as the scruffiest desk journalist on Tyneside, the designated newsreader failed to turn up for a Saturday bulletin and I had to take his place, dressed in a tatty blue jumper. A later lowlight was during a hostage drama, when I announced the release of the “Iranian sausages”.
This time, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for another humiliation, only to deliver an almost faultless performance. It was the closest I would ever get to perfection. Even the grey-haired man said it was the best he’d seen all day.
So, had I pulled it off? The e-mail from Real Estate TV popped into my inbox a few weeks later. The word that caught my eye was “elimination”.
At least my girlfriend didn’t crow when we heard that the job had been landed by a glamorous 29-year-old with a full head of hair. The journalist Bella Crane trained as an actress, presented Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun and has created a perfume called Bella Bellissima. Apparently, there’s even a fragrance for men. After my experience with the foundation, I think I’ll give it a miss.