Brides, cameras, action ... it's matrimonial telly
When the daughter of former radio DJ and publishing millionaire Tony Prince got married, he saw a gap in the market for a TV channel devoted to weddings. Ian Burrell talks to him
Monday 26 May 2008
I'm looking at a picture of the King and a Prince. How many British media personalities, besides Tony Prince, can lay claim to having had their photograph pinned up on the wall of Graceland by Elvis Presley?
Or indeed to have, hanging on the wall of his own home, the actual copy of "Love Me Do" (with Paul McCartney's name wrongly spelled) that was the first piece of Beatles vinyl to be played on radio? Then again, Prince was not only programme director at Radio Luxembourg, the leading Sixties commercial pop station, but also the honorary president of the Elvis Presley Fan Club. Since then he has made a fortune from magazine publishing, become famous on the streets of New York as a patron of the DJ-ing arts of mixing and scratching, and has recently returned to broadcasting by setting up his own television channel.
He sits in the offices of Wedding TV, which has been nominated as one of the specialist channels of the year in Broadcast magazine's annual awards, and scrolls through a selection of photos that he has downloaded on to his laptop. "Me and the King," he says, noting that he was the only British presenter to interview Presley twice. He later discovered that the photo of him presenting the singer with a trophy from his British fans was on the wall of Elvis's Memphis mansion. Back to the laptop. "Me and Willie Carson we were apprentices together when I left school at 15. I only lasted a year, four shillings and six a week, breaking your balls off on a big horse on the Yorkshire moors." From bridle to bridal, is there anything this guy hasn't done?
Things could have turned out very differently if Prince had been allowed to continue his fledgling pop career as a singer-guitarist for a band called The Jasons (the name probably worked better in Sixties Manchester). Instead, he found his ambitions thwarted by the Musicians' Union, which expelled him for having the temerity to undermine live performance by playing records.
Now, once again the music industry is paralysed by the threat of technology, but Prince, 64, has embraced modernity at every turn. He is rolling out Wedding TV across the world, with an offering that includes original shows not just about perfect weddings but about lesbian nuptials and the experiences of girls who have managed to bag themselves a footballer or a rock singer.
Already broadcasting in Poland, Russia and Turkey, and exploring expansion into China and America, Wedding TV markets its programmes as "100 per cent rights-owned content, easily repurposed for VOD, mobile and IPTV". Prince says: "Because we are making our own programmes we can go into those concepts. We will go into all of them until we find which one wins. It's like a gold rush on the internet and we are riding that with great interest."
He had the idea for Wedding TV, which began broadcasting in December 2006, when his daughter Gabrielle got married the year before. The search for a videographer to cover the event led the women of the Prince family to spend hour after hour watching footage of other people's weddings. "They took their chocolates and Kleenex tissues and locked themselves in," Prince remembers, saying that he was impressed by the high quality of the video productions.
Deciding that there was money to be made from the wider dissemination of such material, he called up his old business partner Marc Conneely. The pair had been central figures in establishing the Ibiza club scene in the Eighties, when Conneely ran the Twenties travel company and Prince persuaded him that they should set up a new firm, Nightlife, to carry DJs and pioneering clubbers to the Balearics. Their partners in Wedding TV are Mirek Grabiec (chairman) and Ben Watts (managing director).
Prince himself took the role of programme director, though he had previously only worked in such a capacity in radio. "I originally thought that I could just put on lots of film of real weddings, but my partners from proper television backgrounds said that it needed to be more substantial than that."
He received pitches from independent production companies, but the proposals were beyond his budget. BBC shows, too, were prohibitively expensive. He thought of the technological advances achieved by the wedding videographers and thought: "Why don't we make our own programmes?"
After hiring Simon Withington, a former producer of ITV's It'll be Alright on the Night, he assembled three production teams (Wedding now has a staff of 30 in London and 10 more in Poland doing its website). "We really are a self-contained channel," he says.
Aside from series about real life weddings, such as Perfect Days and Happy Ever After..., Prince has an eye for a quirky documentary. So Springtime for Hilli tells the tale of a lesbian couple in Birmingham, Jane and Hilli, who are having problems finding a venue for their big day. "Jane has a hobby for collecting Nazi memorabilia," says Prince, explaining that the title is inspired by Mel Brooks's The Producers. "It's very funny, very light." With the help of gay wedding planners Ant and Dick, the happy couple manage to secure Birmingham Town Hall as their venue, in a six-part series of half-hour shows that promises "tears, tantrums and some surprises".
Then there's WAG's World, for which Prince has secured the presenting talents of Lizzie Cundy (the wife of former Chelsea player Jason, a radio presenter on Talksport), who has in turn persuaded such members of the wagocracy as Alex Best, Danielle Lloyd and Krystell Sidwell on to the show. Prince also used his Presley connections to make a two-parter about British couples who wanted to wed in the Graceland chapel, Marrying Elvis.
He even has a makeover show in the pipeline, The Real Ugly Betty, inspired by the Channel 4 hit. It attempts to help brides-to-be "who don't think they're up to par, plain Janes or girls who think they could be improved". "We feel very proud of the programmes we have made. They're good enough for ITV without any question," Prince says.
He's not totally without gripes. His biggest bugbear is Barb, the body that measures TV viewing in the UK. He is convinced that Barb's methods for collecting data do not reflect the viewing habits of potential brides-to-be who have recently left the family home, his key demographic. "I'm not happy because I know they're not measuring young women," he says.
But Prince shouldn't really worry. He sold Mixmag, the music magazine he founded in 1983 as a newsletter for DJs, for 9m. DMC, the original publisher behind Mixmag, is still run by his wife Christine from an office in Slough, and organises the biggest DJ competition in the world, the DMC World DJ Championships. Each year, Prince gives away the trophy, and he reels off a few past favourites: "DJ Craze from Miami, DJ Noize from Denmark, Roc Raida from Philadelphia".
But his focus now is on all things matrimonial. "We've created the female equivalent of a sports channel for guys who crave adrenalin and excitement. The women don't want that, they want the romance and the ambience that we give them on Wedding TV."
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