Step up, the next Sarah Beeny

A major TV network is looking for a presenter for a new property show, and the only qualification you need is to be passionate about buying abroad. Could it be you? Graham Norwood reports
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The Independent Online

The road from dealing with builders in Bulgaria to popping up in the celebrity weekly Heat may seem long and arduous but someone out there is likely to travel it very quickly in the next few months.

The road from dealing with builders in Bulgaria to popping up in the celebrity weekly Heat may seem long and arduous but someone out there is likely to travel it very quickly in the next few months.

The reason? The hunt is on for TV property gurus. But instead of being shrewd operators in the UK, à la Phil and Kirstie, the new talents must have bought, developed and re-sold in Europe and be ready to start work on TV immediately. "We want people who've joined the gold rush to Europe, who're passionate about developing and have done so in two or three countries. They should be good on camera too. That's not much to ask for," says the ambitious John Silver, the producer of the upcoming show.

Silver can reveal neither the show's title nor its network to avoid tipping off competing TV channel controllers. But when he says he wants a presenter and contributors who have developed in Dordogne or refurbished in Romania, he should be taken very seriously - he is the man behind Britain's burgeoning property TV genre.

He's produced Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs, the C4 show where self-builders transform empty plots or old electricity sub-stations into dream homes. He also makes Property Ladder, where Sarah Beeny berates amateur developers who invariably pay too much for a kitchen instead of maximising their re-sale profit.

So have you got what it takes for his new show? Good looks won't hurt but are not top of his most wanted list. A bald patch is acceptable (at least if you're a man), as long as you know your stuff.

For 10 years Phil Spencer has run Garrington Homefinders, a buying agency for wealthy clients across the UK. Back in 2000 he was invited to be a behind-the-scenes consultant on a show helping couples locate ideal properties. He expected it to be an interesting way of spending an afternoon.

"It was just a half-hour chat to explain how home finding worked. But then I seemed OK in front of the camera and everything took off," explains Spencer, who is now the leading man of property TV after fronting four series of Location, Location, Location with Garrington colleague Kirstie Allsopp. "I'm a property finder first and foremost and hope to be one long after I've stopped being on the telly," insists Spencer. He says contributors for the overseas development show must know the property market, TV skills can come later.

"The voiceover at the start of Location Location Location is scripted but everything else is unscripted. We follow the action and respond to the couple we're dealing with, the property they want and the budget they've got. I help people spend hundreds of thousands on the biggest purchase of their life. It's my job even if the camera isn't there in the corner. You've got to know your stuff to do that," he insists.

If Spencer is the king of TV property, Sarah Beeny is the queen. She admits she "never bothered much with formal education" and flunked a drama school audition. She self-trained in the building industry and at 24 set up a development firm with her brother and boyfriend. She had never broadcast before beating 200 others to become front-woman of Channel 4's Property Ladder. "You must know what you're talking about, otherwise you won't have the confidence. Researchers are great but you've got to think for yourself. I find things out but have no patience with long explanations. I try to convey that to the viewer but not in a way that makes it sound like a club - it's got to be accessible," says Beeny. She says TV has been "amazing, fun, remarkable" but admits it's not really her job. "I'm a developer" she insists. Most grands fromages of property TV have similar stories to tell.

Kevin McCloud runs a product design practice, specialising in lighting and furniture. He has worked on interiors for Ely Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, two European palaces, the Savoy and Dorchester hotels - in between, he presents Grand Designs.

Kirstie Allsopp, the polka-dotted property doyen who presents with Phil Spencer, worked for homes magazines and interior design practices before joining Garrington Homefinders. Amanda Lamb of A Place In the Sun first found fame as the face of Scottish Widows on TV adverts and has presented several non-property shows, but before all that she was an estate agent.

So the next entrant to the property TV hall of fame will probably now be dealing with RSJs and unreliable builders rather than make-up and celebs. But not for long.

"I want someone who's an expert but can engage people. It'll be the person who stands out at a dinner party because they're memorable and passionate about their subject," says Silver, who starts auditions next week. "They're already the star of their own show. I want them in mine."

The series will follow Britons who want to buy in Europe. To present the series you must have professional experience of developing property for profit overseas and know international hotspots. No broadcasting experience is necessary. E-mail a CV, a photograph and why you think you would be right for the job to Anne-Claire at propertydevelop@yahoo.com.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

* Former Changing Rooms presenter Carol Smillie had to comfort a participant who hated her transformed living room, and burst into tears.

* In the first series of Grand Designs Kevin McCloud interviewed a man designing a house in the shape of a coffin.

* Handy Andy has strategically placed MDF to cover pictures of naked women placed in a window during an episode of Changing Rooms.

* Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister's project manager quit during the BBC's Million Pound Property Experiment series telling them they would lose money.

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