'I'd caught a fish, not the one they wanted, but a beautiful brown trout'
Aside from The Independent, Annalisa Barbieri writes for the Economist's Intelligent Life magazine, and the New Statesman. A former contributing editor of the Independent on Sunday and fishing correspondent of the Independent, she is also patron of Rights of Women
Saturday 20 September 2003
I've always resisted doing television. I'd always been offered fashion programmes (as I used to be fashion editor of
The Independent on Sunday) by half-wit researchers/producers who thought I'd, surely, come over all unnecessary at the words "we're looking for the next Trinny and Susanna" and start flicking my hair and
gleaming in that TV way. But, really, nothing could have interested me less.
I've always resisted doing television. I'd always been offered fashion programmes (as I used to be fashion editor of The Independent on Sunday) by half-wit researchers/producers who thought I'd, surely, come over all unnecessary at the words "we're looking for the next Trinny and Susanna" and start flicking my hair and gleaming in that TV way. But, really, nothing could have interested me less.
One day last year, this man called Bill contacted me. He produced and directed fishing programmes and wanted to put me in front of the camera. Would I be interested? "I'll be rubbish to begin with," I said (I've got a very slow-burn appeal; I think I'd have to be on my fourth series before I started to glow), "but I'll give it a go." Well, it was fishing, wasn't it, not frocks.
We met in January, Bill Smith and Bill Dod, a television presenter/producer and also a fishing guide at Great Takes Travel. And we chatted. And then, some days later, and nothing to do with that lunch, I realised that I was pregnant which, I reckoned, would blow any chance I had of them wanting to take the TV thing further.
But the Bills, to their credit, were totally unfazed and, come June, we went to film. I've never ever been in front of a film camera, not even a video camera. It was only when I got to the lovely Kennet in Berkshire - where we were to film the pilot - that I realised I'd have to actually fish in front of five people. Naturally, thank God, there was no make-up or hair people, no big trailer, no bowls of fresh fruit, no specially installed phone lines (also naturally, I shall have to insist on those when I inevitably become a big TV star). But everyone was very jolly.
"I've never done this before," I said, like a teenage boy confronted with his first bra-strap. Bill S put me and my co-presenter, Bill D, in front of the camera. There was no big script or anything, and luckily Dod was someone I could "bounce" off - essential for me. We fished. Dod and Peter Whiting, the location fixer and consultant, spotted a fish that they wanted me to go for. The water in the Kennet was just beautiful; in a way it was a shame to be concentrating so intently on filming because this was first-class fishing (not to mention how bloody hard it is to fish and chat with any intelligence, at the same time: no wonder so few fishing presenters manage it, miaow).
My boyfriend was there for moral support. He kept mouthing "great casting" at me which really helped because I am hideously shy in front of an audience. Peter recommended a beacon beige dry fly and within a few casts, I'd caught a fish, not the fish they wanted me to get, but a beautiful wild brown trout instead.
The only bit I didn't like was that I had to hold it for the camera - I handle my fish rarely and briefly and I wasn't at all comfortable doing so. I had a go at the other fish - the one they were all urging me to catch on camera. "Please God let me not show myself up," I thought as I cast ... and got him. My boyfriend put his hand up his T-shirt to simulate a beating heart. "I'm so proud," he mouthed.
Then they decided that they wanted a close-up shot of a fish being caught. My boyfriend found a rather fine, but trickily placed specimen and said: "Shall I try for him so you can get your shot?" The camera-man trailed his lens on the spot, my boy cast and bang, the fish was got in one. This time it was my turn to burst with pride. "I told you he was good," I told anyone who would listen, as suddenly (and not unusually) the attention switched from me to him...
Then lunch. The sun was out, everyone was making filming a real pleasure. But I found it all quite hard. Easier than it could have been but I knew I wasn't really being "me". Bill Smith said this was the hardest thing to do in front of the camera: being yourself. After lunch I had several pieces to camera. In my mind I'd called the fly Peter had given me a "belisha beacon" and so I kept stumbling over the words "beacon beige". The more takes I had to do, the less spontaneous I became and the less sure I became of anything at all. Writing and talking are so very different, I concluded.
Back home I watched television with a new admiration for the presenters. Who knows if I'll ever make it on to TV. Given enough practice, I think I could be really good but it seems to me that, in the world of television, you get one shot to impress and I'm very much a "grow on you" kinda girl. A bit like lichen: I only flourish given time, and the absolute right environment.
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