Camera angles

It all looks so effortless on screen but behind the scenes it is quite a different story...

Words: Joe Swift

Pictures: Judith Dennison, Petra Hoyer Millar, Vivian Russell and Clyde Nest

Gardening is a slow process and filming gardening and gardens tends to be a pretty slow process too, except Chelsea that is. Chelsea is fast, as fast as it gets for me. The pace is as different as golf is to the Grand National. I love it, it’s a buzz; the Chelsea buzz we call it.

Last year I designed my first ever CFS show garden (you may have heard- did quite well, rather pleased with myself) but this year for the centenary I’m back on the presenting team sitting on the sofa with Alan T as well as making insert films about gardens, plants and interviewing designers and nursery men and women at the show.

A typical day involves waking at 6.00 am, being picked up around 6.30 or 7 am and then it’s straight into the showground for makeup. We only have makeup for Chelsea as its Hi Def and lights are used and I guess the main aim is to stop my head shining and distracting the viewer.

Whilst I’m having the beauty treatment and eating breakfast at the same time I also get briefed by my producer about what’s happening throughout the day. They’ll fill me in on the main themes of the show and the plan for the morning, afternoon and evening. I used to try and take it all in but now all I really want to know is what’s up next without thinking too far ahead.

In goes my ear piece and I head out to the gardens or into the floral pavilion with my runner showing me the way. She carries the schedule and the odd bottle of water, umbrella, hat or banana. One year mid- morning I shouted across a sea of people and asked for a banana to keep me going till lunch. I got a funny look and ten minutes later a can of lager turned up. It seems the word banana and lager got mixed up and now everyone – including the public – thought I had some sort of drinking problem. Another year a little old lady stabbed me hard in the back of my leg with her umbrella as we desperately tried to squeeze through a scrum to get onto a garden. She wasn’t happy but neither was I after the assault.

Chelsea is the only filming I do with an ear piece. I can hear the director who is sitting in the scanner (the mobile editing suite) as I’m speaking to the camera. I hear them talking and directing the cameramen which can be hard to block out sometimes, but I also need to listen out for my cues. When it comes to content I’ll have a few research notes, the salient points, but then it’s: “OK Joe, you’ve got two minutes on this garden and then finish on camera 3 for the link on autocue to the next item”.

As I’m walking through the garden trying to inform, entertain and sometimes be critical all at the same time I’m getting time counts and which camera I’m being filmed on in my ear. The watching visitors love it when things go wrong which used to stress me out and create more mistakes, but now I just try and enjoy it all too.

At the end of the day we film all the links on the sofa and depending on how many programmes we have (sometime BBC1 and BBC2) I’ll get home between 8 or 9pm, pretty much ready for bed. It’s a huge team at Chelsea (just watch the credits at the end of the show). It’s lovely to spend a week working with like-minded friends discussing gardening and design. Fortunately the week after is usually half term so I can disappear somewhere with the family, turn the phone off and sleep for a couple of days.