Look Mum! I'm on Telly!
Twitter has proved a happy social network for me. I’ve won a few tickets for things, the Premier of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing was rather cool, I got to meet Anthony Head and Tom Hiddleston. But the other week Sky Sports popped up saying they were opening applications for the audience for The F1 Show. The F1 Show is a live weekly magazine show on the Sky Sports F1 channel that discusses that week’s developments in F1. Hosted by the pitlane team of Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham, they have a few guests on and generally chat away an entertaining hour. When I say chat, I mean Johnny Herbert is one of the guests, full time it seems, and chat is what he does. Stopping him seems to be the trick… Anyway, I managed to get a set of tickets and we were away. I say we, I mean me. I was totally blown out by everyone who wanted to join me, who needs friends anyway… The evening of the filming didn’t start well. Dashing out of my Heathrow office and jumping on the tube, Osterley is only a couple stops from Hatton Cross. I missed the stop and jumped off at Boston Manor. No biggy, just a slightly longer walk… A walk on a very humid night… So through Boston Manor Park, over the Grand Union canal and up the A4 to the Sky studios in Isleworth. I arrived in a less than pleasant state, but they let me in, which was nice of them.
Ushered into the holding pen, we all handed in our release forms, were given wristbands and asked to take a picture if the driver we liked, Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg. Why soon became apparent. Johnny Herbert was introduced with producer and cameraman in tow. The plan was to do a quick bit of VT (TV speak for Video Tape, the bits they record beforehand) to get everyone's opinion on the hot button topic in F1 that week. Did Nico purposely stuff his Mercedes down the Mirabeau escape lane in qualifying to ruin Lewis' chance of snatching pole position? Well, that was what the producers expected; Johnny had other ideas and asked us if we thought Lewis or Nico behaved better post qualifying? Johnny got a rather awkward silence in response, so being the bolshie sort of chap that I am, I piped up that that wasn't the question we were expecting. Laughter and a quick reset later and the partisan #LH44 crowd got the question we were expecting and promptly blamed the German for being naughty.
Not wanting to risk anything more, the production team soon had us making our way over to the studio proper. Dumping our gear at the door, those who a had been selected to ask questions were dragged out of the queue, while the rest of us patiently waited to get in and see what this telly lark was all about. While talking with a family that had travelled up from Devon to be in the crowd, past walked Sky Sports News' very own Olivia Wayne. For those of you unfamiliar with SSN, this is the 24 hour sports news channel that is the go to place when there is nothing on the other 400 odd channels. Mrs Wayne is one of the presenters. I noticed two things about Olivia as she glided past us, 1 - she is far more beautiful in normal life than dolled up on the telly and 2 - she is tiny, like the same size as when she appears on the telly. OK, this is a tad harsh coming from a slightly overweight, 6' 1" bloke, but still I think they must have her sat on a couple phone books... Are there still phone books? After the lovely distraction of Mrs Wayne, we got lead into the studio. The F1 Show is filmed in the same studio as Saturday Night Football and is very dark. With the stage at one end and a pair of huge screens flanking the two ends, you immediately see just how clever good lighting and camera work are in conveying space. On stage were our presenters, pitlane gurus Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham. For the record, they seemed normal size. Given that the show was about to go out live, it was great to see how relaxed and comfortable they were chatting to the rabble being led into the studio. Once we were popped in place, me down by the Sky Pad (big touch screen telly) we were briefed by the floor manager as to what was going to happen next. They were going to record the intro and we'd be live after the opening credits. So Ted and Natalie do their bit, run on stage and do the welcome to the show, we all smile appreciatively and immediately get told off for not clapping and shouting and generally being welcoming. We got it right the second time.
The filming itself rather flew by. The guests on that week’s show, alongside Johnny Herbert, were Jules Bianchi whose two points in Monaco were his team Marussia’s first in F1 and the Le Mans Legend, and personal hero of mine, Derek Bell. The show’s main topic of conversation was Rosberg’s detour down the escape lane and the impact that was going to have on the World Championship. Would we get a Prost/Senna situation? Would we see Lewis and Nico crash? Things like this. General consensus was that we’re not sure. Both drivers had been using the old Twitter machine to show that they were still friends and all was well. Which was nice of them. There’s a World Championship at stake, the rivalry is going to be great. So the show went on, an interesting conversation on Derek Bell’s career with a question about if F1 could ever follow sports cars and run different classes of engines (Derek’s View: No.) and a lovely look back at the life of the late, Great, Sir Jack Brabham who passed away that week. Watching all the action, it’s amazing to see what can be captured with just four cameras and a small crew. All very professional and smooth, given the cables running all over the place and the woman stood next to me who fainted… They had her out of the way and on a chair with a bottle of water before anyone, including the cameras, really noticed.
Then it was my moment. And by moment I mean blink and you miss me moment. Still, I got on telly, which was the whole point! My moment was when Johnny and Jules came over to chat about a lap of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve at Montreal. There I stood, resplendent in Walter Wolf Racing t-shirt and next to Johnny Herbert, who, moments before the action came to him, found he had left his mobile on, it started ringing away and he was jumped by Yvonne the floor manager, who scolded her presenter and ran off with his phone. Then, as soon as it started, it was over. An hours live broadcast flew past that that was that. The nice bit was once they were clear and done, the audience was free to wander about and take pictures before moving into the reception of the studios to meet the presenters and guests. It was all terribly friendly.
As were the presenters and guests as we moved over to generally gawp and get pictures with the guys off the telly. As you would guess, with a male dominated audience, the first queue to form was for Natalie, while the wives and other significant others made a beeline for Bianchi, the rather fit F1 driver looking like he had somewhere else to be. One of the highlights of the evening was in the Pinkham queue, the guy in front of me with his girlfriend was asked by the aforementioned girlfriend, “Who are we queuing for?” “Natalie Pinkham,” came the very innocent reply. “No, you’re not!” said the girlfriend and promptly lead the poor chap to the door and out of the studios entirely. His loss. Natalie was lovely, putting up with all of us attempting small talk and generally, to a man, failing… Having met Natalie, I spied Derek Bell standing on his own, I pounced. Derek Bell, for those of you who don’t follow motor racing, is a 5 times overall Le Mans 24 Hour Race winner, four of those wins with Porsche, and a 3rd overall in 1995 in a McLaren F1 GTR with his son, Justin. The man is a racing Legend, with a very capital “L”. Coupled to a stellar racing career, he has another claim to fame; he was one of the drivers in Steve McQueen’s film Le Mans. It seems that this part of the his career, very early in his career too, was what we all asked about. Derek was lovely, standing with me and a couple other guys, telling stories like when, while filming Le Mans, his Ferrari 512 burst into flames and he burnt his face. He said after jumping out of the car his memory is of a little Frenchman running out of the trees waving his arms about and making odd noises. I understand this man’s reaction, you’ve just watched someone jump out of a racing car on fire and you’re the only guys about. Odd noises would be the least of it!
He also talked about Steve McQueen, the man, who, when filming, got sandwiched between Derek and Jo Siffert and went through Ford at racing speed. When the stopped, McQueen berated his drivers for doing that, Derek responded that he could have backed out. This wasn’t in McQueen’s psyche, there was no way he was backing out. Another time, Derek in his Ferrari, doubling for Siegfried Rauch’s Stahler, raced through Maison Blanche only to find a cameraman sat in the middle of the road with a camera filming the Ferrari and Porsche go blasting past. Back at the pits, this time it was Siffert who removed his helmet and started ranting about the mentalist in the middle of the road and demanded to talk to McQueen. A little while later, Steve rode up on his bike (it’s even cool just typing that out!), Jo said his piece and Steve responded that it was him with camera in the middle of the road… You can't really argue with that can you! They say never meet your heroes but, in Derek Bell’s case, it was a true delight. Not wanting to miss out, a quick chat with Ted Kravitz was thoroughly enjoyable, especially as he wasn’t wearing sandals for this, it’s a worrying look Ted… But the final battle of the evening was with the Herbert.
This story starts 21 years ago on a cold, rainy 9th April 1993 at the Donington Park circuit for first qualifying for the European Grand prix. We were there as guests of the Williams team and wandering around the paddock I found that McLaren do not take kindly to a kid trying to get in to meet Aryton Senna with a pit pass for their biggest rivals. I also learnt that Grand Prix drivers have very selective hearing. I saw Lotus’ Johnny Herbert emerge from his garage and a quick sprint and shout of “Johnny!” to get an autograph later, I was blanked and had a lovely view of the back of a Team Lotus jacket… Fast forward to that night in the Sky studios, I explain that I had waited 21 years for this moment with Johnny and after I told the story, the production team were genuinely shocked. Herbert not taking the chance to chat to someone? They were speechless. Johnny was great though, a hug, a poor explanation, a photo and autograph later and all was forgotten and I found myself the last guest standing.
All in all, it was great fun. Sky were welcoming, the presenters and guests where great to put up with us all.