At the BBC Proms 2010 press launch
I’d known for ten days when it was ever since a colleague skipped around the department waving an envelope in my direction. ‘It’s for you!’ she said passing it to me. I noted the grey ‘BBC Proms’ printed on the bottom right hand corner. I so rarely get mail at work.
Had I looked a little more carefully at the invitation instead of flashing it around the office, I would have noticed that the event was being staged at the Duke’s Hall at the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone Street.
I didn’t notice. Instead, I went to the Royal College of Music opposite the Royal Albert Hall (where the event was hosted last year) where I found nothing but a collection of gangling students, a couple of confused looking receptionists who’d never even heard of the Proms and a sheepish looking TV producer from Cardiff who’d made exactly the same mistake I had.
Thank God he’d got his invitation and a pocket full of cash with him. We hailed a cab and headed off to Baker Street at breakneck speed.
We needn’t have worried. The top billing for the evening – Proms Director Roger Wright’s 20 minute address launching the 2010 BBC Proms season – was smiling and shaking hands when I, the TV producer and various other people who had presumably made the same mistake as us edged our way into the hall.
There were a lot of people there. A cacophony of sound accompanied me as I skirted the crowd in pursuit of an empty space at the side. I grabbed a glass of wine and retrieved something peckishly small to eat en route.
Feeling hugely self-conscious about not having found anyone to speak to five minutes after arriving at the event (and feeling unexpectedly relieved that I had actually gone to the wrong venue first of all) I wheeled round to find a lady – the chorus manager from the Edinburgh Festival Chorus – sitting on her own with a glass of red wine.
“Hello,” I said hopefully, “You’re on your own. I’m on my own. I figure the best we can do here is to chat to each other.”
“That would be great,” she said.
She explained about how this year was the first time the Edinburgh Festival Chorus had been to the BBC Proms since 1995 and how only this afternoon she had seen inside the Royal Albert Hall for the first time.
“What’s your involvement in the Proms?” she asked
I hesitated. Everyone else has a title. They have defined roles. Specific responsibilities. They’re journalists, critics, producers or bar staff. They’re all rather smartly dressed too.
I looked down at my canvas shoes, jeans and creased shirt. How could I have thought it would be OK to turn up in relatively shabby attire at such an event? I seem to have stumbled into all of this, been quite haphazard about everything.
“I make videos for the BBC Proms website,” I replied.
These are the moments in time when someone – anyone – needs to drag me away from the poor unsuspecting soul I’m talking to. Because it’s at that moment in time when I’m conscious about ensuring I fill any potential gaping voids in conversation. That’s when I start talking more. Boring the pants off people by justifying what it is I’m doing for the Proms as though I’m talking to a license fee payer brandishing a rusty knife.
Fortunately I’ve managed to edit the lengthy story of how that all came about to a punchy three minutes. Even so, there are still moments in those three minutes when it feels like I should let the ‘audience’ interject a bit.
A wistful glance at the crowd in the Duke’s Hall reminded me what I’d said to the TV producer in the taxi over here. “It was all a means to an end really.”
“Oh?” he’d replied showing considerably more interest than any normal TV producer would – especially those types in entertainment.
“It was my route into radio,” I explained. “I thought if I could just physically get to Broadcasting House doing something, I might possibly have a quiet word with Roger Wright and .. you know .. stand in when Sara Mohr Pietsch gets sick. Then it’s a small step to ousting Suzi Klein from her seat in the Grand Tier and the world is mine.”
(The fact the TV producer had already been on the phone in the cab over to the Royal Academy trying to get a message to Suzi Klein telling her of the correct venue seemed to have slipped my memory.)
“That was four years ago,” I said as the taxi pulled up outside the Royal Academy of Music. “That world domination hasn’t happened yet.”
The world isn’t really like that – at least the media world isn’t.
I’m not complaining at all. Not really. We all have egos. Some of us have slightly more active egos than others. We’re the ones with slightly higher opinions of ourselves than everyone else. We’re also the ones who know it and who know the taste of the bittersweet media pill. There aren’t quite as many in vision/on-air opportunities as we might like to think there are. And there’s a queue. A very long queue. Considerably more talented and able people are in front of us.
Back in the hall, I watched as Sara Mohr Pietsch and later Suzi Klein moved gracefully through the clinking glasses and horn-rimmed glasses. Elsewhere Petroc Trelawney was engaged in intense conversation.
Over on the other side of the hall Sarah Walker and Rob Cowan (minus his much-loved rucksack) gassed with one another. Were they attending the Proms launch or somebody’s leaving do? I couldn’t tell.
Petroc Trelawney was engaged in conversation with someone – I’ve no idea who – Radio 4 continuity blokey Zeb Soanes jostled through guffawing groups of arts luvvies.
(Being one of a handful of people who reads the shipping forecast and does a stint in front of the camera during the Proms, Zeb has achieved the holy grail in terms of presentation with feet in both camps, it seems to me.)
And somewhere else former ITN newsreader and BBC researcher, now Radio 3 newbie Katie Derham had her first industry engagement after being introduced by Roger Wright as ‘the new face of the BBC Proms’.
These are the school prefects. They are the sights and sounds of the BBC Proms (and in some cases) Radio 3 too.
These were the people I look at with a mixture of wonder and envy. How does Radio 3 and the Proms mean to them. Is it just a job? Is it something which just pays the bills? Or do they experience the same love doing their jobs as I do listening to them?
They may not realise it, but they are the reason I listen to BBC Radio 3. Yes, it’s the music but it’s the sound world their voices which makes me feel at home. Their work – the seemingly effortless framing of the music – achieves two things: it makes me want to listen at the same time as making their jobs so aspirational.
They’re the image of the BBC Proms too. When I’ve been promming on the night of a live broadcast I’ve frequently been observed looking up to the Grand Tier before the concert begins and noting conspiratorially with my friend who’s ‘on’ this evening.
All the presenters be they on radio or TV are the fixtures and fittings. They are vital to the overall effect without being the top-billing. That’s what makes them so appealing. They’re central but they’re not the focus.
Regardless of objective views of our own personal abilities, they’re the marble-topped surfaces against which cheap MDF units would jar and chase off listeners in droves.
Their contribution is a finely tuned. And maybe that’s why making videos should be just enough for me. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if some bumbling fool came along to upset that delicate balance.
And believe me. That’s an even more unpleasant media pill to swallow.
Having swallowed it, however, I will of course work on the abridged version of this blog. Otherwise I may find myself at subsequent industry events on my own because no one can spare the time to hear my confessional.