Reality TV in the Cotswolds

Sophie Lydia Smith / Photo: Alex Drury

Sophie Lydia Smith / Photo: Alex Drury - Credit: Archant

Many local people and businesses have taken the gamble of appearing on reality TV programmes. So what’s it really like - and is it worth putting your reputation on the line in exchange for the free publicity? Paul Keenan spoke to some of those who took the plunge

Shamsul and Monrusha Krori at The Curry Corner, Cheltenham

Shamsul and Monrusha Krori at The Curry Corner, Cheltenham - Credit: Archant

Monrusha Krori and father Shamsul Krori | The Curry Corner, Cheltenham

Programme: The F Word, Channel 4, 2009. Restaurants competed for the title of “Best Restaurant”

Why did you do it? Because we were nominated by our customers. This was all about being the best restaurant and once we made the shortlist we felt we had to take part because we’ve always tried to be the best. The fact that it was Gordon Ramsey on one of the biggest TV shows at the time made it the ideal opportunity.

What was the experience like? It was a real roller-coaster. It started at the beginning of the year and was an eight-to-nine-month process. When people think of TV they think it is a glamorous and exciting process. We got that but it’s also a negative because nothing prepares you for what will happen. We had eight cameras constantly monitoring every single thing we were doing. When we got down to the final two and appeared at the F Word restaurant in London it was more stressful again. We went up the day before and had to set up our kitchen from scratch with the bare minimum of equipment. With the complexity of our cooking that was a real challenge, particularly as we then had Gordon throwing orders at us. But I’ll never forget back at the Curry Corner, Gordon looking me up and down and saying: “You left a career as a barrister to cook in traditional clothing. You are the most glamorous chef I know.” He told me and my dad he could not believe the quality and variety of food we produced in our tiny kitchen. And there was the moment my dad told Gordon not to swear at one of our competitors. Gordon actually apologised and did not swear again for 15 hours.

Would you do it again? Yes, because it helped us to achieve our goal of showing that we are a family and local restaurant that can compare with the best in the world. We have 2 AA rosettes - the highest ranking for authentic curry. We were the runners-up on the show but we were really lucky because despite the roller-coaster we had an experience that probably doesn’t happen any more. They were spending lots more per episode than they do now. Our TV work - we were also finalists in the World Food Awards on Star Plus - has inspired a new generation of young Indian chefs to serve quality cusine rather than the orange plop that is unfortunately the norm.

Phill Skill

Phill Skill - Credit: Archant

Phil Skill | Head of planning, Stroud District Council

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Programme: The Planners, BBC 2, 2014. Follows the work of planning officers across the UK.

Why did you do it? Because I was told to. Councillor Frances Roden was approached as the then leader of the council, said yes, and told me to get on with it. I was happy to do so and was excited about doing so. I’ve never had any issues about standing in front of a camera and talking.

What was the experience like? The producer was also the cameraman so it was low-key and low-budget. But we had to agree to give them free access to the council buildings at all times and had no editorial control. We could correct things factually but if it happened, they could record it. They wanted to follow each planning process from start to finish, which meant they dumped so much material because so many cases don’t materialise in the end. There must have been loads on the cutting room floor. There was a lot of interest in the Rodborough Fields planning application, which was delegated to officers to decide. We had to stage a meeting to discuss it. We didn’t make anything up but it had to work for television. We weren’t allowed to act and everything had to be done in chronological order, which was fine. It created eight hours of publicity for the district, which is a lot of exposure. It directly led to other TV series being filmed here because other TV makers saw the scenery and liked it. The local filming of the BBC drama The Casual Vacancy came out of our series.

Would you do it again? We did. Going ahead with a second series was my decision. We had come out of the first series well and I wanted to do it again. For the two years I was involved, I loved it. It was what I got out of bed for at the start of a working day. Whether it will happen again I don’t know. They seem to have moved away from fly-on-the-wall stuff. But it has led to other work for us. I’m currently advising a company on an enforcement process as a direct result of being seen on the programme.

Phil Kiernan

Phil Kiernan - Credit: Archant

Phil Kiernan | Farmer’s Boy Inn, Longhope

Programme: Four in a Bed, Channel 4, 2011. B & B, pub and hotel owners stay with each other - and judge each other

Why did you do it? They contacted me out of the blue and I decided to go for it not because of the pub but because I wanted to promote my new business Mad About Pies. We’d been running the pub for several years and I had no qualms about taking part. I am confident in front of a camera and I knew I would have to talk a lot, which is no problem for me.

What was the experience like? It was good. The competition wasn’t fair because you can’t judge pubs against B & Bs and hotels. It would have been better if it had just been pubs. We came third but it was just like winning because of the enormous response we had for both Mad About Pies and the Farmer’s Boy. What I would say to anyone thinking of taking part in a similar show is to be yourself. If you’re not, you’ll always get found out. Our show took two weeks to film but you’re always on camera - don’t say anything you might regret because that will be the clip that is used.

Would you do it again? Definitely. On the day the show went out I put a competition to stay at the Farmer’s Boy on our website and it crashed - we had 25,000 hits. They’ve repeated the programme five or six times and every time it is shown we get a response. It’s been shown abroad and directly led to me being approached by a company in Germany who wanted me to teach their staff marketing skills. It was nothing to do a with the pub trade - it was a credit card business for petrol stations. They flew me and my wife out there and it was a great experience. In the first year of Mad About Pies, we had orders with four supermarkets, Crystal Palace football club and Worcester Warriors rugby club.

Sophie Lydia Smith

Sophie Lydia Smith - Credit: Archant

Sophie Lydia Smith | Miss Cheltenham and building surveyor for Stroud District Council

Programme: Come Dine With Me, Channel 4 2015. Five strangers host dinner parties for each other over five days

Why did you do it? Because I’m not one to turn down an opportunity. They got in touch and said I could use it to promote Miss Cheltenham. I knew Come Dine With Me was a light, humourous show so I wasn’t afraid to go on it. Big Brother would have been out of the question.

What was the experience like? It was something I’d never experienced before. The filming was relentless - all day and all night. Because there are five guests but only one camera, there is a lot of waiting around. I was most nervous on day one when I was meeting everybody else who was taking part. I just didn’t know what to expect but everyone was so nice - I got on with them all. It was scary in the kitchen. I’m not known for my culinary skills but I was determined to get it right. I didn’t want to build myself up too much but I did want to win, and I was delighted when I did. (Sophie’s three-course meal was Crab tian with balsamic reduction, lemon and thyme chicken with mulit-coloured carrots and a chocolate fondant).

Would you do it again? I would, but I would wait for an opportunity rather than push myself into an avenue that might not be good for me. I have the Miss England finals in August and I’d love to do more television after that. I would like to go in to some form of presenting, ideally using the work I’ve done as a surveyor. Something like Location, Location, Location but actually out on the building site. There are still not enough women presenters on TV and I’d like to use a programme like that to encourage more girls to go into professions like surveying.


This article by Paul Keenan is from the May 2015 issue of Cotswold Life magazine.