When an email pops into your inbox promising a ‘holiday experience of a lifetime’, one would normally dismiss it as junk mail. Sometimes I wish it had been.
It was the beginning of what would culminate in a television appearance on national TV.
The email, sent to the University of York Brass Band, was originally looking for ‘groups of four friends who share an interesting or unique hobby’, seemingly innocent enough. Our Press and Publicity officer, Ben Walker, announced in a rehearsal that a TV company was looking for such people. Initially, the response wasn’t great. A few hands went up from those who were interested, including Leo, our conductor, Alister, our solo Euphonium player, Nick, a second cornet player, and mine, and Ben took our names down to send back to the researchers for the show.
After a few weeks and a screen test, we received news from the company that they liked us, and wanted to return to York to film interviews with all of us. We were all extremely excited – this was our chance to put Brass Banding on the map and perhaps claw back some of its lost popularity. We all trooped down to nearby Easingwold, where Ben borrowed some old band jackets from the town band there, to wear over our white shirts and black ties and smarten us up a bit.
Newly decked out in our red jackets, they filmed us playing in a quartet, then our individual interviews. A memorable scene that probably won’t make the final cut is of Alister buffing his euphonium gently. On cue, he looks down the lens of the camera and says, “I take my euphonium everywhere”! Of course, we all had one-liners in a similar vein, but I couldn’t possibly reveal mine.
After the initial meeting, my spirits were high – I’d been worried that the TV company was out to make fools of us, but they seemed like nice people and so I thought I could trust them.
Our flight touched down in Heraklion airport on the 17th July this year, and we were immediately whisked away to a local restaurant for a spot of dinner. We travelled in our normal clothes, but since the crew had made us take our instruments and uniforms, we were asked to change into these to prepare for filming. What they didn’t tell us was where our first scene in Malia was to be: the main strip, down which 500 drunken revellers were snaking their way to the 8pm beach party of that day.
In order to make us stick out as much as possible (as if wearing bright red band jackets wasn’t enough), we were asked to walk against the flow of people, several times. In addition to this, this shot was the first time in front of the camera where we weren’t being interviewed or acting naturally playing our instruments (and therefore concentrating on something else), so the direction to ‘talk about your surroundings’ was taken very literally – Nick and Leo talking about the half-dressed men and women, and Alister and myself discussing the buildings. It obviously was garbage, and the crew made us walk up the strip several times before we were allowed to travel on.
A 15-minute minibus journey from the centre of Malia took us from the densely populated party town to the quiet and sparse Cretan countryside, a welcome change. What we had realised by now though, was that this holiday was going to involve a lot of waiting around, and this moment was no exception, as we were told to wait around the corner from the place that we were staying so that the crew could ‘set up some shots’. Being fairly new to the whole filming experience, we didn’t complain too much, despite not having much to do.
All of that was soon forgotten, however, when we were finally allowed to pull up to the villa: it was breathtaking! Three storeys high, in white stone; large gates and the whole thing illuminated like a fairytale (and that was just the outside)! Inside, we found a cool respite from the warm evening, and busied ourselves with exploring. Through the opaque curtains we could faintly see the outline of a swimming pool, but we were forbidden to go outside for the time being. Again, being fresh-faced tv stars placated our brief anger at being treated like children: we thought we should obey the orders initially.
After some more waiting in the living area-cum-kitchen, we re-filmed us entering the villa, faking our actual reactions, then proceeded to the back garden, where the sapphire pool tempted us to enter it.
Yet again, though, a surprise was sprung on us, this time in human form! Sitting at a covered bar in the corner of the garden were four girls. Now, obviously, none of us have any problem with talking to or interacting with the opposite sex, despite how much the television channel would like you to believe otherwise, but we were obviously miffed for a few reasons. For me, it was primarily loss of our own screen time: I originally signed up to be on TV. After I had realised my apprehensions about being made to look silly whilst doing so were starting to come true, I’d be damned if I was going to let another group steal my friends and my airtime as well as our dignity!
Differences aside though, us brass banders soon realised that, as well as four cosplayers from Essex watching us, there were three cameras also pointing our way. So, we descended the stairs and introduced ourselves.
The third problem with being filmed, and having a production crew with you soon materialised: we weren’t allowed to talk about certain things on camera, and this, coupled with the crew prompting us with topics to talk about, made most of our group conversations on camera awkward, right up until the last day. This scene was no exception and I dread to think how it will be shown when it is edited down: Nick’s reaction to Kim’s makeup is priceless though, and I hope they keep it in!
I could go into detail about every place we went to but I fear I have written too much already. Despite all the doom and gloom in which I seem to be portraying the show, I did have fun with my friends – firstly when we went to a music museum (although we were offered different options to the girls’ group – they had the option of the beach, which I would’ve personally loved to go to), and secondly on the last night out, when alcohol slipped into the well loved role of ‘social lubricator’.
If I was offered the chance to go on TV again, or on a show like ‘Geeks’, I probably would do it, because I’ve learnt how producers can manipulate people to achieve their own hidden agenda. I’d like to think I’d be more wary and in-tune to their ways!
As for Malia, I came to like that small party town on the otherwise beautiful island of Crete, and I probably would return with my friends, although perhaps without a film crew in tow!
Alex’s episode of Geeks aired on Monday 9th December at 8pm on E4, but it is repeated on Thursday 12th at 2:35am on E4 and at 3:35am on E4+1. It is also available at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/geeks/4od until the end of December.