January, 2012

Jan 12

This Morning hopes for NTA glory

My visits to London seem to be frequently fraught with mishaps, and last week was no different.  Arriving at Dublin Airport, ready to embark on my exciting couple of days, I was brought down to earth with a bang when I realised I’d booked the flight for the wrong day!  After a few tantrums and a lot of tears, I eventually got sorted – nothing was going to get in the way of my impending trip to the London Studios.

This Morning on ITV is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite programs on telly.  So when I was offered the opportunity to go and have a nosy… ahem… I mean, a look behind the scenes, I jumped at the chance.  The show has been nominated for a National Television Award in the category of Factual Program (please vote here) and I wanted to see just what it is that continues to capture the heart of the nation.

When the show airs on weekdays from 10.30-12.30, what we see is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a huge team of people.  I thought I’d first catch up with some of those who are hiding their lights under a bushel and find out more about what goes on behind the scenes.  The first person I managed to grab was Sarah Hitching, PR Manager, and I asked her what she thinks it is about This Morning that makes it so special.

“I know it sounds like a cliché,” said Sarah, as we walked on set, “but if you take a look around, you’ll see that we’re all like one big happy family.  Honestly, every single one of us appreciates each other.  We all need each other and the key to harmony is knowing that.  We all put in really long hours so it just wouldn’t work if we didn’t get on so well.”

Despite its 10.30 start, the wheels of This Morning are turning well before that when the presenters arrive at the studios at around 7.30.  They meet with producers to discuss the running order of the show and also present at that meeting is David O’Brien, head of wardrobe.

“The presenters usually arrive in their casual clothes and we sit down and discuss what they might wear for the show,” said David, who was busy sketching designs in his room.  “There’s a lot of thought goes into the clothes and we usually make the decisions together.  For instance, I wouldn’t put something floral on Holly or Ruth if they were going to be dealing with a sombre subject.  Likewise, if a politician is coming in for a chat, we have to be careful not to put any of the presenters in political colours.”

As I left David’s room, I bumped into Shari Rendle, one of This Morning’s resident make-up artists.  “I’ve been here for the last ten years,” she said, “and I absolutely love it.  I often do the make-up for the presenters but I also have the opportunity to work on some amazing people.  We’ve had some great guests over the years and it’s been very exciting to work with them.”  I asked Shari what was her most memorable experience so far.  “Well,” she laughed, “you might remember Gino d’Accampo did his cooking slot naked last year after winning the NTA – well I had to prepare him for that!”  Bet that wasn’t in her job description!

I was stunned at the amount of thought that’s put into the finer details of the show and yet there doesn’t seem to be a frazzled hair on anyone’s head!  While I was snooping around the corridors, I was aware that the show had started so I quietly slipped back out onto the set, trying not to click-clack in my 6 inch heels!  I must have been a nightmare for floor manager, Tim Carr, who generously allowed me the run of the place.  Tim is crucial to the smooth running of This Morning as he organises everyone and makes sure everything runs on time.  Author and screenwriter, Lynda La Plante was just finishing a chat with Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford so I took myself off to the hub for a chat with the lovely Matt Johnson, who was the day’s hub presenter.

The hub is the interactive part of the show where viewers can email or tweet their comments, some of which will be read out on the show.  Matt, greeted me warmly and introduced me to Brett Lawrence, the producer.  Now this is where things got slightly embarrassing.  “Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand and noting his gorgeousness.  “I can see why you’ve earned the name of ‘hot producer’.

“Em… I’m actually the ‘hub producer,” he said, giggling.  “But thanks for the compliment.”  In my defence, I’m an Irish girl trying to come to terms with a whole variety of accents but if I’d had an opportunity to let the ground open up and swallow me, I’d have welcomed it!

Last year when This Morning won an NTA, there was a flurry of excitement as Gino d’Accampo and the hub’s Matt Johnson fulfilled their promise of presenting while naked.  I asked Matt if he was making any similar promises this year!  “Not a chance,” he laughed.  “I think once is enough for getting my kit off on telly!  I think that This Morning has never been better and it deserves to win the award anyway.  It’s growing from strength to strength – it’s very rare for a show such as this to be going for so long and still have such a huge following.  We’re in a tough category this year though and have to fight off big wigs like An Idiot Abroad, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Top Gear.  But I have every faith in us – we have a lot of very loyal viewers who I’m sure will be voting.”

Following a lovely mug of tea made by Matt (see, there are no airs and graces on this show – everyone mucks in!), I headed off in search of more people to chat to.  Adam Vandermark is the show’s editor and he beams with pride when I ask him about This Morning and what it would mean to him to win the NTA.  “Winning an award for the second year running would mean so much, not just to me, but to the whole production team.  We put together a really well-crafted program and the ratings have been fantastic.  The award is voted for by the public so it would be the icing on the cake to win and confirmation that people still love what we do.”

Even the guests on This Morning seem to enjoy the time they spend there.  I was delighted to see a very relaxed and happy David Hasselhoff (OMG! The Hoff!) come into the studio for a chat.  Incidentally, did you know that he holds the Guinness World Record for the most watched TV star in the world? He joked with Eamonn and Ruth before going on air to talk about his new live show, An Evening with David Hasselhoff.  He was happy to chat to the team afterwards and pose for pictures.  He even held up a sign to prompt viewers to vote for This Morning in the NTAs and later tweeted about it.

The lovely Lindsey Coulson (aka Carol Jackson in Eastenders) popped in for a chat and I asked her about her experience on the show.  “I love it here,” she said, as we posed together for a picture.  “There’s a lovely atmosphere – a really comfortable, homely feeling.  I sometimes forget I’m on telly at all when I’m chatting to the presenters!  They certainly know how to get the best out of people.”

I couldn’t believe it was already almost 12.30 and time for the show to end.  In true This Morning style, they finished off with a fantastic performance of That’s Life from the brilliant Rat Pack who are gracing the stage on the West End at the moment.  But I couldn’t go without grabbing Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford for a quick chat before they headed off to yet another meeting.  I asked them what it would mean to them to win the NTA this year.

“This Morning is an institution,” said Eamonn.  “To win an NTA for the second year running would cement the show as a consistent contender and confirm that it’s a top quality program.  And the win would mean so much, considering the tough category we’re in.”

“It’s the first time we’ve been in a factual category,” added Ruth.  “We’ve really worked hard to make the show more topical, dealing with pressing and real issues.  To be recognised in this category would be very special indeed.”

I love Eamonn and Ruth.  They’re so down to earth and, just like the rest of the team, they’re welcoming, friendly and warm.  But sadly, although the show was over for the viewers, another few hours work awaited the team.  I didn’t want to take up any more of their time so I said my goodbyes.

This Morning truly deserves its nomination for a National Television Award – please vote for them here.

Jan 12

Sharon Condon – life after Wonderland


Last year I interviewed five vibrant, talented and beautiful girls who were living the dream as the newly formed girl group, Wonderland.  It was an energetic interview as each of the girls gushed about how amazing it was to be part of the band and how honoured they were to be managed by Westlife’s Kian Egan and music mogul, Louis Walsh.

Sadly, the Wonderland dream came crashing down just a few short months later, as the girls were dropped by their record label and subsequently decided to go their own ways.

On a brighter note, I caught up with Sharon Condon yesterday, one of the girls from the band, and she was looking relaxed, happy and full of enthusiasm for the year ahead.  Sharon has decided to make a go of a solo career and whereas I wanted to find out about her plans, I had to ask about the Wonderland split.

“As everyone knows,” said Sharon, “we were dropped by our record label, and that was probably the first thing that alerted people to the fact that all wasn’t well.  But to be honest, things had started to fall apart before that.  There were a few issues with the band, relationships were beginning to break down and we weren’t as happy as we portrayed ourselves to be to the media.”

“Being in a girl group is fantastic, but it can be very difficult at times too,” she continued.  “Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all bad.  We really were like one big happy family for a while.  We were given an amazing opportunity and we were all grateful for that.  We had three wonderful years of doing what we loved and that’s something I’ll always cherish.  But living together in the one apartment, working together and spending every moment of every day together can take its toll.  We were given a strict style and we had to conform.  We were basically stripped of our individuality and, although I know it was all part of the girl-band experience, I found it stifling at times.  It wasn’t all glamour either.  Sometimes we struggled money-wise and even though we sold 70,000 albums, there were a lot of people to pay before we received our tiny percentage.  It’s not all about the money but you do need a certain amount to survive.”

Although Sharon is very ambitious and determined to make a go of her solo career, I could see the sadness when she talked about Wonderland.  I asked her if she still stays in contact with the girls.  “Leigh and I have remained great friends,” she said, her eyes lighting up.  “We get on brilliantly and she’s been so supportive of me and my plans to go solo.  She’s currently doing some work with Assets Modelling Agency, so if anyone wants to book a gorgeous, bubbly, wonderful girl, that’s where you’ll find her!”

And what about the others?  Did they all remain friends?  “Sadly not,” said Sharon.  “I’m still in contact with Kasey but I haven’t seen or heard from Corinna or Jodi at all.  Unfortunately, it’s the way of the world, isn’t it?  When a break-up of any kind happens, there’s often a lot of anger and hurt.  I’m hoping that some day we can all meet up again and talk about the good times we had.  I think we had a very solid foundation for friendship and maybe one day we can build on that again.”

So onto Sharon’s solo career – how did it feel to be suddenly on her own after three years of being surrounded by the others?  “Oh it was such a scary feeling,” she said.  “While we were together, we were always told what to do, where to go – our lives were mapped out for us.  All of a sudden I had to make my own decisions – even little things like getting flights on my own seemed daunting!  But, you know, I’m passionate about music and this is the best I’ve ever felt about anything in my life.  Being on my own now is tough but it feels right.  I’m very ambitious and even if I have to spend years knocking on doors, I’m determined to succeed.”

Sharon is busy song-writing at the moment and her first single, Love’s Leaving, will be out at the end of the month.  “Love’s Leaving is about my journey with Wonderland,” she said.  “In a way, it was like being in a relationship.  We were all together and then suddenly it fell apart.  You have to deal with anger, hurt and all sorts of emotions.  It wasn’t only the break-up that was painful, but being in that situation and knowing it wasn’t working was probably the worst part.”

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Sharon perform the song and I have to say, it’s fantastic.  She has a beautiful voice and is clearly a talented song-writer.  I asked her about her influences and future songs.  “There are a lot of people who influence me but I find most of my inspiration from within.  My music has been compared to Coldplay and to Florence and that’s a huge compliment.  I have a ballad I’m working on at the moment and I’m really excited about it.  I’m really hoping that this is going to be ‘the one’!  But I’m writing loads and I’m planning to release an album in the summer.  I’d love to some day co-write with some of the big names in the industry but for the moment, I’ll keep writing my own songs and see what happens.”

After her experiences over the last few years, I wondered if Sharon would ever consider auditioning for X Factor.  “Absolutely not,” she said.  “I think X Factor is great and it offers fantastic opportunities for people but it’s just not for me.  Firstly, there’d be no guarantees that I’d even get through – and I’m not sure my confidence could take that sort of knock after Wonderland.  But the other thing is, most of those who audition for shows like that are searching for who they want to be.  I know who I am.  I’m confident in myself and I know what sort of music I want to make.”

So with a single coming out this month and plans for an album later in the year, I asked Sharon what else the future might hold for her.  “My head is bursting with so many plans,” she enthused.  “I’ve teamed up with beautyteam.ie and I’m working on a documentary with them.  It’s about life after Wonderland.  I’m also working with New Aims Productions, who’ve just done my music video for the single.  The ultimate dream is to be signed to a record label as a solo artist.  I’ll do whatever it takes and I intend to work really hard to make my dreams a reality.  I’m staying really positive.  The sky is the limit and I’ll get there eventually!”

Hours had passed and I could have sat and chatted to Sharon all day.  She’s a wonderful young lady and a force to be reckoned with.  I predict great things for her and hope 2012 sees her dreams coming true.

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