Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in NZ with little George

Thursday 3rd to Tuesday 8th April

As assignments go there are few more stressful, apart of course when folk are shooting all over the place or throwing petrol bombs with joyful abandon, than royal tours, particularly those involving The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Now that they have little Prince George there is even more interest.

As an interesting aside, in the UK it is the little prince that tends to trend on Twitter whereas in the US it is Kate the Duchess.

This trip had a share of undue and unnecessary stress from the get go.

I had managed to get myself checked in for my flight to London using the up until now trusty BA app. However, I was unable to check in for the flights from London to Singapore, Singapore to Sydney and on to Wellington.

When I got to the airport a full five hours before the departure time to check in using the machines there I was slightly miffed that on two of the flights there was no choice of seat, it was middle or nothing. At least for the flight from Singapore to Sydney I was pleased to see that I had an aisle seat.

The lady at the bag drop told me that the flight had been oversold.

It was not me that had the stress, mine was just a bit of mild annoyance. When Louisa the Daybreak Correspondent and Alex the producer arrived to check in a good three hours early they were politely told that all the seats had been filled.

There was then a few hours of nail biting until check in closed to find out if they would get onboard. Thankfully they were at the top of the waiting list and did get seats. 

With that stress over they arrived at the gate a few moments before boarding time to hear an announcement telling us that there was a technical fault with the aircraft, which turned out to be a leaky toilet that filled the cabin with a rather unpleasant pong. This meant the aircraft could not fly. Another one was being brought over to take us to Singapore.

The Starbucks at the gate did a roaring trade with the refreshment vouchers that we were all given to help smooth the wait.

The delay grew to such a point that it was going to be touch and go for us to meet our connection in Singapore.

As I squeezed myself into my thin middle seat between a grey haired old lady and a charming, large, old, disabled gentleman I found out the reason why the flight was so rammed. I scanned around me in the rear cabin. I must have been about the only one in that part to the aircraft less than seventy five years old.

Most of the elderly passengers were on their way to meet a cruise ship in Singapore.

Thankfully we did manage to make the connection in Singapore, albeit rushing through the terminal to get to the gate with Final Call flashing on the departure screens.

After 45 hours travelling we arrived knackered in a pleasantly warm Wellington Saturday. I unpacked, showered, popped on my sunnies and went out for a walk in the late afternoon sunlight.
At least the first bit of work that we had to do, apart from checking the gear was the obligatory briefing about the logistics for the tour from the good people from Kensington Palace on Sunday. 

Well, apart from having to go out and recce potential locations for doing the live broadcasts on the BGAN.

No need for the sunglasses this morning as the weather had broken big time.

Good job I checked the kit. Some of it was damaged. Even though packed in very robust purpose built flight cases able to withstand a huge amount of rough handling a couple of my plastic storage boxes had been broken, but more importantly the machine used to read the P2 media cards that the camera records onto had received such a dunt that some of the internal workings had been pushed out of alignment.

A little more than annoying but as I had a fully functioning back up it was not a major problem.

The briefing by Ed, the no nonsense Welshman who is Communications Secretary to the Duke and Duchess confirmed what we had worked out. This trip was going to be a logistical nightmare in terms of getting all the material swapped between the various organisations involved in the pool.

After the briefing the very nice welcoming people of Tourism New Zealand had put on a very fine reception with the best food and wine the country has to offer and a chance to take part in some the many interesting and exciting excursions that they had laid on specifically for us.

I felt rather sorry for the legion of lovely people working the room being charming and welcoming hosts.

Most of the media, certainly the broadcasters were more interested in trying to get to grips with how all the arrangements were going to work to allow us all to get the material we needed when we needed it.

They also did not really understand that although the Duke and Duchess had a few days with no engagements it did not mean that we would all be free as well. The broadcast news machine is an eternally avaricious beast requiring constant feeding of stories.

The day after the royals arrived they would have a day to chill and relax away the jet lag from their first class journey from London. No middle seats for them.

We already had a full schedule for that day. Ronnie my cameraman colleague from Sky News was gutted that he would probably not be able to go and enjoy the locations from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films because they were most likely going to be busy too.
Alex and Louisa with a lady from Tourism NZ but their minds are on other things
After enjoying the hospitality for a short time we retired to think about our own plans of action for the next three weeks. I could already feel the tension and stress germinating in the ranks of the broadcasters.

Monday 7th April

It was day one. There was not too much to do today. The Duke and Duchess would fly into Wellington, drive to Government House and that would be it.

Some of the pack went off to the airport to get the arrival shot. Another bunch headed to be inside the ground of Government House for the official arrival ceremony. 

Louisa, Alex and I hopped onto that bus. It dropped Alex and I off at the front gate. I would film the arrival and we would do some interviews with people who had come out to see them arrive.

The one thing that all the locals had said to us yesterday and today was, "this is the first rain we've seen in months. You should have been here last week. It was beautiful."

So it is not just us Brits that are obsessed with the weather then.

The prospect of standing in the pouring rain was not pleasant and neither was the reality.
Producer Alex happy in the rain
The weather had turned so bad that the New Zealand Royal Airforce aircraft that was bringing the family and entourage in from Sydney was forced to do two missed approaches before it made it on to the ground.

A small crowd had gathered, braving the rain, hopeful that they would catch a glimpse of a princess and one or two princes.
My rain cover over the camera at the gates of Government House
Not the largest crowd ever..
..there were a few more over the road
We got the pre arrival interviews done and waited for the motorcade to turn up.

When it did it was a bit of a shambles because the police had blocked off the wrong part of the road putting the expectant hardy few spectators over the road that the convoy came through.

As a consequence my shot of a waving Duke and Duchess was briefer than I had hoped. I didn't see the baby in the blacked out car behind.

Once they had gone in and the gates closed Alex and I started to do interviews with some of the folk in the now rapidly dispersing crowd. We were in the process of doing an interview with a very nice lady holding a rainbow umbrella in one hand and a baby in the other. When all of a sudden a long hand holding a microphone appeared in the shot accompanied by a booming voice saying "time for a double interview."

It is etiquette not to muscle in on an interview in progress unless it is a bit of a one time opportunity, never mind breenge in like that.

I moved round pushing the hand and its tall owner out of the way making it clear that this was our interview. Alex then carried on asking another couple of questions.

The short chat was just coming to a close when once again the hand holding the mic thrust into shot followed by the booming voice.

As the interview was clearly coming to an end Alex and I pulled away and as I passed the owner of the mic, a tall bespectacled guy I stuck my face close to his and called him a name not repeatable in genteel circles.

We were told that he was a well known comedian. Not that well known I'd say because it took me quite a few searches on good old Google to find him.

Turns out that he is indeed a comedian, at least in his mind he is and has a show on TV3. He goes by the name of Guy Williams and I'm sure that he really is hilarious, honestly, well at least quite amusing, some times maybe anyway, possibly, but just not today when I was trying to do my job. Knob!

Having said that he does have 37K followers on Twitter. I think I'm doing well with about 1.5K.

When that was done we needed to get back to the hotel to start the job of getting the material from the other cameramen and preparing to send it back to London.

Lots of taxis went whizzing past us. We tried hailing them but to no avail. The horrible weather meant that they were all full. Alex tried phoning for one but that was also fruitless.

It may be a bit of a cliche, and the name of a book by a well known journalist but, "the kindness of strangers" never ceases to astound me.

A chap that we had been talking to earlier as we waited in the rain saw us have little luck getting a cab. He insisted on giving us a lift back to the hotel and against our protestations all but dragged us to his little car.

He drove us back to the hotel accepting nothing but our thanks. 

The afternoon was drawing to a close here as the morning was starting to open up in the UK. The time for our live broadcasts was approaching.

Yesterday we had secured the use of a suite on the top floor of the hotel with a view of the quayside and over the water to the other side of the city from the balcony.

I started to set up the kit as Alex busily edited the shots that we had ingested.
Alex in edit mode
There were two options for doing the broadcasts. I could use the BGAN satellite dish or transmit via the hotel broadband internet.

I did a quick test with both sending back to London. Dave the technical director gave the thumbs up to the hotel internet. It was a bit better than going via satellite. This was good news as this was also the cheaper option.

It was about now that the stress levels started to rise a little bit. As ever without being boring and going into great detail it is sufficient to say that there was a little problem with one of the two macs that we were using. A matter requiring a password to put right and of course I did not have the password.

I got on the technical boys in London and soon Paul was on the case. He took control of the machine and suddenly there was a flurry of activity on the screen as he set to work.

We were down to one usable laptop, at least until the problem was solved with two jobs to be done. Material still had to be sent to Daybreak and scheduled live broadcasts were looming ever so close.

The decision was made to break off from sending the material and start the live broadcasts.

Out on the balcony the rain lashed and the wind blew, so hard in fact that the BGAN satellite dish flew off the table thankfully coming the a clattering landing before it cleared the balcony guard rail.

The wind whisked Louisa's hair around her face as she did her broadcasts. Given that the weather was a major element of the story it added to the telling of it. The downside was that all this movement in the shot was sometimes too much for the internet live system to cope with causing picture break up.

This combined with fluctuations in the the quality of the internet meant that one of the broadcasts just fell off air.
Louisa live from the balcony
The programme ended at 7:30 pm our time and the work for the day was done we realised that on day one of the twenty seven day tour when there was only one short event to deal with, not too much material to disseminate and we were doing the live broadcasts from our hotel we had not eaten since breakfast.

What were the rest of the days going to be like if this was an easy one.

At least tomorrow was a day with no engagements, for the royals at least.

We dumped the soaked gear in my room and went to the restaurant to have a much needed meal.

Tuesday 8th April

I'm sure that Kate and William were still tucked up in bed enjoying their "private time" when I dragged my jet lagged body out of bed at 6 am. At least I had managed about four hours sleep before my body clock alarm went off.

Alex and Louisa were equally bleary eyed as we headed out on the first of our three little jobs of the day. When I say that we were all equally bleary eyed it would be fair to say that although Louisa said that she felt as knackered as Alex and I it didn't show quite so much.

This was a good thing because she was about to make an appearance on breakfast TV in New Zealand. Our first stop was TV3's little studio where once more we were treated to a warm NZ welcome by Hans and his colleagues.

Firstline is the TV3 breakfast programme.

After a cup of coffee it was time for Louisa to get into the hot seat in the studio and do a down the line interview with presenters Sasha and Michael talking about the royal visit.
Hans getting Louisa mic'd up
Getting Louisa's POV
There are still some small studios that use cameramen not remote machines
Waiting for the first question
When that was done we had time for a relaxed breakfast in a nice little place not far from the studio.

Again the NZ courtesy abounded as Hans offered to give us a lift to the cafe rather than have us walk for five minutes in the rain.

After our fill of a lovely brekkie we joined a select few of invited journalists, photographers and TV crews to film and interview some of the families that would be going to Government House tomorrow for a sort of parents and babies morning with the Duke and Duchess, and of course baby George.

The event was organised by Plunket, a national institution in New Zealand which provides help and support for families with children under five.

I was surprised to see that apart from a couple of newspaper journalists we were the only UK media at the little media event.

There were quite a few New Zealand crews there.

It was slightly chaotic, only to be expected when there are a group of young babies and a gaggle of crews all vying for the best shots.
Family gathering
Interviews all over the place 
One of the few, Daily Telegraph reporter Gordon Rayner doing his thing
I got what we needed in terms of shots, I tried to get a longish shot of each of the families so that if tomorrow there was an incident between the young prince and one of these little ones we would have a shot to use.

Then we did a couple of set up interviews with two of the families and Tracy, one of the Plunket nurses. She had only been in New Zealand for eight years.

There had been a bit of general excitement over one of the families because it was a "same sex" family. However, the couple did not stay for long, making a discrete exit after one journalist asked what their surname was.

A short taxi ride away inside a chic little arcade is Tory & Co a small equally chic little jewellery shop.

That was the next stop for Louisa and me. Alex was back at the hotel to start putting the material that I had shot together and begin the process of sending it to London.

The business partners Victoria and Kirsten had sent a pair of earrings to the Duchess and they were hoping that she would wear them.

The protocol on giving things to the royals is quite specific. They can't accept gifts. If Kate likes them and decided to wear them then she would have to buy them.

That's kind of cool if you are a business like theirs, not only is the publicity associated around the royal approval great to get there is also a sale. 

I did a few shots of the pair of earrings and the pair of ladies before Louisa did the interview.
Victoria and Kirsten
It was then back to the hotel to finish the edit and set up for the only one main broadcast and one short tease that was planned for today.
Time to edit
On a balcony on the opposite side of the hotel I had seen CNN setting up for their live broadcasts with their royal correspondent, Max Foster.

I had caught some of those broadcasts on air and they looked pretty good. I wondered what sort of set up the were using.

The lights that I had brought with me were dinky little LEDs, ideal for travelling, fitting perfectly in my run bag and into the bargain they were not an expensive buy. I rigged them in a rudimentary yet functional way.
Lighting rig
Well before the due time for our live broadcasts I dialled into the ITN internet system which was then fed across London to Daybreak.

Ralph, the director of the day cued Louisa for the short tease. Perfect.
Ready to go on air, sadly not for long though
A few moments later we would be on air for a Louisa to do a link into the report that we had done on the Plunket organisation.

With about 30 seconds to go before the broadcast I could hear the talk in the gallery about the quality of our signal not being too good. Then over the other programme talkback Dave, the technical director shouted that there was huge packet loss, in other words the signal was not good at all.

There was now no time for me to do anything like make a new connection or tweak anything to improve matters.

Ralph took the chance and came to us. Louisa started to go into her script but in a very short space of time we heard Ranvir and John in the studio apologise for the unusable quality of the feed coming from us.

Ranvir then linked into the report and off it went.

We were gutted that the only broadcast of the morning had failed to stay on air.

A little while later, maybe twenty minutes or so Max popped up on CNN to do his bit. Apart form the shot looking a bit grainy with electronic noise it was fine and steady.

What was it that the cameraman was doing different from me. I needed to find out.

The answer was nothing, absolutely nothing. He was using exactly the same set up as me.

I was reassured and dismayed in equal measure. At least there was not anything that I could do different. However, it was clear that we just had bad luck with the fluctuations in the internet.

The rest of our evening was spent getting the rest of the material back to London and a meal. this time although we had once again missed out on eating since breakfast it was not too late and we'd get to bed with the prospect of being able to stay in it for a reasonable time.

Wednesday 9th April

First job of the day was to wish my son a happy birthday. Although technically it would be his birthday for another few hours as it was still the 8th in Scotland.

The early part of the day should have been quite relaxed with just a short promotion piece to camera to shoot.
Doing the promotion piece..
..with a necessary brolly on a windy rainy day
However, it became very stressful because this being probably the biggest day of the tour things had to go well.

The reason for this was that it would be one of the very few times that we would get to see little George. He would be in a room with the kids form the Plunket families that we had filmed with yesterday.

This would see a little boy oblivious to all the fuss interact with other little boys and girl similarly oblivious to the media nonsense.

These would undoubtedly become archive shots.

The idea of doing more broadcasts on a poor quality BGAN or trusting the fluctuations of the internet had been quite rightly thrown in the bin.

A satellite truck had been hired for our live broadcasts, which would be located outside the gates of Government House.

This was a relief for the live aspect but caused a bit of a headache and stress in terms of getting the shots of the event taking place inside Government House back to London.

It was planned to finish shortly before Daybreak goes on air.

We needed to get the shots back to London as quickly as possible as did the BBC, Sky and Channel 5.

Herein lay our problem. We were not the first in line to get the material. Mostyn the Sky cameraman was the guy entrusted to get these most important of shots so Sky would have first call on the pics, next in the queue was the BBC.

Being a bit down the line to get the card with the shots on was not a major problem because although it does take time to copy the material it is not a hugely long process.

Our problem was that I would be feeding the material from the satellite truck at Government House and all the rest of the broadcasters were going to be back at the hotel to copy the footage and then crack on with their edits.

So from early morning until just before the event started there were interminable discussions, some quite fraught, between the various producers and news desks about how we could get the material as quickly as possible.

In the end it all worked out fine.

I had the luxury of setting off to Government House to meet Mike with the satellite truck with plenty of time to get things set up ready for the feed and live broadcasts.
The truck not far from the gates 
Mike calling into satellite master control
Of course we weren't the only crews working. Maori TV 
TV3 getting set up.. she goes
As planned Alex arrived with a copy of the material that I put into the camera and started to send to London. 

That was the first of three sets of material that had to go to London when they became available.

There was great excitement at getting a proper look at the second in line to the throne for the first time.
Feeding the first shots of George to London
We were just about to go on air when the last of the second of the three sets of material arrived. This could not be sent straight out of the camera as it was to a compatable format. It needed to be ingested and then sent.

I quickly got that process started as the PA's count into going on air got shorter and shorter.

Mike wired up Louisa with talkback and I for her sorted with my radio mic.

She stood in front of the camera saying that she was having real difficulty hearing talkback and in fact could hear nothing.

There were only a few seconds to go until the first little broadcast into the headlines.

I swapped over the talkback units, give Louisa my ones which was working perfectly and me grabbing hers. I plugged my earpiece in to find that the unit was also working perfectly whereas Louisa was saying that hers was not working.

The opening titles were playing.

I was hearing fine, Louisa wasn't.

I told her that I give her a cue. 

Simon, today's director cued her. I repeated it. Louisa did her short tease.

There was a broadcast into the news bulletin only a few moments away. The problem with talkback must be with the actual earpiece. I tried to pull the tube away from the transducer to have a quick listen. It was attached pretty firmly. I pulled a bit harder. The tube came off but it had left the plastic attachment in place.

It was now broken.

As this was going on Dave the technical director shouted over talkback that our sound had dropped out.

Next thing we knew Ranvir was talking about the Royal Tour.

We had missed our first proper broadcast. Stress levels were starting to peak.

A few moments later we got to the bottom of the problem. The talkback receivers that we had were on exactly the same radio frequency as my radio mic.

Louisa had both units clipped together on her belt. The personal radio mic transmitter was quite obviously interfering with the talkback receiver.

So I took off the radio mic and used a cable one for the rest of the morning.

The loss of the audio from us was left as a mystery because it came back almost instantly and remained perfect for the rest of the busy morning.

Apart from that one minor problem everything else went perfectly. We did a whole lot of broadcasts into the news bulletins and programme as well as three down the line interviews. Two of which were with Tracy the nurse and one with a family who's baby, Paige had interacted with the prince.

I also fed back the third set of material which was filled with interviews done in Government House with some of the families who had met the Duke, Duchess and George.

Finally it was back to the hotel to eat and sleep at the end of another hectic old day.

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