Media Parents NETWORKER Catherine Gee, petite blonde of Escape to the Country and The Farmer Wants a Wife fame, has thrown herself whole-heartedly into the organised mayhem of 60 Minute Makeover, presenting the new series which starts on ITV1 today.
I was daunted about joining 60 Minute Makeover because it’s a huge team of people, and a lot of people have been on it since inception – some people were virtually born on it, the director started as a runner. I did feel like the only new girl at school going on to a well-oiled team. Starting the series was a massive baptism of fire – it’s different to the way I’ve filmed before – The Farmer Wants a Wife was obs doc, and then I’ve moved on to shows with property tours – 60 Minute Makeover is very much of the moment, filmed as-live with a stopwatch going the whole time, monitored by me and three other people.
It was made very clear to me when I started that on this show – “the makeover is king – if you stand in a tray of paint that’s your own affair”. But I loved it, loved the immediacy of it. After the terrifying first two… you forget the cameras are there.
My role is to be conduit between the person who’s being surprised (the homeowner) and the designer – to make sure the person whose house it is will like what’s being done. I’m also the voice of the viewer, so if a designer says they’re going for a boudoir-look I try really hard to say “What is a boudoir look, and how are you going to do it?” Apart from that I tend to make the beds and get squashed against walls. There are nail biting moments when we’re hitting the few minutes. When we overrun it’s only ever by minutes and as we’ve got OFCOM breathing down our necks we are always clear to explain that.
I hadn’t realised the impact the makeover would have on the people being surprised. Although it’s cheesy to say, it is hard work, but it generally all becomes worthwhile when you see people’s reaction – I haven’t experienced that immediacy of emotion before. There have been plenty of tears brushed away at the end of filming, but fortunately the camera’s not really on me at the end because it’s really emotional. Sometimes it’s just the simplest thing – “I wanted to do this for you, Mum” – that can set me off. But I try not to weep on camera – too worried about the make-up!
I’ve loved the new challenge of 60 Minute Makeover. I’m always happy to try new things, and if it comes back I’d love to do another. My first job in TV came about by chance – I was running the Farmer Wants a Wife dating campaign for Country Living, and ITV made a documentary about me running the dating service. The actual Country Living campaign ran for 3 years and we had lots of success stories – at least twenty marriages.
After that I got a call from Talkback Thames about making a show for BBC2 – Escape to the Country. I thought it was a prank call! Escape will always have a big place in my heart, I do feel proud of being part of establishing that series. Talkback were amazing when I had my first child, Charlie. I took him with me on location and they organised the shooting day around his feeding and nap times.
I have two children now, Charlie, 6 and Billy, 2, and I don’t think my career has been affected. Having children hasn’t affected my availability – I’ve worked on through – but it has made everything more complicated. It’s bad enough leaving a boyfriend or a husband, but it’s worse leaving little people who don’t understand.
60 Minute Makeover has been a dream in that respect – they always shoot Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Knowing that was how I would be working two months in advance meant I could sort out my childcare. It works well for everyone and there are quite a few parents on the team actually. It’s much harder when the production company pencils your time but can’t exactly say when they want you more than four days in advance. I don’t have a nanny, I use a network of four or five local girls. They’re not tied to me but they are tried and trusted. When I first started doing that I thought no continuity could be incredibly bad, but they were backed up by my husband and two fit grannies, and I think it’s done both children a lot of good in terms of independence. And we choose to work in telly, and if you want to do that you’ve got to make it work.
My low point at work is always saying “goodbye” – especially to my first child when he was little, knowing that I would be away for four weeks. But I don’t feel guilty. In all the times I’ve worked I’ve been confident that Charlie was absolutely happy. And he is now old enough to understand what I do and he’s quite proud – I hear him telling schoolfriends! The massive upside of what I do is that I can balance contracts with time off – I work like a nut for 12 weeks and then I know I’ll be at home with them for 12 weeks. So when they get me, they get me a lot. CATHERINE GEE
Catherine Gee is a television presenter and property expert who took over as the host of the popular ITV1 daytime makeover show 60 Minute Makeover in 2011. Prior to this she was best known for presenting the BBC relocation programme, Escape to the Country and being the location presenter on the long running BBC Two series Through the Keyhole. She also ran Country Living‘s The Farmer Wants a Wife matchmaking campaign, presenting the related television programme which was nominated for a BAFTA in 2002. Catherine Gee is a NETWORKER on www.mediaparents.co.uk