For several weeks, I’d been working on a film about foreign fighters who were taking themselves off to Syria and Iraq, but the truth was, it seemed like a lifetime. Anyone who has served in the military will tell you that it’s all waiting, waiting, waiting, and I was beginning to find television just like that. Only worse.
When I first decided I wanted to build on my success as an author by pursuing a career in TV, I’d done the rounds of all the production companies and broadcasting channels. Many of them were polite and gave me the usual, “Very nice to meet you. We’ll let you know, Mr. Campion,” routine. They invariably never did.
There were one or two exceptions: I appeared on Channel 4’s “Drugs Live,” in which, for the first time in my life, I took a Class A controlled substance—in this case, ecstasy. It was done as a scientific experiment under strictly controlled conditions.
Ecstasy is, of course, the “love” drug that makes everyone all kissy-kissy, wanting to cuddle up, hold hands, and hug trees. Of course, Phil being Phil, it had entirely the opposite effect. About 20 minutes after taking it, I began to feel paranoid, like everyone was watching. Instead of going off into a corner and huddling, my aggressive instincts kicked in. If people were watching, then they were the ones that’d better watch out. I began to prowl around like a caged tiger, looking to lash out at anyone who came within striking distance. Luckily for those conducting the experiment, they sensed it wasn’t a good idea, so no one had to be taken to accident and emergency.
Of course, it all made for good telly and afterwards the bloke in charge from Channel 4 came up and told me about how I was the best thing in the show, blah blah blah. “Keep in touch, Phil. I’m sure there’s a lot we can do in the future!”
Several months later, I was finally introduced to someone who was prepared to put the time and effort into getting me on television. His name was Toby Sculthorp, and he was initially recommended to me by the best-selling author Damien Lewis, who had given me some advice when I decided to sit down and write “Born Fearless.”
As I would do with anyone I might be working with, I did some background checks. He seemed well established in the industry, had been around the block a few times, and had even won a couple of awards. But the clincher for me was that he knew a very good friend of mine who used to be in the regiment. They had done some work together in the past, and the “Ginger Ninja” gave him the green light.
Wendy and I met up with him in a pub in the smart Ladbroke Grove area of London, and over a couple of pints of Guinness (and a vodka and tonic for the lady), we got talking.
I remember almost the very first thing he said to me: “I’m going to warn you, Phil. You may have come across some right wankers in your time—the IRA, Serbian warlords, the West Side Boys in Sierra Leone—but no matter how vile they were, nothing is going to prepare you for the type of people you are going to meet in the television industry.”
He made me laugh at the time, largely because I thought he was exaggerating. But then it turned out, he wasn’t.
Anyway, we got off to a good start. Importantly, he passed the Wendy test. “I never trusted the other lot we were introduced to. He seems all right,” she told me later. “All right” coming from Wendy is high praise indeed, I can tell you!
Even though we had the beginnings of a plan for “Operation Make Big Phil a TV Star,” it was slower than preparing for D-Day. We filmed a “taster” tape that we all agreed showed me at my best “loud, funny, brave, and above all, BIG.” It was a masterpiece. Fame and fortune would surely follow.
Well, not quite.
There were many mistakes made along the way. The tape had included me having (a good-natured) pop at some of television’s other so-called hard men. (You know who you are.) I’m not going to go into detail, because it will only get me into trouble again! Suffice to say it all went down like a stripper at an ISIS wedding with the commissioning editors. They had made the decision to hire the Bear Grylls and Ross Kemps of this world (whoops!), and now we were taking the piss out of them along the lines of, “Stand aside, girls—there’s a real man in town!”
Not good, as President Trump would say.
Eventually, we did find someone who was prepared to listen to us. The editor from Channel 4 who had liked me so much in “Drugs Live” stumped up some cash to make what they call a pilot in the business.
There was a catch, though. Far from putting me on a survivalist-type show or having me report from the world’s most dangerous places like we’d imagined all along, they wanted something different.
They wanted a cookery show.
Now, all you regular viewers of Big Phil Live will know that I am an absolute master in the kitchen. The tried and tested combination of leftovers, Tabasco, and above all, P for Plenty, is a winning formula. But even I recognised that this might not get us onto a prime-time slot on British television.
We were going to have to offer up something with a little bit extra.
It wouldn’t be enough to film me catching the bus to the supermarket and buying all the ingredients. The audience would expect a little more action.
That meant only one thing: I was going to have to go out into the wild for my dinner. Capture it, kill it, and eat it.
Sounds good to me!
Featured image courtesy of collegetimes.com