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Love him or hate him, (Robert) Kilroy is a highly professional debate show host, who demonstrates humour, congeniality, compassion and a genuine understanding of the participants in his show, particularly if a sensitive subject is being tackled. Although this was already my opinion, after taking part in a recent show, I now have even more respect for this very, very lovely man.
Kilroy is screened between 9am and 10am every weekday on BBC1. The subjects discussed cover a wide range of relationship, social and topical issues and although many themes are revisited, they are often approached from a different angle, but because certain issues will always be popular, it makes sense to cover these subjects at more regular intervals.
Last week I received a telephone call from a TV researcher called Julie, inviting me to come to London to participate in a Kilroy discussion on Toyboys. Julie had read an article I had written on age gap relationships and was interested in my views, not just about the value of older women and younger men relationships in general, but my own personal experiences of living happily with a partner who is 12 years my junior. Although I was only given two days’ notice, I grabbed the opportunity to publicly express my views through an avenue other than the written word.
My partner was unfortunately unable to accompany me to the show because of his own work commitments, so I took along my 15-year-old daughter Anneliese and my 22-month-old daughter Lauren, who would stay in the “green room”, whilst the show was being recorded.
Although the train tickets were paid for and we were picked up by a private car in London and ferried to the studios, the journey was still rather fraught because of a rather impatient and boisterous toddler. Lauren screamed most of the way, in between chewing jelly beans and then regurgitating the sticky remains into my lap and contorting her body into a variety of “tantrum” positions (arching of the back, flailing arms and legs etc), making it almost impossible to comfortably control her. This charade was being witnessed by a fellow passenger, who was seated on the opposite side of the aisle and who eventually decided to get up and move seats! Mind you, the carriage was fairly empty, so by choice you wouldn’t sit next to an unruly, yelling toddler would you? I’m trying to see it from this guy’s point of view, although I think that the British public in general, particularly those without children of their own, are very intolerant of other people’s shortcomings. Whatever methods you take to discipline your children in public, you are always wrong in someone’s eyes, but that’s another issue!
I learned a lot from the driver who met us at Paddington, who said that Kilroy spent two days per week recording six shows, with the extra show being recorded to enable him to take three months off per year. The show that we were taking part in was to be the final recording of the day, finishing around 7pm, following which we would be able to go home. I presume that the only participants who are given paid hotel accommodation are those who are taking part in the first recording of the day and have to travel up the night before.
When arrived at the studio we had to check in (the area used doubled as the school café in Grange Hill) and sign a consent form agreeing to appear, together with a sheet highlighting the format for the show, with a list of main questions around which the debate would revolve. In the waiting area, there was free food, wine and other beverages being served, so I naturally took advantage of this!!! There was a children’s play area in the corner of the room, which was manned by a couple of nannies who were employed to take care of any young children (like Lauren) who had accompanied their parents.
Julie, the researcher who had booked me, came over for a chat. She told me that as I sounded very confident (hah!!) and had some very good points to make, she wanted me to be a key participant and consequently was seating me on the front row!!!!! She told me that one of the subjects that would be raised would be sex and that she thought that I would be ideal to make a comment on that subject!!! Don’t ask me why, but I did make a comment about men being in their sexual prime when they were around 18 and women not reaching their sexual peak until their 40’s, so it made sense for older women to hook up with younger men!!!!!
I chatted to some extremely nice people beforehand, who were also taking part in the programme and all of whom had their own stories to tell, ranging from a 69-year-old woman with a Turkish boyfriend 22 years her junior and a happily married couple with an age gap of 18 years, to a couple of female companions who thought age gap relationships were disgusting and a 19-year-old girl who didn’t think that older women should take all the young men away from her peer group! In comparison, the age gap of 12 years between my partner and I seemed insignificant.
After around half an hour of waiting, we were taken across to the recording studio, which seemed a lot more compact than it does on TV. We were seated accordingly and the ten participants on the front row, myself included, were the only ones who had to have microphones clipped to our clothes. The rest of the audience had to speak into the microphone held by Kilroy if they wanted to make a comment and if you watch the show you will notice how he moves around the studio for the majority of the time, enabling everyone to chip in and put across their personal views. However, the interaction with the individual participants is definitely enhanced because of the personal contact with Kilroy, as he sits beside each person who is speaking.
The front row participants also had the powder treatment, because apparently the studio lights are strongest over the front row and the floor manager said that they didn’t want any shiny, sweaty faces on camera! I have to say that following the harrowing train journey, coupled with nerves, my face was already glowing and my eczema was starting to flare up, so I dread to think what I looked like! I’ll find out next week some time, which is apparently when the show is going to be aired.
When we arrived, Kilroy was sat behind the cameras studying the seating plan in front of him, memorising names of key participants and studying the format of the proceedings. Contrary to popular belief, he doesn’t have a crew of people issuing instructions to him in his ear; he deserves full credit for controlling the show, remembering people’s names and remembering who should be saying what and when they should be saying it.
The floor manager came across and gave us all a brief about the hand signals she would give when she wanted us to clap or cheer – such as at the beginning of the programme when Kilroy makes his grand entrance. We were also reminded that if we made any reference to time, we had to assume that it was between 9am and 10am in the morning when the show goes out
Kilroy was, for want of a better word, really pleasant. He spent some time before the show walking around and explaining the etiquette of the proceedings and trying to make everyone laugh and feel relaxed. He told us not to look at or concentrate on the cameras or worry about how we looked, but to imagine that we were simply in a room taking part in a discussion. He also reminded us that the hour of recording would go very, very quickly and to take the opportunity to say whatever we felt we wanted to say. He said that everyone had an equal right to say something and that we shouldn’t be afraid about speaking up if we wanted to make a point.
When the show began, I noticed that he gave eye cues and nods to people who had been specifically asked to raise certain points. When the subject about sex began and he was questioning two young lads, he looked down at me and nodded, but it was quite difficult to get a word in edgeways when other people kept interrupting. However, Kilroy would overcome this by turning to you and saying your name, or politely reminding other people to give someone else the chance to speak. I can’t even remember exactly what I said, but I’m sure when I watch the show it will all come back to me.
I was seated between a very jovial 23-year-old coloured gentleman on my left, whose partner was 43 (but absent from the show) and a 69-year-old lady who had a Turkish boyfriend 22 years her junior, as I mentioned earlier. The gentleman on my left kept making me laugh with his wisecracks, although we were reminded before the show that those of us with microphones could be heard at all time, so we had to be discreet if we were making a comment to the person seated next to us! I’m half-expecting to be signed up as the OTT cackling woman in a live audience, who regularly guffaws and shrieks more loudly and for longer than everyone else, even when the gag isn’t particularly funny.
When the recording was completed and the tape had been checked, we returned to the waiting area where my 15-year-old, Anneliese informed me that show had shown live on the TV screen there. She said that every time I was on, Lauren kept pointing at the screen and saying “Mummy!”
It’s amazing how quickly the hour of recording went. Naturally, there were a number of things I would like to have said, but didn’t get the chance because the show was more structured than I originally thought, but I felt happy that I had got across a couple of key points.
All the other participants were lovely and there was a really amiable atmosphere, even between the people who had opposing views. I suppose that the subject wasn’t incredibly controversial and there weren’t any participants who had personal grievances with each other, like on some shows, so there wasn’t really any animosity or tension.
Well, that was my very first experience of appearing on a TV debate show and I can understand how it could become addictive. Because the show was recorded, once you got involved in the debate, it was easy to forget that you were on TV. There wasn’t a live studio audience (apart from the participants), so the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed, without the feeling that you were being watched.
Would I do it again? Definitely, although apparently you can’t go on again within six months of having appeared, otherwise the public might think that if faces become familiar that they are “plants” especially hired to initiate discussion and confrontation etc.
Would I recommend the experience to others? Again, definitely, because everyone deserves their fifteen minutes or so of fame.