Previous published in the Northern Echo
Put yourself in my position. It’s six o’clock at the beginning of the evening, the booking diary’s full, the staff are all briefed, the kitchen’s all prepared, the candles are lit and we’re waiting for the first diners to arrive. It’s quiet at the moment but within a short time we won’t be able to think about anything but looking after our customers.
I’m always slightly nervous at this time and believe that if I didn’t feel the tummy-flutter, if I felt supremely confident, then the evening wouldn’t go so well. I’ve often thought it’s a little like waiting for the curtain to go up before a stage performance; nerves followed by the confidence that goes with getting on with your job.
But there’s a major difference from that of the theatre: we’re not acting. We’re there to serve and to do that you’ve really got to care, not just act as if you do. The best waiting staff all share the one common characteristic: it doesn’t matter if you can’t write that neatly on an order pad; it helps, but isn’t essential, that you can carry three plates at once (if you’ve seen me in action you’ll appreciate that); but it is essential that you care that your customers enjoy their experience and leave the restaurant, wishing to come back.
But I’ve always fancied a go at acting. Maybe a restaurant’s an opportunity to put on a bit of a performance but it’s a natural one. No, I’ve hankered after the fantasy, to be something I’m not and to experience the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.
So it was with some anticipation that, at the restaurant, we awaited the arrival of a television camera crew and Jimmy Doherty of Jimmy’s Farm. Some time ago they’d asked if they could come and do a bit of filming with us on some unusual products that we’d managed to source and see how we cook them and find where we got them from. We were honoured. And nervous.
But I was also excited. I was already practising my moves in front of any mirror I could find. Even though the filming was going to be unscripted, it didn’t matter because I was preparing what to say in advance. There’s no doubt that I was going to be the true professional and tread the boards of the film set that Oldfields was to become.
But I also had my worries. Where was Jimmy going to get changed into his performance clothes after travelling up from Suffolk? Being such a celebrity, would he deign to talk to us off camera? And would the powder they were bound to pat all over our faces go into my eyes and mess up my contact lenses? I didn’t want to be seen crying in my first acting role on television; I’d like to save that for the more emotional roles that would inevitably come when other TV producers saw my initial performance.
Am I the only one that lives in a fantasy world? This was as far from acting as Top Gear is from a serious motoring show. The crew came in and had a look around but didn’t do any setting up. The director said he’d just see what happened and film it.
I asked him what he’d like me to say and he told me to just chat with Jimmy and we’d all see where the conversation went. And then Jimmy bounded in, drank coffee with us all, asked loads of questions about how we went about things in general and compared it with his own operation and kept getting phone calls about his business involving all the mundane things we were dealing with at the same time. I was shocked; he was just an ordinary guy!
Before I knew it, we’d talked for an hour, cooked and tried a bit of food and they sort of followed us around filming. Where was the makeup? Where was the chair with “Director” written on the back? Why wasn’t Jimmy Doherty flouncing around and making unreasonable demands?
So it was a disappointing day really. Instead of being an actor, I ended up still being a restaurateur. Instead of living some fantasy, I had to be myself. And instead of meeting some male diva we got a really nice farmer and restaurateur sharing experiences with us, with both parties learning a thing or two.
And there was something else I learnt: don’t trust TV. We were told that the show would be going out in a few months time on Channel 4. Then, after waiting, we were told it would be a couple of months later. And then we were told that the whole project had been changed and we weren’t going to be on the telly at all. I’m sticking to restaurants. I don’t think I can take the ups and downs of being a TV star.