Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lights Camera Action

Lights, Camera, Action..

Yesterday I, and three other leading British style and beauty bloggers, had the honour of being invited to QVC, courtesy of the uber-successful natural skincare brand Liz Earle. I woke up at 8am and treated myself to a DIY mineral mud face mask and OPI manicure, wanting to look camera ready for the day ahead. The invitation promised us an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the QVC studios, a glimpse of Liz Earle and the resident QVC experts presenting live on TV, a meet and greet opportunity with Liz Earle herself, and personal presenting coaching from resident QVC host, Simon Biagi, and QVC Guest Excellence Trainer, Tina Halvorsen, together with our own QVC screen test. Talk about a once in a lifetime experience!

I was so nervous on my way to QVC headquarters at Marco Polo House in Battersea, a stone's throw from Battersea Power Station, that my hands were sweating. In hindsight, I suppose it was half excitement at the prospect of the day ahead, and half terror of doing a screen test. I really shouldn't have worried so much, as the Liz Earle and QVC teams were the loveliest bunch of people you'd ever care to meet. From the moment I walked into reception, I was received by the female receptionist with such a warm welcome, she even complimented me on my signature fragrance, asking what it was, to which I replied; "Czech & Speake No.88". After a friendly chat about the events that lay ahead, I spotted my friend and fellow blogger Priya Sonn of "" sitting in the reception's seating area. She introduced me to Candida from "", who was sitting beside her, and after we had become better acquainted, Ronke Adeyemi of "" soon joined us and we were all chatting away like old friends.

We were soon met by Andrea Kengelbacher, the in-house PR and Social Media Manager for Liz Earle, together with other members of the Liz Earle and QVC teams, who led us upstairs to the QVC cafe and seating area. Andrea and I have had a friendly e-mail relationship going on for a few months now, but we had never met, so it was lovely to finally meet face to face. One thing I immediately noted about the entire Liz Earle team is that they are not only incredibly warm, they all have amazing skin too! After a little investigating, I found out that when they receive their pay slips each month, they also get a batch of complimentary Liz Earle products (they also get to test out all the new products before they launch, so it's no wonder they are all glowing ambassadors for the brand). They also told me that the Liz Earle headquarters on the The Isle of Wight is a resolutely eco-friendly building. It is powered by geothermal energy, uses rainwater collected from the roof for its conveniences, and even has "smart lighting" that switches off when there is no one in the room. In a recent blog feature about Liz Earle Naturally Active Men's Skincare's 5th Anniversary, I had mentioned that the brand was "green by name and green by nature", and this information only served to highlight that fact. In fact, it was a case of significant milestones all round, as the brand was also celebrating its 15th Anniversary of partnering with QVC.

We were encouraged to take advantage of the hospitality on offer (a yummy selection of pastries and refreshments), and take advantage we did, soon joined by the delightful QVC Guest Excellence Trainer Tina Halvorsen. Though a veteran of television, Tina really seemed to be quite ageless in appearance. She had barely a line on her face, with a smile that melted away all our nerves and eyes that twinkled with warmth and vitality. Her hair and make-up had been done immaculately and she was dressed to the nines, she truly represented all that you'd expect from a seasoned media professional. She introduced herself, asking us all our names and asking us if we'd been to QVC before (none of us had), before whisking us away for a magical, behind the scenes mystery tour of the QVC sets.

First stop was the production crew area, where staff were busy booking models for upcoming segments, there were rows of model cards lining one wall, which reminded me of my years as a stylist and style & grooming editor! Next up was a prep room, where little trollies are loaded with all the products used for each segment. She told us how products like Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish would be pumped in advance, so that when they were demonstrated by the presenters and models live on TV, there would be no embarrassing moments (such as the product not coming out). It's amazing how much detail goes into the production work. They even have sheets of paper with timings allocated to each product, so that the presenters and producers know exactly how much "on air time" each product will get, so the segments run like clockwork. While in this room, we were introduced to QVC hosts Miceal Murphy and Charlie Brook, who were busy prepping for their own upcoming live segments.

After chatting briefly with Miceal and Charlie, we were introduced to two resident chefs who were busy prepping food for the kitchen segments. It all looked delicious and very tempting, but alas we had to move on, as next up was an exclusive look at a live segment with QVC host Debbie Greenwood, who was presenting a slot on Bearpaw Boots (similar to Uggs). She was channelling Pocahaontas in a rather fetching black wedge boot with fringing (the Bearpaw Sundown Tassel Wedge Boot), and within minutes of saying hello to us, she literally had to grab her handbag on the edge of the set and run to another set for a different segment (this really gave us an insight into how crazy the pace can be). Ever the professional, she breezed off set as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Once Debbie had dashed off to her next segment, we were ushered through to watch Liz Earle hosting a live segment, with one of her gorgeous in-house models demonstrating the Cleanse & Polish ritual. It's really quite remarkable that these models will literally cleanse and polish their skin all day, yet their skin never looks red or raw, quite the opposite, they seem to age backwards, as if by magic, literally glowing from within like a human light bulb (as good a reason to snap up the product as any I'd say). We even got to stand inside the producer's room and watch her talk to the hosts via their ear pieces, orchestrating live calls from Liz Earle customers. One caller admitted to having been an avid fan of the Liz Earle range for 15 years. 15 years! How amazing is that? Talk about brand loyalty. She said that after trying Liz Earle, there wasn't any other skincare regime she would use, and even talked to Liz about a recent segment she'd watched, where Liz had extolled the benefits of mixing Cleanse & Polish with the Brightening Treatment Mask, for a DIY at home illuminating treatment with a difference (the camphor oil in the Brightening Treatment causes blood to rush to the surface of the skin, imparting an instant glow). Last stop on the tour were two of the "at home" sets, designed in a similar vein to traditional living rooms, used to showcase home wares and electrical goods such as cameras. After our enlightening whistle stop tour, Tina led us back to the QVC cafe and seating area, where Simon got to know us all a little better, with Liz Earle herself joining us straight after her live segment, for a personal meet and greet and photo opportunity.

Here's a lovely shot of myself and the other bloggers in the QVC cafe seating area, joined by QVC host Simon Biagi. Pictured left to right is: Candida, Ronke, Priya, me and Simon.

The team had laid out a gorgeous continental breakfast spread for us, with bespoke Liz Earle mini chocolate muffins on sticks, shaped like mushrooms, coated in icing rendered in the signature Liz Earle duck egg blue, with a miniature blue rose on top. We were also treated to tea, coffee, pastries, juice, mineral water, fruit smoothies and champagne. I'd already had poached eggs for breakfast, as I'd wanted to fuel up for the morning ahead (kick off was 10:30am), so I stuck to the delicious fruit smoothies and mineral water. I was asked to do the honours and open the champagne, and as lovely a gesture as it was, I rarely drink alcohol (especially with the prospect of being filmed in a couple of hours). Similarly, the notion of eating pastries left me with dread, as tempting as they were, as I was concerned that I'd end up with flakes of pain au chocolat and croissants between my teeth (not a good look for photos, let alone TV). Watching one of the stunning in-house Liz Earle models doing the Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish routine live on the plasma screen didn't help with my nervous anticipation, she made it all seem so effortless.

I couldn't help but act like a complete tourist while we were sat upstairs. The team kindly allowed me to take as many snaps as I liked, so I was busy clicking away with my digital camera. The scale of the QVC building is just spectacular. The first thing that struck me about the architecture was the amount of natural light, courtesy of the glass atrium. It really is a magnificent structure, it made you feel so small. In terms of ambience, all the natural day light really boosted your mood, there was such a sense of optimism.

The QVC motto: "Engage, Enrich, Embrace", truly communicates everything that Tina taught us about the QVC presenting style. Both she and Simon explained that the primary demographic of the TV channel is older women who watch in the comfort of their homes, so it is paramount that the hosts have a warm manner, just like a friend. Simon even added that to many of the viewers, the hosts really are like friends, as the viewers will watch them for hours, day in and day out, as if the hosts were sitting with them in their own living rooms, having a cosy chat. The enrich part refers to the sharing of knowledge and expertise. All of the hosts are seasoned in their craft and areas of expertise, whether they come from media or performing backgrounds. Embrace refers to the warmth with which they deliver their commentary, it's all about relating to the viewers on a personal level, hence Simon teaching us the importance of approaching hosting as if you were talking to a friend.

Liz Earle, apparently Britain's best kept beauty secret (not anymore, the secret's out!)

The moment I got to meet Liz Earle herself. Just like her team, she glowed with health, definitely the perfect poster girl for her own brand. Being something of a style hawk, I couldn't help but notice her tiny Balenciaga purse, the zips, tassels and distressed leather were a dead give away. Throughout the day, my own attire was a source of much amusement, as I'd inadvertently co-ordinated my navy Jaeger London suit with Liz's navy jersey shift dress and heels! My Oxford blue Turnbull & Asser shirt also seemed to tone in with the duck egg blue of the Liz Earle banner we posed in front of (it must have been subliminal).

After the meet and greet with Liz, it was time for us to pair up and go to another studio for our very own QVC screen tests. Candida was first up, followed by Priya. Ronke and I chatted away merrily with Simon and Andrea, talking about everything from our media backgrounds to garra rufa fish pedicures! Once Candida and Priya were done, it was time for Ronke and I to hit the studio ourselves, with Ronke doing her segment first, followed by yours truly. It was great being last up, as I had the opportunity to watch Ronke do it all first. I listened carefully to the advice Simon gave her, soaking it all up like a sponge. Once Ronke had worked her TV magic, it was my turn to have my 15 minutes of fame (ok, so maybe it was more like 5, but you can humour me). Andrea and her colleague from Liz Earle kindly agreed to photograph me in action, hence the great action shots. Here, you can see me being wired up with my microphone by the very adept camera man. Simon made me feel so comfortable. I was super nervous at first, but he encouraged me to think of the conversation we had upstairs in the cafe, and to pretend the camera wasn't there, as if he and I were just having a cosy chat. He told me to smile, and to let my natural personality and experience shine through, which put me in the right frame of mind to tackle the daunting task at hand.

Once the camera man had slipped the mic pack inside the inner pocket of my suit jacket, and had clipped the microphone to my jacket lapel, he set to work placing the ear piece inside my right ear, so that I could receive instruction from Tina while I did my screen test.

Going back to the aforementioned colour co-ordination, my lavender Falke cashmere socks matched the Liz Earle banners in the background. I hadn't even noticed but it made the Liz Earle girls chuckle!

It's a good thing I'd had the opportunity to watch the Liz Earle in-house model doing a demo of the Cleanse & Polish earlier, as when it was my turn, I'd picked up the little tricks of the trade (I was also grateful I'd taken the initiative to give myself a manicure prior to arriving at QVC, so my hands looked good for the close up shots). Lisa was talking to me via my ear piece while I was doing my hosting, telling me that I had a lovely smile, and to smile more, which seems odd at first, but it all links back to the QVC motto: "Engage, Enrich, Embrace".

Here you can see Simon and I in the camera monitor, this is the view the camera crew get when they do the filming.

Here's me, flashing a genuine smile at the end of the screen test, you can see Tina on set, giving me the thumbs up for my performance. I felt so relieved that I'd done a good job, with Simon jokingly asking me; "are you sure you've never done this before". Both he and Tina were so kind about my debut turn as a QVC guest host, with Tina saying that I had a trustworthy manner about me that would resonate with the viewers at home. She was impressed by my beauty knowledge (maybe it was my tips on facial massage and microcirculation, I knew the beauty geek in me would be a good thing one day). She added that I was funny and that something about me shone on camera. I don't say this to blow my own trumpet, in truth I was extremely flattered by the praise, especially as both Simon and Tina are both highly respected experts in their field, so to be acknowledged by professionals of their calibre, truly warmed my heart, and made me feel like the decade I've spent honing my own knowledge and expertise has been worthwhile. I was honoured when Tina said they'd be delighted to have me back as a guest host at some point (and I really hope she meant it, because for me it would be a lifelong dream come true).

And here's my QVC screen test, I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. I want to thank the entire Liz Earle and QVC teams for their overwhelming warmth and hospitality. With a special mention for Andrea Kengelbacher, who gave me this once in a lifetime opportunity, and last but not least, to the lovely Simon Biagi and Tina Halvorsen, for being the best coaches a chap could have wished for. I hope I have the privilege of working with you all again. For me, it would be an honour.

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser - £13.25

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