One of the things about working in television is the opportunity to make positive changes through telling strong stories. There are far too many examples of TV exploiting vulnerable people but there are also times when sensitively handled productions can do great good.
One such positive story is that of Charlie Walduck. He weighed a staggering 44 stone when a friend of his contacted us at ‘This Morning’ when I was editor of the show. Over the two years we filmed with him he lost an equally staggering 30 plus stones. It was a long and hugely emotional journey for Charlie and it was compelling TV. It was also a huge responsibility to take on as a production
I am very proud of it as a television production, and I was, and still am, hugely proud of Charlie in how he handled the whole process – his determination to lose weight and change his life, his bravery in revealing very personal thoughts on screen and his efforts to pass on information and support to others in a similar situation.
Charlie agreed to answer some questions about his experience as part of that television project. It is an ideal opportunity to view a production through the eyes of the subject, rather than the production team.
First a snippet of a trailer from the series:
Tell us how you ended up appearing on television.
My weight had got totally out of control and I was in a complete mess. I had a full time job as a bingo caller, but it was getting harder and harder for me to do this job. Functioning as a human being was becoming hard.
My best friend Lucy was so concerned for me she said “I’m going to write to Philip and Fern at This Morning they will sort you out”. I was called up by a researcher from This Morning and she asked if would be interested in being filmed for the show – I said NO and I remember ringing my mum and crying on the phone to her – I was terrified at the thought of people seeing me on TV and people judging me, I suppose I was in denial about how bad my situation had got.
After a few days of thought I rang This Morning back and said I would go for it – Dr Chris rang me to talk to me about it and I gave the thumbs up – My friend Lucy as delighted that I had finally decided to go for it. I was at that point probably bigger than I was when they first started to film the piece – and I would ring the researcher nearly every week to find out when the filming would start that’s how eager I was to get going.
Did you have any qualms about agreeing to be filmed trying to lose weight?
I had seen weight loss stories on the TV before and they would always show people eating at the beginning as if to set the scene or paint a picture. I was worried about that and I actually asked that they did not show me eating. I was also concerned about showing my body – so I wasn’t keen on being filmed semi naked – again this is something they did not ask me to do.
Finally I was worried that if they got me on the TV straight away it would put me under too much pressure to lose weight. This Morning agreed that they would not show anything on screen for at least 6 months – this turned into 14 months as it happened as I went onto lose over 22 stones in that time.
What affect did the cameras have on you and your goal of losing weight?
I think it had a positive effect to be honest. I was filmed by This Morning on a few occasions – but I was also given a video camera so I could film my own video diary – I actually think that was a massive help and I always tell people trying to lose weight to document everything.
The team at This Morning was also excellent and the producer Steve and later Justine were very much part of my support network and became good friends, they were also very caring people. Dr Chris and his PA Ann also became good friends and still are now. Knowing that the piece would be on TV kept me going but I was also aware had I failed they might have still shown it and that kept me on the straight and narrow. I am the type of person that despite the size I got always had a certain level of self-respect so failure could not be an option.
What were the downsides of exposing your personal life on TV?
Emotionally it was very up and down for me. People in the street would often come up and speak to me and sometimes I felt my life wasn’t my own. I have always been a very private person so it was embarrassing sometimes. On TV or on stage at the bingo I was different to the real shy me. I sometimes feel under pressure, even now, I walk around the supermarket and people are looking in my basket – I suffer still with depression and this sometimes leads to bouts of overeating which I get embarrassed about.
And the upsides?
Telling my story also allowed me to help others and this has been wonderful – I know the story has inspired people and people still come up to me in the street and shake my hand or say something nice. I have never ever had anything negative said about me.
I also got to travel and this was wonderful – my story reached Australia and I was lucky enough to spend some time out there. I stayed in some nice hotels in London when I was on TV which was very nice and I met some wonderful people. I even got the chance to mingle with some celebrities. I would say the upsides far outweigh the downside. The biggest upside I would say – I managed to change my life for the better and forever.
What did you learn about how TV producers make television from your perspective on the other side of the camera?
I learned that television is all smoke and mirrors with different camera angles and filming things twice when only one camera and filming things in the wrong order. Sometimes things had to be filmed over and over again.
Cameramen like to drink lots of tea.
I learned about cutaways – even filming my own for my video diary.
I learned that to get a couple of minutes of TV they have to film quite a lot of stuff.
I learned how to answer a question by putting the question into the answer.
I learned a bit about compliance i.e. not mentioning products or wearing clothes with logos on etc.
Finally, I learned that it is hard work!
What was it like for you when the filming stopped?
The filming went on for a long time because once one project was finished there was another one around the corner. When the initial filming finished I felt a bit flat and a bit empty. I felt a bit isolated and on my own but I had made so many friends that I was very much still supported.
Did you feel you were adequately prepared for the consequences of being featured on TV?
The people at This Morning, it has to be said, were fantastic – they made sure that I was prepared totally. Dr Chris was with me every step of the way as were the producers. TV companies have a duty of care and they made sure that I was happy with how my story was told and that I was prepared for going onto the TV.
What advice would you give anyone who’s been asked to appear on TV as themselves, either in reality TV or as a ‘case study’?
I would say think very carefully about it. Weigh up the pro’s and the con’s. What do you get out of it? How will you come across? What will be the reaction to your story? My story had a positive reaction because I was a success and I was honest. You never know what doors it might open (or what doors it might close) depending upon how you come across. I was always very sensitive so it was an emotional journey for me – I was lucky because I never had an negative press – but you need to prepare yourself for that fact not everyone will like you.
But my biggest piece of advice is if you decide to go for it – BE YOURSELF – because if you are not then people will see straight through that and it will not be a pleasant experience for you.
What are your personal and professional goals now?
I want to carry on helping other people with weight loss. I always fancied myself as a TV presenter but I don’t think I’m good looking enough. I enjoy the work I did in community radio and would love to work in that industry. I have also tried my hand at stand up comedy and would like to do more of that. Realistically If I had not made the changes when I did I doubt I would be here now to tell the tale so just a nice job with enough money for a holiday every year and enough cash to go and watch the Barrow AFC.
Personally I would like to lose a bit more weight because I have put some on over the last couple of years, I might like to find a partner but I am no rush for this – maybe I am too set my ways.
Thank you, Charlie. What do you make of his story and his experience in TV? Please leave your thoughts and questions below.
…And you know what I reckon Charlie needs? One of you hotshot new producers or directors to work with him on a cracking series of short films to play on YouTube and his own website – or better still on the big telly. Charlie has a great message to get across and the honesty and personal experience makes him ideally qualified to tell it. Anyone offering?
Television can be such a force for good. Exploitative television is easy to make and sad to watch. Honest people, telling their story for the right reasons, produced and directed in an honest way with integrity, sensitivity and support – that is a pleasure to watch. It is inspirational.
When we make TV based on the lives of ‘ordinary’ people (ordinary as opposed to celebrity – bearing in mind that celebrities are real people too!) we must never forget they have feelings, insecurities and concerns like the rest of us. Never take on vulnerable people unless you are sure you have the relevant support in place for them. A token visit to a psychologist at the start of a production is often not enough.
Know that the most difficult part of the process for case studies in such situations is when the production ends and the cameras leave. You may move on happily to your next production, the office closes down and it’s easy to forget the person you’ve left behind. But that person has had attention, practical support and a full life working with you. How will they feel when all that goes away? Have you left them mentally strong enough to cope with that sense of loss?