So what the hell do we do now?” The question was posed by series director Angelo Abela on a crackly early morning line from Goa. The options weren't great.It was late November and we had an art department and 90 locals waiting to build a whole village on a Goan clifftop for When Women Rule the World, September Films' new big budget reality show for Channel 4.
The Fox format was a brilliant premise. Cast a group of feisty women, give them a bunch of unsuspecting, slightly sexist “alpha” males as their manservants and let them run their own community with just one law - “Women rule and men obey”. Each week, the women choose one man to be eliminated in return for food and supplies. The last surviving male wins£30,000.
Before we could begin our TV battle of the sexes we had to win the fight over our possible location. India's complicated land ownership laws meant we had to deal with a myriad of local “officials” and overnight they had tripled the agreed location fee, figuring we were too far along in pre-production to call their bluff and pull out.
Goa was right editorially for our vision of the show, the spot found by Angelo was perfect and the art department was desperate to get going. We had a strict start date for the middle of January and no clear plan B but we couldn't run a production on the basis that we might be held to ransom every few days.
“F**k them. Get out, we'll go somewhere else,” was my considered opinion. All very bold, but it landed us with the task of creating a viable alternative.
The next evening, Angelo and I huddled round my laptop, scouring Google Earth to draw up a fresh shortlist. Twelve hours later he and Paul Burns - our by-now-exasperated head of design - were at Heathrow. Three days later they had found the perfect remote location and crucially a compliant landowner - in the Dominican Republic.
Now for the really tricky bit. Paul and his team - art director Rupert Allan and set decorator Stephanie Lister - had to turn the beachside scrubland into a convincing “abandoned former tribal village where previously a race of female goddesses had been in charge”, as per C4's brief.
C4 made it very clear that the look of this show “must not be like every other beach show”. We had created plans for a visually stunning, curvaceous settlement that was “tribal hut meets boutique hideaway hotel”.
Plus we needed a bleak barrack for the men servants. And of course water and power lines. And a road constructed for our vehicles. Not to mention the fully functional crew canteen and a production village - all in just six weeks.
So Christmas was cancelled. New Year's Eve was celebrated on set amid the frames of what were to be the women's living quarters. At least the local workers cooked a Dominican feast for the “mad Brits”.
Meanwhile, back home the casting continued. We needed feisty, confident women - not the usual reality wannabes. It was tough. One night the team found a woman effortlessly controlling the queuing leery, beery lads of Leeds outside her exclusive nightclub. The team approached with their enticing offer of TV exposure. “Get lost, I'm busy,” was her response. Perfect. They returned later and booked her.
Back at base camp the design team transformed jungle scrub into a village fit for our women to rule. Each woman was to have her own luxury pod - a circular beach home with the added luxury of a coconut head shower and dressing room complete with power for those all important hair dryers and straighteners.
The main structure was an impressive, imposing superpod from which the village queen would run her community. The pod was split into five circles: one for her bedroom, two for her living quarters, one for her jacuzzi bath and one to house our hidden production gallery for the multi-camera eliminations.
Behind the Queen's pod was my favourite creation. A ruined temple where the men would be strictly excluded and our women could get together to plot and plan what they wanted to do.
One of my most vivid memories was walking series host Steve Jones into the village for the first time. His look of amazement was testament to the design team's achievement. Having had the tour he just stood in the middle of the village, laughing and repeating: ‘This is mental.' He sensed we were all on to something special and worked tirelessly throughout.
When Women Rule the World is a DCD Media-owned September Films production for C4. It airs on Thursday 4 September at 10.30pm.
Peter Davey: My tricks of the trade
I've always used the same brilliant and trusted production team and crew. I know they will deliver every time.
We work through all narrative eventualities - that way we are one step ahead of the unexpected.
Get great catering and snacks: a reality crew marches on its stomach.
Always pack top-quality sunblock. Having had two lots of skin cancer cut out, I take no risks now.
A decent phone line is absolutely critical.