The post mortem for the 2006 Brits Awards show was an ordeal I'd rather forget. Despite the praise heaped on us on the night, ratings were down and things had to change. We could either revert to a two-hour delay in transmission or we could go for broke and transmit 'as live' as compliance permitted. Director Hamish Hamilton and I decided: 'Sod it. How badly wrong can it go?'
First things first. We needed to have two stages so that there would be no delay in setting and striking the massive sets that make a Brits performance unique. Once staging boss Mick K of MJK had ascertained that this could be done, it was down to our set designer Mark Fisher to come up with a design that captured the spirit of the show.
Because the show goes out on 14 February, I wanted to avoid anything that even vaguely smacked of a padded pink heart. My brief to Mark was 'make it twisted'. I'm not going to give anything away except that the set is a work of genius. It had me more excited than someone of my age has any right to be about a set of drawings.
Next came the Brits committee. Because the show is owned by the music industry, any decisions taken must be approved by them first. A panel of people from both the major and independent labels meets each month to make decisions concerning the artists appearing at the awards, the host, presenters and general tone.
Then there's me, desperately attempting to explain why artist A should take preference over artist B in securing the limited (by virtue of our going live) slots available. This year we booked slowly, only making the final call in January. The judgments are made on the strength of an artist's ability to put on an exciting live performance. I believe that there's something visceral about an act performing live at the peak of its game - if the hairs on the back of your neck don't stand up then it's not the real deal.
Then there's the host. Some see Russell Brand as a dangerous choice. As I want to continue working in TV, I'm not going to go into that. What I will say is that he's a man of rare intelligence who is going out on a limb by taking on a job regarded by many as mainstream. We think he's the most exciting talent in the country, so why shouldn't we have him in the driver's seat?
This, for me, is an 11-month-a-year job, but the television production team started work in November. It's a very small core team of nine for the main show and six for the other six hours of programming we make around the event. As we get closer to show day, the team expands, but never to more that 20 production staff and a core pool of floor managers and runners. Because all proceeds of the show go to the Brits Trust charity, we keep it lean.
Prior to the event, Hamish and I will go through the running order and force problems into the mix. We'll imagine every scenario that could go wrong and work out a plan to circumvent chaos.
We have to come off air on time and not compromise any performance. That's the real challenge of an event that, by its nature, is unscripted. We have no idea how presenters or winners will behave on the night. The ocean of booze can either be a blessing or a curse, and intuition tells us that certain events might go awry. I'm also the keeper of the really big secrets and I cannot tell anyone who will be walking up to pick up the gongs, so we speak in abstract terms. It can get a bit odd occasionally, but some things just have to remain unspoken. I already know about one serious problem and have to try to fix it before it bites us. Maybe you'll figure out what it is on the night, or maybe not.
The set build, already under way at Earls Court, involves thousands of tonnes of steel, hundreds of riggers, acres of drapes and almost every available moving light in the country being put into place. Later in the build, more than 400 tables have to be set out, four cranes and
15 cameras rigged, audio and transmission trucks set up. Annie Crofts, our peerless production manager, has to co-ordinate all the facilities, and it's more of a military exercise than a straightforward get-in.
The day itself is biblical - 11,000 punters, 1,000 crew members plus the bands and their entourages. Added to that are 25 dressing rooms, an entire backstage village complete with bars, restaurants and treatment rooms. You can't unpick the event from the broadcast because they are totally interlocked, and without the expertise and sheer brilliance of all the teams that work on this event, it would be yet another bloody award show.
Last year I heard Hamish on talkback yelling to the camera crew: 'Fucking hell, I can't believe it, we're actually shooting Prince.' That, in a nutshell, is what this gig is all about.
The Brits Awards 2007 is a Brits TV Production for ITV1. It airs on 14 February at 8.30pm