Nicki Chapman is one of television’s most sought-after lifestyle presenters and is well known as the face of shows like Wanted Down Under, Escape to the Country and The Chelsea Flower Show, alongside regular stints on Radio Two. Writer and TV producer Pete Lawrence has worked with her many times and helped us to get to know the person behind the screen…
“Nicki is an absolute joy to work with, which can’t be said of everyone who smiles through the TV screens at us, that’s for sure. Firstly she is totally professional. She reads her research notes meticulously and does extra research of her own, so she really knows her subject. She always calls in advance to talk through wardrobe and always arrives on time, enthusiastic and committed to making the best show she possibly can. Secondly, she is genuine. She really takes an interest in the people she is filming with and it doesn’t stop when the camera switches off.
A year ago I made a series called People Power for the BBC, which encouraged people to get involved in volunteering. Nicki was a key member of the presenting team and her job was to persuade people to lend a hand with some of the projects we were featuring. She galvanized small armies to dig, paint, build and cook for the benefit of others. When she talked to the volunteers about what they got out of the experience she was struck by just how rewarding they found it. A week later Nicki volunteered her time at her local ‘Mary Portas Living and Giving’ charity shop and a year later she is still there – a day a week sorting the clothes and serving behind the counter.
I caught up with Nicki to find out why she does it and how her varied career has been shaped by her experiences and passions.”
PL: I know you have a really hectic schedule – why do you work at the shop and how do you find the time?
NC: It’s one of those things that gives back in life – the more you put in the better you feel. I’ve also realised that the job isn’t really about putting money through the tills or changing the window display – it’s actually all about the people who come in.
I got talking to a lady the other day who came in for a paperback. She was telling me about her marriage – her husband died 17 years ago after 40 years together and she still misses him every day. We had a really long talk and she enthused about how she loved coming into the shop for a chat every week, that it was something she looked forward to. She bought a book and I got to put £2 in the till, but we both felt better for that conversation. It’s really important to find time for others – and with volunteering you really do get just as much out as you put in.
PL: One thing most people probably won’t know about you is that you are a qualified Life Coach – how did that come about and what does it entail?
NC: When I worked in the music industry I often found myself mentoring people and talking to them about what they wanted from life. I realised I was good at it but I didn’t have any qualifications, so I studied and did exams and I am now a professional and personal coach. My clients are individuals who want to work out something about their goals and ambitions, whether at home or in their careers. I would say that it is a real privilege for me to do and again I get so much out of it. My role is to listen and try and get to the absolute nub of an issue. The real skill is not imposing any views but encouraging the client to reach their own conclusions and make the decisions that are right for them.
PL: Do you find similarities between coaching and interviewing people on TV?
NC: Absolutely – they require very similar skills and again listening is key. You need warmth and smiling eyes for people so they feel comfortable talking to you – you are a stranger after all and you’re talking to them about things that matter on a deeply personal level – but then it really comes down to having a genuine interest in what they have to say.
People are fascinating and I always want to find out about them and unravel their stories. I always think about the viewer too – what would they want me to ask? When you ask the right questions and properly listen you can go on a fantastic and interesting journey with someone.
PL: You mentioned the Music Industry – you have worked with some absolute icons; Eric Clapton, Prince, The Spice Girls, Liza Minelli – have you ever been star-struck?
NC: Yes with David Bowie. I had grown up with him as an idol and when I finally met him he was everything I wanted him to be. He was an absolute gentleman, very charismatic and so polite. What always struck me about him was that he wasn’t constantly racing around, like he was on a celebrity treadmill – he absolutely savoured the moment and what he was doing. Wherever he was it was like he really wanted to be there. Again he took time with people: a wonderful man.
PL: Who would you say was the most famous person you met?
NC: Without a doubt Nelson Mandella. I was working with the Spice Girls at a Prince’s Trust concert in South Africa and he came back stage to meet us. Imagine that – being with the most famous band in the world at the time and meeting someone like Nelson Mandela – what a privilege.
PL: One of your biggest TV successes is Escape to the Country. Are you ever tempted to buy any of the houses?
NC: Well I love the British countryside and the people I meet there. I guess I’m really lucky because between March and October when we film the series I spend 5 days a week, most weeks, in the countryside and I get to experience the very best bits of the UK. I do love living in London and the urban lifestyle and I feel like I get the best of both worlds.
PL: What have you been working on recently?
NC: I have been doing more documentaries, which I love. I really enjoy getting stuck into a story that has heart and passion. Obviously we worked together on the volunteering docs but I’ve also just done a film about Garden Cities. Most recently I’ve been working on a film about the ageing process called Holding Back The Years. It’s about what happens to us, physically and mentally, as we get older and some of the amazing things people can do now that maybe previous generations weren’t able to do. We can tend to write off the older generation, but it’s a mistake to do so.
PL: With such a varied career and so many avenues to explore, what motivates you now?
NC: I really love what I do…not just the TV work but the charity work and the coaching. There’s breadth to it and I gain so much form each project.
I’m a great believer that if you work hard and with passion, you will get your rewards.
Photo courtesy of Edward T. Cooke WMA