M be for holy woodtv pro­duc­tion boss

Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Wad­dell Me­dia, Jan­nine Wad­dell, talks to Emma Deighan about mak­ing hit TV shows and her shock at be­ing awarded an MBE

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY EMMA DEIGHAN

MAN­AG­ING di­rec­tor of Wad­dell Me­dia, Jan­nine Wad­dell, has been awarded an MBE for her con­tri­bu­tion to broad­cast­ing as part of the Queen’s Birth­day Hon­ours’ list.

The for­mer BBC travel edi­tor has been at the helm of Co Down TV pro­duc­tion com­pany Wad­dell Me­dia since 2003 and has suc­cess­fully sold pro­duc­tions to global TV giants in­clud­ing The Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel, His­tory Chan­nel US, and Na­tional Ge­o­graphic as well as Chan­nel 4, RTE, BBC and ITV.

The mother-of-three said: “That let­ter ar­rived while I was in South Africa and my hus­band called me and told me there was some­thing very of­fi­cial look­ing in the post. I thought, what have I done, am I in trou­ble?

“I couldn’t be­lieve it and I’m not sure who rec­om­mended me but it’s a huge recog­ni­tion not just for me, but the com­pany. We are a huge team,” she said.

Mrs Wad­dell and her team have pro­duced 15 se­ries and five one-off doc­u­men­taries over the past 18 months for the firm, which was started in 1988 by her fa­ther Brian Wad­dell.

Jan­nine Wad­dell had a hugely suc­cess­ful London-based TV career be­fore she re­turned home to run the fam­ily busi­ness.

The TV pro­ducer, who grew up in He­len’s Bay and is a mother-of-three, was for­merly the BBC’S edi­tor for travel pro­gram­ming.

She also has pro­duc­ing cred­its for The Big Break­fast, The Great An­tiques Hunt and Chal­lenge An­neka among many other high pro­file TV shows.

Hav­ing spent 20 years of her work­ing life in the hub of UK broad­cast­ing, a move home was a daunt­ing prospect. But the thriv­ing fam­ily firm in Co Down needed some­one to man­age op­er­a­tions af­ter her fa­ther Brian Wad­dell had taken a back seat.

Jan­nine’s hus­band, David Cumming, who is now Wad­dell Me­dia’s man­ag­ing edi­tor, tried out the job be­fore the fam­ily com­mit­ted. Jan­nine is now the com­pany’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

“My fa­ther was like ‘who is go­ing to come back and look af­ter it’ so my hus­band went back for a year to see if he liked it and he loved it. He said to me ‘I think we should do it’, and it was the best move. The kids were com­ing to school age, and schools in London are so com­pet­i­tive and I thought it would be a lot to raise them there, so we came home,” says Jan­nine.

So the cou­ple de­cide to front the now 30-year-old firm af­ter Brian Wad­dell passed away over eight years ago.

And their suc­cess is very much some­thing that would make Mr Wad­dell proud.

Wad­dell Me­dia has landed deals with US broad­cast­ing giants The Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel, His­tory Chan­nel US, and Na­tional Ge­o­graphic as well as Chan­nel 4, RTE, BBC and ITV.

In fact the tri­umphs the com­pany has cel­e­brated since it was set up in 1988, and more re­cently un­der Jan­nine’s lead­er­ship, have earned her an MBE on the Queen’s Birth­day Hon­ours’ List this year.

“That let­ter ar­rived while I was in South Africa and my hus­band called me and said there was some­thing very of­fi­cial look­ing in the post. I thought, what have I done. Am I in trou­ble.

“But oh my good­ness I couldn’t be­lieve it and I’m not sure who rec­om­mended me but it’s a huge recog­ni­tion not just for me, but the com­pany. We are a huge team.”

In­deed Wad­dell has grown over the years, from what Jan­nine de­scribes as an “al­most cot­tage in­dus­try” set-up to the pro­duc­tion com­pany it is to­day, dis­tribut­ing 50 hours of tele­vi­sion se­ries a year.

“In the last 18 months, we’ve pro­duced 15 se­ries, five one-off doc­u­men­taries with a team of 20 core staff and 45-50 staff across our busiest sea­son in the sum­mer,” ex­plains Jan­nine.

She says among her big­gest pro­duc­tions since her re­turn in 2003, are At Your Ser­vice, Se­ries 11, an Ir­ish makeover pro­gramme for the hos­pi­tal­ity trade, How Jaws Changed the World, which aired on Dis­cov­ery US and Chan­nel 4, and Fu­ture Weapons, also on Dis­cov­ery US.

“When an Amer­i­can com­pany gets be­hind a pro­duc­tion and you’re in New York and see those ad­ver­tise­ments on the sub­way or on a mas­sive bill­board in Hol­ly­wood, it’s very re­ward­ing,” she says, still hum­bled by the achieve­ments Wad­dell has made.

That mod­esty is to be ex­pected given that she goes on to ex­plain the process be­hind cre­at­ing a pro­duc­tion: “We have a small de­vel­op­ment team and find­ing a new way to ap­proach a sub­ject mat­ter is a chal­lenge. For ev­ery 50 ideas we have, there will be one that gets a glim­mer of hope. As broad­cast­ers we need a thick skin and it’s all about re­la­tion­ships too and build­ing those up.”

Closer to home, and more re­cently, a pro­duc­tion on ad­ver­tis­ing here dur­ing the Trou­bles is among Jan­nine’s most poignant work.

Ads on the Frontline, which aired on BBC, looks at the con­tro­ver­sial and vi­o­lent se­ries of com­mer­cials pro­duced by the North­ern Ire­land Of­fice dur­ing the last 10 years of the Trou­bles.

“Ev­ery ad­ver­tis­ing trick in the book was used to try and en­cour­age peo­ple to ring a con­fi­den­tial po­lice phone line and share in­for­ma­tion,” says Jan­nine.

“The pur­ported pur­pose of the ad­verts was to save lives by prevent­ing para­mil­i­tary vi­o­lence, but many peo­ple re­main con­vinced that they were lit­tle more than Bri­tish gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda, de­signed to pro­mote the se­cu­rity forces and paint repub­li­can and loy­al­ist groups as crim­i­nals,” reads the syn­op­sis for the show pre­sented by Ea­monn Holmes.

For Jan­nine, Ads on the Frontline pro­vided a mix of both nos­tal­gia and real­i­sa­tion of how far NI has come over the years,

“Just see­ing those ads again took me back 25 years and it was in­ter­est­ing see­ing my chil­dren’s re­ac­tion,” she says.

One-off suc­cess­ful pro­duc­tions are some­thing of a forte for Wad­dell. How­ever, its se­ries are equally as pop­u­lar.

Shows like Get­aways and Paul and Nick’s Big Food Trip as well as 4Thought.tv, a se­ries of short doc­u­men­taries for Chan­nel 4, have also achieved high rat­ings and in the Repub­lic, hote­liers John and Fran­cis Bren­nan’s shows are al­ways crowd pleasers.

Jan­nine’s busi­ness goal is to cre­ate a for­mat that can be sold glob­ally much like the Who Wants To Be A Mil­lion­aire and Bake- Off type shows.

“We are al­ways af­ter a se­ries, a good for­mat that we can sell. That’s a re­ally good busi­ness model, rather than a one-off. And even though I love do­ing

We are al­ways af­ter a se­ries, afor­matthatwe­can sell, that’s a good busi­ness model rather than a one-off

those one-offs, ul­ti­mately we are a busi­ness,” she says.

Busi­ness is a new string to the pro­ducer’s bow, but a hearty work ethic, she says, was al­ways built in.

Jan­nine be­gan earn­ing money as a young teenager when she set ta­bles at a res­tau­rant. She also worked in bars in Greece and at a kiosk in a lo­cal shop­ping cen­tre and says: “I al­ways knew I had to work, that work ethic was re­ally strong in my house.”

Jan­nine by­passed univer­sity to get straight into the ac­tion of the tele­vi­sion world. The in­spi­ra­tion be­hind those career goals lay in the fam­ily home.

Be­fore set­ting up Wad­dell Me­dia in 1988, her fa­ther worked for UTV.

He was also a well-known jour­nal­ist which meant Jan­nine and her sib­lings were ex­posed to the me­dia en­vi­ron­ment from an early age. Her brother and sis­ter both work in the in­dus­try to­day.

“It was very ex­cit­ing, we were al­ways in­ter­ested in the news, es­pe­cially grow­ing up dur­ing the Trou­bles. It was al­ways a topic of con­ver­sa­tion.”

Jan­nine then moved to London af­ter a stint of be­ing a run­ner on well-loved Ir­ish drama The Ir­ish RM, which starred Peter Bowles.

“I didn’t go to univer­sity be­cause I al­ways knew I would end up in tele­vi­sion so I worked my way up from mak­ing tea. In fact, no mat­ter what route I took, I would’ve ended up mak­ing teas and I still do a lot of that to­day.”

Be­yond her Holy­wood base, Jan­nine trav­els be­tween meet­tings in London to Los An­ge­les.

It’s a life­style that has taken its toll when she says “some­timess I feel like cry­ing at the air­port se­cu­rity gates” and a de­mand that at thank­fully brought her back home me af­ter she re­alised par­ent­ing Orla l (19), Finn (17) and Lor­can (12) would mean trav­el­ling less.

“There has still been a lot of jug­gling since I moved back but I’ve had the same child­min­der, Caro­line, who has been fan­tas­tic at keep­ing the ship steady be­cause no mat­ter what, work­ing in tele­vi­sion means things go wrong and you could be called to a meet­ing in New York or London at short no­tice.”

And those short-no­tice work trips have given her food for thought.

“When I’m sit­ting in the City Air­port I see how hard it is for SMES here to com­pete with the rest of the UK when the prices off fliflightsh to Llon­dond are so ex­tor­tion­ate.

“Of­ten we will get asked to a meet­ing at very short no­tice and you re­ally have to go but re­cently to get me to London on week­day short-no­tice flights are cost­ing over £350 one way. It makes be­ing based in North­ern Ire­land a big dis­ad­van­tage. There is sim­ply not enough ca­pac­ity to let small busi­nesses com­pete,” she says.

It makes sense then that she is at the fore­front of her in­dus­try when it comes to dis­cussing such mat­ters.

Jan­nine re­cently took on the chair role at Women in Film and Tele­vi­sion ( WFTV) NI in March this year. It’s the first time the or­gan­i­sa­tion has set up shop in North­ern Ire­land.

“It is a re­ally im­por­tant time for women in the in­dus­try and with the #Metoo and equal pay is­sues at the fore­front, it is re­ally im­por­tant that women work­ing in the in­dus­try here feel sup­ported. We have some great tal­ent and it’s im­por­tant to nur­ture that tal­ent,” she says.

Asked about cur­rent is­sues fac­ing all sec­tors here, in­clud­ing Brexit and 19 months with­out an Ex­ec­u­tive, she con­tin­ues: “That’s ex­ter­nal to us and we just get on with it, but yes, we also need to be nim­ble and on our toes when it con­cerns Brexit. We may open an of­fice in Dublin too.”

De­spite the lat­ter chal­lenges, Jan­nine says that the opportunities here are sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter in com­par­i­son to what they were dur­ing the Trou­bles era.

“It’s dif­fi­cult be­ing based here, it’s that stretch of water, but it’s get­ting bet­ter. It’s not the per­fect sit­u­a­tion but there are opportunities here and the in­dus­try is grow­ing. What NI Screen has done with film and drama is fan­tas­tic and they’re work­ing hard with us to push new things.

“When we pro­duced 4Thought nearly all the team came from London. A lot about this in­dus­try is gain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the job so you find a lot oof peo­ple move away. I would­would’ve, many years ago, en­couen­cour­aged peo­ple to go to Lolon­don but you don’t hhave to do that now. You can start and build a career her­here.”

Jjan­nine lives anand breathes televe­vi­sion pro­duc­ti­o­tion. She met her huhus­band while wowork­ing on Chal­len­glenge An­neka. But asked if her chil­dren will fo­fol­low a career in me­dia, shshe’s not so sure. “My dau­daugh­ter is on a year out in Costaco Rica. She’s study­ing psy­cholpsy­chol­ogy so she can sort me out in mmy later years,” sheh jjokes.k

What she is sure of is, af­ter a busy year where she bal­anced man­ag­ing a com­pany with pro­duc­ing new, and re­turn­ing, se­ries, her fam­ily is due a break.

“It’s hard to switch off when you own your own busi­ness but there will be 15 of us go­ing to Les­bos. It’s a fan­tas­tic place for teenagers.

“I may still be edit­ing while we’re away, and the kids may kill me for it.”

Next week, the Big In­ter­view speaks to Mcdon­ald’s fran­chisee, Paul Mcder­mott

MD of Wad­dell Me­dia Jan­nine Wad­dell in her Holy­wood of­fice

Jan­nine Wad­dell, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Wad­dell Me­dia

Ja­nine with hus­band David Cumming and chil­dren Orla, Finn and Lor­can

Jan­nine Wad­dell in her Holy­wood of­fice and (be­low), Paul and Nick’s Big Food Trip PETER MOR­RI­SON

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