Travelling Blind image

New BBC2 doc Travelling Blind explores what it’s like to travel the world without sight

AT the age of four, Amar Latif learned he would be blind by the time he was an adult.

When his sight went, he decided to travel the world and got a ticket to Canada. In 2004, Amar set up his own company that pairs blind tourists with companions to help them explore the globe.

In new BBC2 documentary Travelling Blind, Amar asks comedian and self-confessed nervous traveller Sara Pascoe to accompany him to Turkey.

What unfolds is a funny but poignant exploration in which Amar opens her senses to a different way of travelling.

Amar says:

NEVER travelled before I went blind at the age of 18.

It was a condition called RP, or retinitis pigmentosa, and my parents had been told when I was four I would go blind in my teens.

Everybody around me kept saying, ‘You’re blind now, you can’t leave the house alone’, and I felt claustrophobic. I wanted to study abroad, so I went off to Canada.

Over the next few years I tried to continue travelling but I found no travel company would let me, or I’d struggle to get insurance.

I was told I had to bring a carer. But I didn’t need one, I just needed a sighted companion.

So I set up my own company in 2004 called Traveleyes, which pairs blind people with sighted.

The sighted people get a 50 per cent discount in exchange for being the eyes for blind travellers.

With a sighted partner explaining everything, I end up with such a vivid image of what’s going on.

You also listen to sounds and take in smells and tastes and focus on different senses.

Sight is only one sense — that is easy to forget. I enjoy travelling because I love meeting new people and I take risks.

I go skydiving and I’ve skied down black runs. Sara, on the other hand, is risk averse. We came up with this idea to go away together.

I would help her to interact and be braver, and she could help bring the sights to life by describing them.

She described everything brilliantly, from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to oil wrestling, a sport in which men wear leather trousers, cover themselves in olive oil and throw each other to the ground.

As the journey went on, she relaxed. I think the experience was beneficial to us both. When I lost my sight I thought my world had ended but it’s great that I can still travel and give something back to people who can see.

Sara says

I USUALLY travel for work, so I am organised but not an adventurous traveller.

In fact I feel quite shy when I go away. I don’t explore in any chaotic way. Generally in life I’m a scaredy cat. I don’t like scary films or spicy food, and I don’t want to jump off something high — ever.

So I was worried about travelling with Amar, about travelling with someone I didn’t know, let alone someone who was relying on me for descriptions.

I was worried I wouldn’t have the right language to do it justice and that I’d ruin his holiday. I’m also very clumsy, so ­worried about getting him run over or something. But it was a great experience.

When I first get somewhere, I normally head straight for the hotel and hide. Amar was very open to chatting to people and he pushed me out of my comfort zone. We met many lovely people and I learned that to get a really good experience out of travelling, I have to talk to them more.

Amar knows how to seek out the fun, while my usual method is to avoid it. Most of us are afraid of getting told off, whereas in the bazaar he just put his hands and nose out and touched people’s silk scarves and their dried tea.

He got stuck in, which made for a more fun experience. Everything is interesting to him, things that we would take for granted.

It was good to compromise, too. There were things we did which I thought would be boring. But because of how he processes the world, it forced me to be very “present” and slow, which meant I had some wonderful, completely surprising moments.

Amar is trusting and brings out this warmth in people. It was inspiring. Next time I go away I’ll appreciate the slowness I’ve learned, and push myself to be braver.

I’ll try to find experiences that  aren’t just about “the sights”.



TV review: Paxman on the Queen’s Children

James Jackson

Jeremy Paxman’s droll look at the royal offspring was the most entertaining thing on Channel 5 in years

Paxman on the Queen’s Children
Channel 5

Documentaries about our incumbent royal family tend to fall into one of three camps: the Buck House puff-docs that show us the charitable work our good Windsors do; the scurrilous Channel 4 ones implying how the horrible old firm used to treat inconvenients (“Kanga” Tryon, say, or Diana); and the clip-heavy, mildly gossipy canters through a royal’s love life (most recently, Princess Margaret’s).

The ones in the last group are the most watchable because, let’s be honest, what the great British public — tabloid readers and The Crown viewers alike — get off on when it comes to royalty is the sheer soap opera of it all. Yet, as Paxman on the Queen’s Children is showing, they need a certain presenter — someone who can combine mild disdain and amused incredulity to the point of out-and-out comedy — to make them really fly. Such as, indeed, Jeremy Paxman.

“Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward were conceived and born in the same way as most of us, but let’s be frank . . . they’re different,” began the old inquisitor, wearily and correctly. Later, he listened to a Nolan sister’s 1970s pop ode to Prince Andrew, Andy (By Coleen), declaring with a look of disbelief: “It is absolutely appalling!” With politics off his back, Paxman seems to be having a lot more fun — and at one point even lay back on the sofa with his interviewee to gawp at old photos of Charles with his top off.

Paxo is no longer a sneery republican, though, and his overall point was a sympathetic one: Charles and siblings were paraded for the cameras from birth as a kind of PR experiment, so it wasn’t their fault that their inevitable romantic mistakes became “a blood sport on the front pages”. Of course, analysis of said blood sport provided all the levity here too.

The young royals were stuck in an impossible situation, between toeing the Palace line and having a libido. “Princess Anne too?” Paxman asked, eyebrows shooting up, of the suggestion that Anne “had a lot of fun” as a hot horsey babe. There was also the royally minted anecdote from Charles’s uni pal that the prince — ever the joker — was so unimpressed by his potential brides that he quipped: “Shall I go gay?”

Amid this feast of epigrams and insights, or “randy Andy” and Koo — this really was the most entertaining thing on Channel 5 in some time — was it wrong to start feeling an odd nostalgia for the good old days of naughty love lives and the ridiculous It’s a Royal Knockout (“Fergie’s team just cheated from minute one,” we heard)? Days before the Palace PR machine got that much slicker and the royals that much more vanilla. Philip aside, that is.

Either way, you were left wondering what the “royal foursome” would make of Paxo’s opening assertion that: “Years of interviewing people making their way up the greasy pole of politics has led me to the conclusion that the job of representing the country should be kept out of the hands of those who want the job.”

A Very Modern Grand Hotel

The team behind the hit documentary series Inside Claridges have turned their cameras on London’s Corinthia

Do you get a decently stocked minibar when you book the Royal Penthouse, the finest suite at the Corinthia Hotel, just a step from London’s Trafalgar Square? Don’t be daft.

There’s nothing mini about the full-sized bar that comes as part of the package. It’s stocked with the finest cognac and champagne. Oh, and the suite also has its own wine cellar should you require a specific tipple.

The scale of the place becomes apparent when your personal butler points out the internal lift that whisks you between floors. Yes, floors, plural.

So how much bang do you get for your buck in a place like this? Well, for starters you get four bedrooms, a dining room that seats ten, an office where there are not one but three TV screens on the wall (hotel manager Thomas Kochs suggests guests who stay here like to keep up with the stock markets) and your own private spa.

Every piece in these rooms has been hand made. The dining table is Makassar ebony, the bed frames are walnut, and the expansive bookshelves are leather-lined. Oak parquet floors run throughout, and bouquets of fresh flowers are everywhere.

So, what does it cost to stay in a place like this? Well, this suite will set you back £22,000 a night.

The Corinthia is the latest of the big London hotels to open its doors for the fly-on-the-wall documentary treatment.

Award-winning filmmaker Jane Treays, the woman behind the hugely successful series on Claridges (in which Mr Kochs, then the general manager at that hotel, became the break-out star) who has also made films on the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall, was the obvious choice to direct the two-part production.

This is an extraordinary programme, delivering not just the gawk factor, but offering an insight into London’s hotel wars, where the big high-end establishments compete to attract the monied guests coming to the capital in their droves.

‘I wanted to explore how a hotel like the Corinthia, which doesn’t have the years of tradition of somewhere like Claridges or The Ritz, can compete,’ says Jane. ‘It’s a modern hotel – and this is a modern dilemma about how to be relevant in a fast-changing industry.’

The Corinthia, open for just seven years (the premises used to belong to the Ministry of Defence), does compete, certainly on the celebrity guest front. One who arrives during filming is former US President Bill Clinton who, true to form, makes the housekeeping staff swoon a little.

President Clinton doesn’t allow the cameras to have a peek into his suite, but The Voice judge does. The Corinthia is’s home when he’s in London (this time he is booked in for ten weeks) but he’s picky about which suite he prefers.

The Royal Penthouse is (mercifully for his accountant, perhaps) ‘too big for me’, he explains. ‘If Beyoncé was here, she’d be in the Royal Penthouse.’ His favourite is the Musician’s Penthouse, which has a grand piano.

The actor Cuba Gooding Jr is another long-term guest. He’s been staying at the Corinthia during a stint on stage in the West End, and admits to conflicted feelings about hotels.

He tells the story of when his mum and dad split up, he had to flit from hotel to hotel, and made a vow to himself that when he was a grown-up, he would never ever stay in another hotel. ‘And I’m back in these damn hotels,’ he grins. ‘But they are so much nicer.’

While the famous faces give this documentary the glamour factor, it’s the staff who give it its heart. There are 500 people employed in the hotel, from 54 countries.

‘What struck me was the pride they take in their work,’ says Jane. ‘In the UK we can be sniffy about the service industry. That baffles them.’

It is extraordinarily touching to hear how Yvette, who came to the UK from Bulgaria, regards her work. Her first job in this country was as a strawberry picker, then she started as a room attendant at the Corinthia, and has since been promoted to first floor supervisor.

Yvette is a documentary-maker’s delight, complaining that her smart grey uniform makes her look like her grandmother, and explaining that she regards the rooms she is in charge of as her daughters. When a guest leaves a room in a state she thinks of it in terms of her ‘little one being a teenager’.

Among the local staff is Kevin, a lawyer who takes three afternoons off work each week to play the piano for guests enjoying afternoon tea. Actually, afternoon tea is one of the most pressing issues at the hotel.

While the cameras are furiously filming as new resident chef Tom Kerridge settles in – another big signing, aimed at attracting the celebrity clientele – they are also in evidence at the meetings held to discuss the new afternoon tea menu.

Afternoon teas, it seems, are another battleground in the London hotel wars, with the big establishments vying for that particular market. Cue an overhaul here, with some very, very protracted meetings about sandwiches.

Jane laughs. ‘I asked what there was to discuss about sandwiches, and was told ‘a lot’. There’s the softness of the bread, the ratio of filling to bread, how traditional the filling needs to be.

‘I think it shows the extraordinary attention to detail that goes into running a hotel like this,’ she says. ‘Nothing is left to chance.’

Even the tea selection borders on the obscene. Guests can choose from 26 varieties, the leaves are weighed out on antique scales and the teacups… well, they’re gold-plated. Naturally.

Source: Mail Online

Spun Gold Shortlisted For Two Broadcast Media Awards – Best Indie and Best Popular Factual category

Harry Hill will host the 2019 Broadcast Awards, which take place at London’s Grosvenor Hotel on 6 February 2019.

BBC1 is to battle its PSB rivals as it seeks to retain its crown as Broadcast’s Channel of the Year. It is up against sister channels BBC2 and BBC3, as well as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, for the title at the Broadcast Awards 2019.

The Best Independent Production Company shortlist pits Bodyguard producer World Productions against fellow scripted indies Sid Gentle Films and The Forge, plus unscripted producers CPL Productions, Fulwell 73 and Spun Gold.

Best Independent Production Company

Sponsored by Barclays

CPL Productions

The Forge

Fulwell 73

Sid Gentle Films

Spun Gold

World Productions

Best Popular Factual Programme

Celebrity Hunted
Shine Television for Channel 4

Gogglebox Series 11
Studio Lambert for Channel 4

The £1 Houses: Britain’s Cheapest Street
Topical Television for Channel 4

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan
Rumpus Media for BBC Two

The Real Full Monty: Ladies Night
Spun Gold for ITV

The Repair Shop
Ricochet for BBC Two

Spun Gold wins its first BAFTA!

Our ITV1 production of Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations, hosted by Ant & Dec, was awarded a BAFTA for Best Live Event at last night’s ceremony.

The co-production between ITV Entertainment, HPower and ourselves was a highlight of our year last year and we’re thrilled to be honoured in this way.  Congratulations to everyone involved and in particular Her Majesty.