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- English television presenter
- British actress
Fern Britton is one of the nation’s best-loved presenters, with decades of television projects under her belt, not to mention a stack of best-selling and much-loved books.
Having relocated to the Cornish coastline, Fern has featured the British location in her series My Cornwall and in some of her novels. Now, Fern celebrates more of the nation’s most iconic landscapes as presenter of the revived series, Watercolour Challenge, which airs next week.
Fans of the show may remember the original series starring Hannah Gordon, which sees some of the nation’s best amateur artists painting a different UK landscape each week, in a bid to be crowned the winner.
We caught up with Fern Britton to hear all about the show’s return, what to expect from the new series and what she loves most about British landscapes.
What first drew you to Watercolour Challenge?
My only criteria for saying yes to a job is, would I watch that? And this was definitely, because I used to watch it when it was on 20 years ago with Hannah Gordon. She's a very, very strong actress and a good comedian as well, so when she took on Watercolour Challenge, of course I watched.
It's been a series that's been very well loved and I didn't know this, but there's been a bit of a groundswell to say, “can it be brought back?” We got the tick, and Channel Five wanted to do it and it's [been] a real pleasure. It’s just a joy to watch.
What is it about the coasts and landscapes of Britain which makes you want to showcase them with projects like Watercolour Challenge?
There's something about the smell of the sea, the ocean, the fresh air, the feeling of freedom when you're in a big landscape - there's something very liberating.
It's lovely when you're painting in the fresh air. When you're painting, you really can't think about anything else. It's like doing lengths in a swimming pool, or playing the piano or doing yoga, it's very meditative.
Then, of course, the anguish comes in when the weather comes in. You're using watercolour paints, for goodness sake, and then it rains! And the wind is blowing, and you're frozen and your little fingers are cold, and [the artists] are trying to paint. I take my hats off to all our contestants, the artists, I never heard a single one of them moan and we were very often quite a way away from a hot cup of tea or a bit of shelter, or a loo!
The contestants face many challenges while painting landscapes outdoors that viewers might not have considered before. What did you learn while working on the show?
Keep smiling through the disasters. Somebody stopped painting, mashed it up and started again, which is very brave. You've got to have courage to do that. And that happens very often because of the weather. It was the changeability that foxed us all. Painting an open stretch of water, within three hours, that's gone from glass to stormy. And where it was glassy you had the reflections of the clouds, and suddenly you don't have anything. So that's where artistic licence comes in, and you realise that these artists are bold.
Did you have a go at painting any of the locations yourself?
No because [I was] working and didn’t have the time, that's my excuse. Our competitors, they're the stars of the show and also, I don't know what I'm doing!
Could the show help inspire new painters to pick up a paint brush and have a go at home?
There's lots of tips and hints to help to start painting. It doesn't matter if you've never painted in your in your life before. It's just a lovely thing to do. So why not get started? You don't have to show it, no one's going to criticise you, you're not hanging in the gallery, you know, just do it for yourself.
What else can viewers expect from Watercolour Challenge?
I hope there's humour in it, because everybody likes to have a little laugh. It's just the pleasure of watching people do something that they love, having a laugh, and getting soaking wet and freezing cold.
It offers a lot of brain food, it's got joy in it. With the travelogue bit to [the show]and the history of the painters who've been there beforehand and all the history of the location, I learnt so much and thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven't been this excited about anything for a while.
You’re joined by professional artists throughout the series to advise and judge the contestants. How valuable was that expertise to have on hand?
Really important, they were very good at giving all the competitors courage and confidence, no one was ever put down. There were times when competitors did feel very down in the dumps [for instance] they'd done a good job and then they thought perhaps they'd win and they didn't. Or they thought, “this is so terrible I shouldn't even be here.” But that's the root of painting, I think, or doing anything creative. You do think, “oh, I'm rubbish at this,” and actually, you're not, you're just doing your best and [everyone] is different.
How often did you predict the winner of each challenge correctly?
I was probably 50/50 with being correct because art is so subjective, isn't it? We'd watch them and people would start well, and then it would go wrong. People would start not so well, and it would go beautifully right. The crew and I would have our private conversation and we were all divided. There was never consensus.
The show combines the process of art with beautiful scenery. Were you hoping to bring viewers a sense of escapism with the series?
It might give people an idea to think, “gosh, that's lovely, let's go and have a look at that.” It’s like sports, you want to be at the cup final but actually, if you're sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea watching on television, you've got the best seat in the house. People who can't get out or haven't got the cash to do so, this is a chance just to sit and really bathe in it for an hour. It's feel-good, pleasant. It's soul nourishing.
Did you have a favourite location that you visited during the series?
Obviously, I loved all the Cornish ones and Devon, but I thought Scarborough was gorgeous. We stood on that raised face looking out at the ocean, that was absolutely beautiful.
We also went to Goathland railway station, which is one of those heritage railway stations with the steam train. I felt like I was in The Railway Children. It was gorgeous.
What do you think it is that makes British landscapes so captivating?
We've always enjoyed the outdoors I think, everybody likes to even just go for a walk through their village or across a field. But in these weird moments, when we've been locked in a bit, we're hungry for big skies and big views and fresh air.
Are you able to tell us if there is going to be another series? And if there is, will you be part of it?
I could say that we don't know because I think this this series we'll try, see how it goes. If it gets recommissioned. Hurray! And if they'd like me to continue with it - yes, please.
Now that filming is all wrapped and Watercolour Challenge is set to air next week, what’s your next project?
I'm writing a new book at the moment that should be out in the Spring, so I'm looking forward to that. That's called The Good Servant.
Watercolour Challenge airs Monday 17 January at 4pm on Channel 5.
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