Still, I'm pretty much game for anything, and when I was asked to get involved in a construction-based programme, I brushed aside thoughts of the embarrassment in store and took up the challenge.
Demolition Day is produced by Anglia for the Sunday evening slot on Channel 4. The idea is that two teams compete to design and build a structure – an aqueduct, a vault, a car park – in two days, and then on the third day, get a chance to demolish the other team's construction. The demolition element is vital in creating dynamic footage – the process of design and construction is too slow to make compelling television; it's the sudden and dramatic deconstruction that makes it visually exciting.
Now, two days is not a viable design-and-build schedule, but the business of television is, perhaps, not so far removed from the business of construction as you might think. Anglia obviously put in plenty of effort prior to filming to assemble suitable teams and get advice from experts on how best to carry out their site works. So, I went through a vetting and audition process in which I had to explain in an accessible way just why arches were good structural shapes – and I failed miserably to construct a Meccano model using just a picture of the finished product. Nobody had asked me to play with Meccano in a project interview before.
The audition process saw me failing miserably to construct a Meccano model with no instructions
The site chosen was a spare acre of the Construction Industry Training Board's National Construction College campus near King's Lynn. The local arm of contractor Kier provided two site managers, responsible for the management of the site, health and safety issues and logistics. These two were vital in ensuring that programme happened – handling materials deliveries and fulfilling principal contractor duties, as well as providing the contacts for finding the necessary resources at short notice. Would you know who to phone if you wanted 5000 gallons of water delivered tomorrow? Or 50 tonnes of sand? Or two general labourers?
Once on site, things have to move fast. The film crew for this programme is huge, and every day of filming costs a large amount of money. There were two full-time camera crews as well as specialist camera people. Then there was an enormous team of technical folk that spent most of their time in their site cabin fiddling with bits of equipment. Tiny cameras and microphones had to be wired up, with Heath Robinson contraptions contrived to get that one shot that makes the difference. Then there was the troupe of bouncy blondes, constantly checking everyone was happy …
My role on the programme was as an expert "judge". It's quite difficult to know what to do when you're told to "just stand there and look like an expert". Adopt intelligent thinking pose? Acquire a white coat and wild hairstyle? I settled for trying not to giggle.
There was a lot of standing around waiting for things to happen, so in this respect it's quite similar to building sites I've known in the past. And then, when your turn comes in front of the camera, you don't get much chance to think, you have to respond as quickly – and preferably as wittily – as possible. I can understand why some resist the opportunity to get involved, as it was a little nervewracking, although I thoroughly enjoyed it.
But then I'm probably an exhibitionist at heart.
Tanya Ross is an associate of Buro Happold in Bath. She will appear on Demolition Day on Sunday 18 January at 6.25pm.