Zoe standing by a work bench on the set of the prince's master crafters

The Prince's Master Crafters

Read about my experince filming for the Sky Arts programme, The Prince’s Master Crafters!

How did you become involved?

Back in September last year one of my lovely Instagram followers saw an advert looking for craftsmen for TV programme. They kindly forwarded it on to me in case I was interested. 

Subsequently I lost the message and when I remembered who sent it, I was a couple of days past the application deadline!

I decided to send an email anyway, and I’m so pleased I did! I spoke to a lady at Spun Gold TV who asked if I would mind if she recorded our conversation. At this point I still didn’t know what the programme was or exactly what I was applying for!

We had a chat about my work and my previous experience and at the end of the ‘interview’ she closed with, ‘that’s great, thanks Zoë, I’ll send that off to the producer at Sky’. There was a pause at my end whilst the cogs in my brain slowly registered that she had just said ‘Sky’

A few days later they rang to say they really liked my interview and my background and would be delighted if I would take part! I think this was the point where I had to own up and ask exactly what it was they wanted me to participate in!!

Teaching Carving

I applied not really knowing much about the programme and I have to admit I thought I was applying to be one of the students learning other crafts. Being chosen to teach the students wasn’t quite what I was expecting

Whilst I’ve only had limited experience in teaching carving, it’s something I’ve very much enjoyed. I’ve often thought about starting up a carving course and hope it will be something I end up doing. Teaching six adults in front of a large audience on national television wasn’t what I was imagining!


an actual ivy leaf in Zoe's hand

An Actual Ivy Leaf!

Deciding what to teach

I spent some time thinking about what would be most interesting for the students to learn and what would come across well on screen. It also had to be achievable in the short time they had available. Whilst I would have loved them to try carving a geometric pattern it would have been difficult and probably rather frustrating if it was your first time picking up a chisel.

My thoughts turned to my time at City and Guilds Of London Art School and the projects that I had learnt the most from and were most rewarding. Carving a simple shape from nature incorporates the principles that are applied to all forms of carving. Inspiration came, an ivy leaf would be a very good place to start.

Study of an acanthus leaf carved

Study of an Acanthus leaf I carved at City and Guilds Of London Art School

Planning and Setting up

The timing between me finding out about my role in the program and the filming was tight. I worked with a great team of people to make sure that the students and I had everything we could possible need for the carving so that on the day of filming everything ran smoothly.

I also helped source all the tools that the students would need and of course the stone! After discussing this with colleagues we all agreed that Bath stone was a really good stone on which to learn.

Farleigh masonry where incredibly helpful at turning round 8 blocks of Bath stone for me, basically the next day so that I had time to carve my example stone before the filming.

Southern Stone were also brilliant in supplying the chisels and mallets. Pottery Crafts supplied the clay. I believe the bankers/benches were borrowed from Dumfries house and almost everything else I sourced on Amazon.

Making extra tools

Whilst thinking about what the students would need I realised how many things in my workshop are made to suit the job! For example, to stop smaller pieces of stone moving about the bench I made a bench stop, so I made 6 bench stops beautifully finished off with a carpet tile for the students!

The boards for them to make their clay models on were cut up by my Dad, (to whom I had to send an SOS for help!) painted to seal the wood with chicken wire stapled onto them to give the clay a good key to grip on to. Then I had to physically put the clay onto the boards and make sure it was a nice flat surface for the student to work on….all 6 times and all in about a week whilst trying to juggle work and a toddler too! And I’m sure you thought I just turned up on the day!

Chicken wire on a painted white piece of wood ready for the clay to go on top

The bench stop and wooden board ready for the clay to be applied

The day before the filming

The filming was taking place on location in a lovely hired barn called Cissbury Barns. I loaded up the car and set out, an absolute bag of nerves!

There were so many people around busily doing jobs when I arrived. I parked my car near to the barns (in between filming so as not to make too much noise!) then was shown around the set.

My immediate impression was firstly what a lovely location they had found but also what an amazing job the creative team had done to make the barns feel more like workshops. I’d never been behind the scenes of a TV set before so was really fascinated to see how it all worked and everyone’s different roles.

There were far more people than I was expecting. I think there were four cameras, a lighting team, sound engineers, various producers, a floor manager and even a catering team!

silvery, delicately woven piece hanging on a white wall

The beautiful location of Cissbury Barns

Settling in

Once my heart rate had slowed back down to a manageable rate I started unloading the car and organising my things.

We were setting up my work so that we could hit the ground running the next day. At the same time another episode was being filmed and the students were in full flow! I had some time to watch what was going on and understand how the process worked and of course had a chance to meet the students and Jim!

 Once the filming had finished for the day I was able to help set up the benches and tools and it was time to head to the hotel.

Zoe's carvings on set

Some of my carvings on set!

My Own Chauffeur!

Being a self-employed crafter it never ceases to be a novelty when a company pays for travel and accommodation! I had a car to take me from the set to the hotel and to pick me up in the morning. No stressing about driving and parking for me on this occasion!

I had a drink in the bar with some of the team that I’d met during the day and then decided to call it a night and head to my room….no one wants a hangover in front of a camera!!

Room service pizza and a bit of a film and I put out the light for some much-needed sleep!

Students carving in the workshop during the competition

I’m not an early riser 

An early start

I can’t quite remember what time my alarm when off, but it was definitely early when I headed down to my taxi and off to the barns.

Breakfast happened on set and was a lovely spread! However I was so nervous that a cup of tea and a piece of toast was all I could manage!!

Filming got started fairly swiftly which was a relief as I started to feel better when I got into the swing of it.

The thing I found most strange to begin with was the lack of response when you say something. Everyone on set is obviously being really quiet for the audio and sometimes when I was talking I did begin to wonder if anyone was interested in what I was saying!

 An hour in though and I was much more comfortable and starting to enjoy myself!

The set with a camera in the foreground

This was the set up for the first shot of the day!

The carving

Once I’d finished my demonstration and set the student their task for the day there was a coffee break before they started carving.

I loved teaching them all and seeing how they progressed. Alongside filming a few extra pieces to camera, I spent a very enjoyable day encouraging the students, and making the most of great opportunity!

Very Relaxed

By the end of the day I was thoroughly relaxed about the cameras being around and was starting to have a laugh with the students and some of the crew as well. I was really delighted that the carvers were enjoying themselves, although some more than others! 

When the time was up and the carvers were asked to put their chisels down I have to admit there was a huge sense of relief. Partly that the task I’d set had been achievable but more than that the students had a really fun day and I hoped that might encourage other people who watched the show to also give it a go.

I was so relaxed I even cracked a joke to Jim about wafting a leaf in front of his David….but I’ll let you watch it to find out about that! There may have been a short pause in filming after that as Jo and I needed to have a moment to compose ourselves!

I left the barns a very exhausted but happy person. I’ve really got the bug and would love to do more TV work, so if you’re reading this and you happen to be a producer looking for someone to host a new series of ‘The Great British Carving Competition” then I’m your girl!

Zoe watching herself on Tv

Watching my episode!

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