The Gazette talks to Gareth Malone about the time spent filming The Choir: Military Wives in North Devon and his unexpected love for the region.
INSPIRING, emotional and challenging is how celebrity choirmaster Gareth Malone described his time in North Devon filming his new series The Choir: Military Wives, starting tonight (Monday) at 9pm on BBC2.
In the first episode viewers will see Gareth meet the wives and girlfriends of troops at RMB Chivenor shortly after their men had left for war in Afghanistan.
The show on BBC2 ended with the newly forged choir making their first ever public performance at a packed Barnstaple Pannier Market and a rapturous reception from the watching crowd.
In an interview with the North Devon Gazette Gareth said he had loved his time in the region working with his inspirational choir and was bowled over by the public response at their Barnstaple concert.
“That was absolutely overwhelming and a really exciting moment for the women and for me as well,” he told the Gazette.
“I think they felt a real pride on the day and were delighted by the reaction from the people of Barnstaple – it was really packed and I don’t think any of us expected that.”
The cameras also focus on Nicky Scott, whose husband George has served with the Royal Engineers for 21 years and watch as she steps forward at the Pannier Market to sing the first public solo.
Gareth said the whole experience had proved far more emotional than his previous challenges to set up choirs in unlikely locations.
“I was just affected by the thought of what these women go through on a daily basis while their husbands are away and I wanted to see how I could help in those circumstances,” he said.
“We all talk about heroes – and their husbands are heroes – but these women are too, just in a different way.”
Singing as a choir was a totally new experience for Gareth’s protégés and each episode culminates in a challenging performance – the highlight of which will be this Saturday when the Chivenor Wives Choir sing before members of the Royal family as part of the annual Festival Remembrance Festival at The Royal Albert Hall.
Viewers will get to see how they do in the final episode of the show on Monday, November 21.
Other highlights include the night Gareth was taken for a drink in the Sergeants’ Mess – “with disastrous consequences” – and when he tackles the RMB Chivenor assault course.
The region also made its mark - Gareth and his family moved to Mortehoe during the filming and also spent some time in Swimbridge:
“I had a really good time in North Devon, I absolutely loved it and it has been one of the highlights of the project for me,” he said.
“I fell in love with Mortehoe, it’s a beautiful little village and I felt like a local after a while.”
The show also follows the lives of the Chivenor ladies as they wait for their men to return from Afghanistan.
“It is the whole six months of the tour while the guys are away and lots of things have happened, we have had three babies born plus all the ups and downs of life, which is really inspiring alongside the choral challenges,” said Gareth.
“There are some brilliant voices in there, some really beautiful singing and songs that have meaning for them, it’s very moving.
“They are incredibly strong and pragmatic while their husbands are in these extreme situations. It is great to see them coming into their own and I don’t think they are a group that have been listened to very much.
“They have true British spirit and it’s really inspiring to see – they are an inspiring bunch, but quite a handful too!”
This Monday (November 14) at 9pm on BBC2 the ladies sing at the Commissioning Dinner of the Sandhurst Officer Training Academy.