WHEN it comes to reality shows I’m not Strictly a fan.
I’ve never found it entertaining to watch shrieking people grubbing about in the jungle trying to earn their five a day, or been able to tune in to what’s appealing about seeing the unlikeliest of housemates bicker and bitch in spectacular style.
So to find myself glued to a reality TV show was, well, a bit of a reality check.
In my defence, it was all the office’s fault.
Four years ago, Natalia Luis-Bassa, the Venezuelan conductor then in charge of Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra, was one of a clutch of top musicians brought in by the BBC to turn amateurs into Maestros. I was encouraged to report on her progress.
Sadly for Natalia, her conducting protege, the actor David Soul bowed out pretty early on, but by then I was hooked.
What is it about seeing celebrities out of their comfort zone that is so fascinating?
Why do we find it gripping to check whether, when taken out of their depth, they either sink or swim?
On paper, the original series of Maestro had all the makings of being the driest reality show ever.
Take eight celebrities, four judges and one top quality orchestra and stand the winner in front of a 30,000 crowd at the BBC Proms In The Park with a baton in their hand and watch out. For fireworks or the dampest of musical squibs.
It could have turned into Carry On at the Proms. But it didn’t.
In fact I thought it was brilliant TV. I couldn’t understand why after the first series of musical master-classes that were Maestro, the BBC didn’t just go out and re-commission it.
I’d have listened to a good few more bars of this fantastic slice of public broadcasting. And now I can.
For the good old Beeb has finally seen the light and is bringing back Maestro. Sort of.
It’s a slightly different formula. Maestro with a twist. This time there are just four competitors, a quartet rather than an octet. And the “prize” is for the winner to be scared out of their wits conducting one act of a performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
There’s quite a bit of clever casting going on too in the choice of baton bearers for this new series which is being made by BBC2.
Out go the newscasters, presenters and musicians. In come a mathematician and a choreographer. And there’s the headline grabbing move, right there.
Strictly’s Craig Revel Horwood is swapping ballroom for opera house and the role of judge for that of the judged.
That’s what makes this series of Maestro a terrific PR job for the world of opera.
Who could possibly be more competitive than Revel Horwood? Who will be tougher on himself and the most determined to conduct himself with passion and precision than our Craig.
And he’ll do wonders for the programme’s ratings with a whole army of Strictly fans waltzing on to the BBC’s second channel to watch him. It’s just what opera needs even if it doesn’t know it!
Alongside Craig as he tries to master the art of conducting will be the actor Josie Lawrence, the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and the DJ Trevor Nelson.
Craig of course, has come out fighting. “I love criticism. I don’t know why most other people don’t,” he said.
“It’s very, very good for you as a human being.”
He will, he says, be taking Maestro very seriously. There’s no question. He’ll have to.
Earlier this week, all four trainee conductors spent an evening at the Royal Opera House watching a performance of The Marriage of Figaro.
Apparently, it proved even scarier than Craig Revel Horwood.
Perhaps the best news for Craig is that it won’t be the audience who vote to kick people off the rostrum. That will be left to some of the big names in opera and ultimately, the orchestra.
Fortunately for the contestants, darling, one of the world’s most respected operas houses is unlikely to turn out critics quite as sharp as Craig.