The Bridge Interviews
What connection do the following with this area of Oxfordshire: Buzz Aldrin, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Ben Ainslie? The answer is that they have all featured in the career of Andrew Preece, who produces television coverage of sporting event s and lives in Asthall Leigh.
If you are a sports fan, you have probably heard of Sunset & Vine, the company of which Andrew is an executive director. Its name pops up at the end of many sports broadcasts from cricket via Premiership football to the Paralympic Games. Andrew’s speciality is the watery end of this spectrum. When The Bridge met Andrew in early September he had just returned from covering the Olympic sailing in Rio while 350 of his company’s staff and contractors were still there covering the Paralympics for Channel 4.
Andrew did not start his career in broadcasting. Born in Somerset and educated in Devon, he spent a lot of his younger days sailing and this led to him becoming a professional sailor on large yachts (he took part in eight Fastnet races). He got to know Ben Ainslie during this period and has since made films for him and about him. This work led him to obtain a qualification as a yacht designer, and then to working as a yachting journalist. He moved into television when he and a friend started their own broadcasting company, which they later sold to Sunset & Vine.
When he worked with Ellen MacArthur, she had already come to fame by winning the Vendée Globe single-handed round the world race in Kingfisher, named after her sponsors, Kingfisher plc. She then captained an attempt to break the round the world record for a crewed yacht in Kingfisher 2, a 120 foot catamaran. There was a crew of 14. Everyone had to have two skills, and Andrew went along to use his sailing experience and to provide television coverage via a satellite transmitter.
They set off in January 2003 and immediately ran into a 65 knot storm in the Bay of Biscay. The plan was to sail straight down the Atlantic, round the Cape of Good Hope and through the Sothern Ocean, passing to the south of Australia and New Zealand before rounding Cape Horn back into the Atlantic. All went well at first and Andrew says that going down 40 foot waves at 30 knots provides an amazing adrenaline rush. However on day 25 the mast broke. They were 500 miles from Antarctica, well to the south of commercial shipping lanes and out of range of rescue helicopters. They improvised a jury rig out of the remains of the mast and resumed sailing – but now their average speed was 1½ knots instead of 30-40 knots.
It took them two weeks to make it to Australia. The crew found it very depressing, and morale dropped like a stone. It didn’t help that they had a rota of seven freeze dried meals which were not very appetising when things were going well and less so in these circumstances. Andrew cannot eat cod stew to this day. There were also hygienic problems as they had not planned for such a long voyage; Andrew did not change his shirt for three weeks (apparently you become inured to the smell after a time). When they reached Australia they abandoned the voyage and flew home (after a shower, we trust).
A footnote to this is that the sponsors were promoting their subsidiary companies, B&Q in the UK who have orange as their corporate colour and Castorama in France who favour blue. As a result the yacht was painted orange on one side and blue on the other, and all television footage had to be filmed from one side for UK consumption and from the other for France.
Andrew has covered the sailing events (one of the most successful sports for this country) in five Olympics from 2000 to date, and spent three weeks in Rio this year. (He also managed to be trackside when Mo Farah won the 5000 (10,000?) gold medal).
A different challenge arrived when he was asked by Steve Redgrave to provide coverage of the Henley Regatta. This had not been broadcast for 50 years and Andrew quickly realised why when he inspected the long course with land on either side in a variety of private hands. After setting up camera positions he held a rehearsal the night before the start of the event. Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, used to months of preparation for a race, were very nervous as numerous technical glitches were ironed out, not realising that this is the way television works. All went smoothly after that.
Andrew’s next big project is the America’s Cup. He will soon be going to Bermuda to spy out the land and will be there for a month in June next year for the actual event. (It’s a hard life but someone has to do it). He think Ben Ainslie’s team have a good chance.
Andrew and his wife Fenella moved to Asthall Leigh ten years ago, so they regard themselves as relative newcomers. Fenella has also made television programmes about sailing and flying. Their daughter Maisy attends Burford School. They have thrown themselves into local life. Andrew is a trustee of the Memorial Hall in Asthall Leigh. They hold a pub night there every month, film nights [see elsewhere in The Bridge] and show big sporting events on a large screen TV. They also compete vigorously in the Swinbrook Raft Race. Andrew and others organised a music festival called Glasthall Leigh (get it?) with 20 bands taking part to raise money for the hall. He and Fenella are members of a band themselves. Andrew has given up sailing in favour of gliding at Bicester; he describes this as like sailing but in three dimensions.
And Buzz Aldrin? This came about when Andrew was trying hard to arrange a joint interview with him and Robin Knox-Johnston. The connection was that Knox-Johnston had completed the first non-stop solo circumnavigation of the world in 1969, at the same time that Apollo 11 achieved the first moon landing. To do this he had to follow Aldrin for a day round Washington DC, carrying his bags for him at one stage. He eventually got the two of them together via a Skype link.