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Filming Gary Barlow: On Her Majesty's Service

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Ben Winston Ben Winston | 10:59 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2012

Making a show like Gary Barlow: On Her Majesty's Service is a director's dream job.

To be able to travel all around the world, on a real mission of discovery, and be part of something as big as the Jubilee feels like a real honour.

Gary was asked some time ago to make a song for the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

I think at first he wondered if it was his kind of thing.

Sometimes these 'event songs' don't manage to capture the moment. But I could see from chatting to Gary, that he was tempted.

Gary Barlow with Australian aboriginal musician Gurrumul in the Blue Mountains, Australia

Aboriginal musician Gurrumul plays guitar with Gary in the Blue Mountains, Australia

It was when he thought of the idea of including the Commonwealth, we both felt he was on to something.

Choosing the countries was a real debate. Kenya was obvious to us both. Not only was it so important to capture the sound of Africa - but as the Queen became the Queen while she was there, where better for us to start?

After that we looked at the 16 realms, where the Queen is actually the monarch of the country - and tried to get variation in both the sounds of the place, and the look.

Jamaica is the home of so much music. Australia gave us orchestras and modernity. Solomon Islands gave us that middle-of-nowhere feel.

The thing that excited me about this, was how much was at stake for Gary. How real this all was.

He may be an acclaimed songwriter - the man is a hit factory - but this was a real challenge. Firstly creatively.

He had nothing more than a small piano melody when we left the UK. No lyrics, no clues as to what our song would end up sounding like.

Secondly, technically - travelling to the middle of nowhere with only minimal equipment is far from what he is used to.

Add that to the pressure of knowing the Royal Family were waiting for this song, and I was going to be on his shoulder filming the whole time - this was a big deal.

I approached this film looking at a few different angles. Overall it was of course the story of Gary making this song and the process behind that.

But this film had to be as much about the characters he meets, as it is Gary.

I feel we could have made a whole film about the slum drummers in Kenya. How can one not be moved when listening to their plight, and hearing them play their instruments made of rubbish?

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Gary has a drum-off in a Nairobi slum

If you see where they come from, and hear what they all bring to the song, I feel the record means so much more.

And what a treat to be able in a one-hour film to have that many different backdrops, from rainforests to deserts to film in.

It was so important to me that this film looked beautiful. Everywhere we went had beauty - so the film needed to show that.

I was surprised to see how moved Gary was by the experience. I think he felt that music for him had become his business and he perhaps had lost a bit of what got him into music.

It was these characters, who play simply because they love it, that reignited his fire once more.

I think if the film had just been Gary meeting people - it could have dragged. The fact we see him going through something too allows the film to be richer.

It was of course a huge honour - and a rarity - to get so many members of the Royal Family in the documentary. But I think they were excited by the idea, and interested in the prospect of it all.

Working with Gary was a pleasure. He is so passionate - up early every day, eager to meet new people, determined to create this special song.

He is a joy to be around every day. There is no editing to make him look great - he is as natural and funny as he comes across on screen. I felt very honoured to be part of this whole journey.

Ben Winston is the director and executive producer of Gary Barlow: On Her Majesty's Service.

Gary Barlow: On Her Majesty's Service is on BBC One and BBC One HD at 7.30pm on Sunday, 3 June.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    After all that travelling and hard work it's a great pity that the song is so awful. A dirge.

  • Comment number 2.

    I like it. "Find your feet, stand your ground" is enough to be getting on with. Watching the TV programme now - beautiful photogrpahy.

  • Comment number 3.

    Gary- that was the most amazing documentary and the most incredible song as a result of all of your hard work. The song is truly a wonderful tribute to Her Majesty The Queen for her Diamond Jubillee and to all the people and cultures from her Realm who were included in the making of this record. Well done! It is a song which will live forever in our hearts. You should be so proud. No-one else could have done it. It is so full of emotion and depth that it brings tears to my eyes each time I hear it. You are truly a very gifted man to sum up our feelings for the Queen and deliver a song to her on her Diamond Jubillee that is just perfect xx

  • Comment number 4.

    fantastic documentary and beautiful song, Gary Barlow was brilliant, amazing that he captured these song parts such minimal equipment yet it sounds so great afterwards, I think we will all now go and buy a Zoom H4n Handy recorder. Fabulous documentary, nice work Gary - a true talent and a great musician.

  • Comment number 5.

    I really have got to say Gary that i so enjoyed your documentary, it was not boring and you could clearly see the picture transforming into your music each step that you took. I love the song, and i think it means more now that i watched the film. I really think this is the best programme i have seen on TV for ages. Well done

  • Comment number 6.

    Dear BBC
    The Gary Barlow programme was simply MAGNIFICENT..there were tears in this house.
    FGS..please, please, please.. produce this as a DVD for sale. Use the profits any way you like.. in the underfunded areas on the fantastic film [beautifully photographed].
    Do anything you feel right.. but DO, PLEASE.. produce this as a DVD for sale.
    Thank you for a lovely journey

  • Comment number 7.

    The BBC coverage of the whole weekend was very bad. The B team, both front and behind camera.

  • Comment number 8.

    My stomach is just returning to normal after the truly vomitous, fawning, creepy full-fat sycophancy the BBC attached to this jubilee event. You would be led to believe that Price Harry could play the drums and that the whole Royal family could levitate, walk on water, cure the blind and heal the sick. The concert was abysmal - Rolf Harris singing two little boys?? Yeech.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi all

    Thanks for your comments.

    Bill Ferry #6 I have done a quick search online and it looks like the programme will be available to buy from the usual outlets from 25 June onwards.

    Many thanks

    BBC TV blog

  • Comment number 10.

    For what it is worth, I think the BBC did a superb job on coverage of everything to do with the Jubilee, dream on any other country that can do such a good job!!!!!
    People who complain about the jubilee coverage obviously have too much time on their hands and don't know a good thing when it comes up and gives them a slap on the face!! When you have lived in different places around the world, you develop a real appreciation of what the BBC is, and there is absolutely NOTHING like the BBC anywhere else in the world!!


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