Writing Victoria: Daisy Goodwin’s TV Diary

Writing Victoria: Daisy Goodwin’s TV Diary

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The country is basking in a heatwave, and I am at the laptop trying to write the Victoria Christmas special. I put on some carols for atmosphere and wonder whether a mince pie would help.

It doesn’t. For inspiration, I look at Victoria’s own watercolours of Christmas at Windsor. Albert wanted to recreate the Christmases of his Coburg childhood and he put up a tree for each of their nine children, hanging them from the ceiling with tables, called altars, for presents underneath. For all their cosy, domestic image Victoria and Albert, weren’t afraid of a little bling.

An email from Mammoth, the company that makes Victoria, summoning me to a conference call. I have worked in factual TV for 30 years and can count the conference calls I have made on my fingers.

But since I joined the esoteric cult that is TV drama, I find that the conference call where one party is inevitably on top of a mountain or is a really heavy breather has become an almost daily occurrence.

For the sake of my blood pressure, I have learnt to put the calls on speaker and to practise sun salutations while others talk.

This call is about the production implications of the Christmas Special. Can we really achieve a frozen lake in August? I am attempting, unsuccessfully, to hold a crow pose, when we decide that it is possible to erect a skating rink outside the aircraft hanger that we call Buckingham Palace.

There are times when I am in awe of the power of my words to cause mayhem. But then, a Christmas special wouldn’t be special without a skating rink, a parrot and nine hanging trees covered in authentic Victorian gingerbread.

When I tell my teenage daughter about the show, she says: “It had better be good, Mum. There is nothing worse than a duff Christmas special.”

My hairdresser sighs and says: “I don’t envy you the responsibility.”

The producer asks hopefully: “Will anybody die, as our cast budget is pretty much spent?”

I start looking at flights to places with no broadband for the festive period.

I am flying to Los Angeles for the Television Critics Association’s biannual bash, where shows are presented to the American press. At home, the writer just shows up, talks and then goes home on the Tube.

In LA, even the writer has their own make-up artist. Mine is a Native American who loves Victoria; he is disappointed that I haven’t brought a tiara.

I pontificate for hours about my inspiration for Victoria (a mixture of her diaries, my teenage daughter and a lifetime’s passion for queens) and then am accosted by an American journalist who asks me if Victoria is the mother of Elizabeth II.

I worry sometimes that there are no surprises in Victoria, that the plots are all there in Wikipedia, so I find this rather cheering.

Killing time at the airport, I have a look at my new favourite Facebook page, “For the love of Vicbourne”, where viewers have created a parallel universe in which Victoria and Lord Melbourne confound history and consummate their relationship in some very steamy fan fic.

There isn’t much sex in Victoria. I am a great believer in the erotic power of suggestion, but it is clear that my viewers have no trouble at all in filling in what happens next.

 My older daughter is now my writing partner and, after a dinner where we talk about the best way of dramatising the Charge of the Light Brigade with 10 extras and some iffy CGI, my husband groans: “Now I know how Prince Charles feels. Isn’t it time that Victoria abdicated?”

Daisy Goodwin is a writer and producer.