Meeting one of the UK’s top TV executive producers has proven an inspiration for a budding young filmmaker from Thornaby.
Stockton Riverside College student Callum Simpson was left stunned and delighted when Gareth Neame, the executive producer of Downton Abbey, agreed to an exclusive face-to-face interview.
Currently working on a short documentary about Stockton’s own star of the silver screen, Ivy Close, Callum’s research revealed a family link between Close and the multi-award winning producer.
“When I emailed Gareth Neame requesting the interview it was a bit of a longshot,” said the 18-year-old Film and TV student.
“I was shocked when I got the email inviting me to his offices in London.
“To secure an interview like that made me rethink my entire documentary.”
Multiple Emmy and Golden Globe award winner Neame is the great grandson of Ivy Close, a Stockton-born model turned actress who made her name when she won the first nationwide beauty competition in the Daily Mirror in 1908.
Labelled by the newspaper as the “World’s Most Beautiful Woman”, she went on to compete with the US winner, which she also won.
Charming the British public, Close became an instant celebrity and starred in a number of films of the silent era.
She and her first husband, photographer and filmmaker Elwin Neame, established the production company, Ivy Close Films.
“I chose to focus on Ivy Close for my documentary due to her local links,” said Stockton Riverside College student Callum.
“The fact that she went on to start a production company makes her a role model and beacon of hope of what can be achieved.”
Ivy and Elwin’s sons, Ronald and Derek, would also go on to make their names in the industry, Ronald as a director, cinematographer, producer and screenwriter, and Derek as an author and screenwriter.
Her grandson Christopher, Gareth’s father, was also a producer and screenwriter.
Callum said: “Ivy created a legacy in the movie industry. I found that Gareth is passionate about keeping the memory of his great grandmother alive, which is why he agreed to be interviewed.”
Describing the interview as one of the biggest things he has ever done, Callum said: “Going to his office was crazy, there was a cabinet there with all of his Emmy awards and Golden Globes.
“I was really nervous at first, but it was a shock how normal he was. He didn’t have to speak to me, he is a busy man, but he made the time and was fantastic.
“He spent the first 10 minutes asking about my course and what we were doing, he was genuinely interested.
“Because he is a relative of Ivy Close he had a real knowledge of the type of person that she was, he knew things that has been passed down from the family.
“For someone like me, who is just starting out and hopes to go on to work in the industry this really was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”