Jane Treays, one of the foremost documentary directors in British Television has recently been spending time at Corinthia London. Her award-winning work has spanned subjects from the controversial to the sublime, with a knack for drawing you into a story, she opens doors into worlds you never quite leave. She has filmed on tour with the Rolling Stones, spent a year on the streets with a homeless heroin addict and her last film involved the Queen and Sir David Attenborough. We caught up with Jane to find out more about her work and inspiration.
Your achievements are all the more remarkable when you reflect on the small number of women in your field, how and why did you become a documentary director?
I have always loved stories – my father was a lighting director in television and stage drama so our home was filled with scripts, which I’d read and use as drawing paper as a child. My mother was an antiques dealer so every object in our house had a history. I was fascinated by people from an early age and got a six-week job at the BBC in 1981 after graduating from university with a degree in English Literature.
In 1984 I was lucky enough to be offered a job travelling the world interviewing veterans from WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam and I was hooked from then on.
And what inspires you in work and life?
People and nature. I look at people all the time and wonder about their invisible hinterland. I spent a lot of my childhood on the Cornish coast where you would look out of the window before you left the house to see the weather coming. I love being outdoors and spend a lot of time in my garden growing flowers and vegetables. That makes me very happy.
Filming schedules are notoriously tough, what gets you out of bed at 5am?
It’s always a thrill to see a sunrise and the start of a new day – I always wonder why I don’t get up to see it every day!
Your latest project is a documentary about Corinthia London, why do you think we’re all so fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes?
It’s a community of guests and staff, with wonderful characters on both sides. What people choose to spend their money on and seeing luxury prepared is always fascinating, especially when the staff and management are perfectionists and good communicators. Keeping guests happy also translates into your home. There are a lot of tips to take away too. I now pay much more attention to how I make my bed and lay the table!
How do you capture authenticity in hospitality documentaries, rather than the staged ‘perfect’ days?
That’s the biggest challenge. Who wants a camera in their face when they are cleaning a room or eating breakfast? Establishing the facts and the rhythm of the hotel comes first. How does five-star luxury happen and who makes it happen? I believe in clear communication so everyone – the staff and film crew – knows why we are there filming and we have a code of politeness and of course a lot of fun. I try and work with a big smile and a quizzical mind, while listening well.
Did you learn anything surprising?
I was fascinated by the history of the hotel – its time under the ownership of the Ministry of Defence before it became Corinthia London. How many people it takes to create luxury – we had over twenty five meetings to re-launch the perfect modern afternoon tea. I like all the logistics too – 60-80 deliveries a day including 72,000 loo rolls a year!
Do you have a favourite area, room or even person, and why?
I always enjoyed filming from The Royal Penthouse balcony as it has a unique view of London. One morning we filmed at 5am and it was amazing to see dawn break over London. I also liked going downstairs to Housekeeping and Laundry, the staff are so cheerful and even dried my shoes for me after they got wet when I cycled to work. Concierges were always very helpful too with our film kit.
And finally what do you think is the ultimate in luxury?
I’m fortunate because I travel for pleasure as well as work and have stayed all over the world, from mountain huts to palaces. I always think, for me, luxury is when you are treated with kindness and greeted with joy