One minute, James Ralph is sat in a hotel lobby in Fiji waiting to edit Love Island, and the next he is conversing with Simon Cowell.
The 48-year-old says he feels very lucky to be working in the TV industry in the US and is relishing every minute.
Although James is London-born, his grandparents and uncle live in Lancashire and he spent most of the school holidays in the Chorley area. He loved it that much he lived in Clayton Brook for a year in 1992 after graduating in American and Latin American Studies at Manchester University.
But the big lights of London soon came calling and he moved to the capital for work opportunities.
The father-of-six got his first break as a runner with a small production company and he worked his way up to becoming an editor.
He recalls: “I had always wanted to work in a creative industry, and when I walked in to an edit suite that looked like mission control at NASA, I thought this might be something I could get in to. Looking back, I think I made the right decision.
“My first break was with a small production company in Soho working with Japanese TV crews, where I was a general dogsbody/runner.
“I was doing everything from fetching teas and coffees, lunches and so on, to assisting in shoots and in the edit suites.
“From there, I moved to London Weekend Television where I started as a technical runner and worked my way up as an edit assistant, under editors of many years standing and success on household name TV shows. Bit by bit, I was allowed to do more and more, until eventually my boss took a punt on me and let me take sole charge of an edit. There was no looking back and I became freelance editor after about five years.”
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When James’s partner Becca Walker was offered a job working on Fox TV in LA two years ago, he seized the opportunity and applied for a Visa to continue working as an editor on US shows. The pair moved to the states in December 2017 and James has been busy working on prime time US and UK shows.
Home-grown shows include 24 Hours in A&E, Dating Around on Netflix, Love Island, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Britain’s Got Talent, X Factor and The Voice.
Over in the US, James edits shows such as The Four, America’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, and American Idol.
He adds: “I’ve been part of teams to have won several BAFTAs, Royal Television Society Awards, and most recently a Critics Choice Award. My job is to work with the producers and director to put together all the footage and make the program. I work alone and as part of a team depending on the project.
“The creative process is always fun, as are the people I work with. It’s not conventional and is always different and requires a great deal of flexibility in the way you think and approach things.
“No two days are the same. As we speak, I’m sat in the lobby of a hotel in Fiji waiting to go to work on Love Island USA and 24 hours ago I was in LA, editing America’s Got Talent. My job takes me to some amazing places and I get to work with a real mix of people and programme genres. The only typical part of my day is that I work in a dedicated edit suite on TV shows that reach millions.”
Of all the shows he has worked on, James admits it is hard to pick out his favourite one.
He says: “It’s hard to name one alone, but I loved I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here where I edited the trials. They have all been really enjoyable, but some standouts would be Fatima Whitbread and the cockroach up her nose.
“Freddie Starr’s eating trial was also pretty gross. The trials are all so different. Some are a genuine test of primal fear in holes under the ground with all sort of creepy crawlies, others are high off the ground, or with emus. With the more terrifying ones, I really enjoyed creating a soundscape to enhance the terror, and almost treating it like making a horror film. Some are plain funny, and much of the fun is highlighting and bringing the audience into that world and letting the enjoy it as much as possible.
“I also enjoyed 24 Hours in A&E for the human drama and storytelling, and Britain’s Got Talent for the pure entertainment.
“Love Island has also got to feature in there. It’s a real challenge, but we have a incredible team, who all know their roles and it works like an amazing machine. Turning around 24 hours of footage, daily for 50-odd shows is not easy and it’s exhausting, but the success of the show is a reflection of how much we put in to it and enjoy the process. It’s hard not to enjoy something that is alternately hilarious, heart rending and down right saucy.
“When you put a bunch of young, attractive and often opinionated people in one place, they are going to produce a lot of content.
“Often our job is just to work out what to keep.
“It’s hard not to feel when someone is going through heartbreak. We watch it unfold at first hand, and relationships aren’t always smooth. On the flip side, I probably spend more time laughing out loud at their antics.
“We always believed that Love Island had something special about it, and the many awards including a BAFTA, and the viewing figures and newspaper column are testimony to the show huge popularity and success.
“Its popularity is a down to many things. For a certain demographic, it’s very relatable and a reflection of their own relationships and friendships. It’s also a great relief and antidote to the often bleak news we face daily. It’s a dose of escapism to a land of beautiful and hilarious people.”
Whilst working, James has met a fair few famous faces.
He reveals: “I don’t tend to work directly with celebrities, because I am part of the team putting the shows together once they’ve been filmed, but I have met people like Simon Cowell and Ant and Dec, Wil.i.am, Tom Jones and the hosts of most shows I’ve worked on.
“Simon Cowell has always been very supportive of the edit team and would show his face in the edit to give us all a pep talk and rallying call. He has a great dry sense of humour.
“Ant and Dec are exactly as you hope they would be. They were always super lovely to our kids when we took them to the green room after Saturday Night Takeaway and always posed for pictures. It also helps if their mum is also the executive producer.
“Here in the US, I have worked with P Diddy, DK Khaled and Megan Trainor, as well as Mel B and Heidi Klum.”
James’s two eldest children, River, 28, and Forest, 25, and his uncle, owner of Coulthursts egg packers John Coulthurst, still live in Lancashire, with another daughter, Sky, 22, in Birmingham.
Whilst he isn’t able to travel to the UK much, he aims for twice a year.
He says: “I’m really busy with work in LA which is great and combined with an 11-and-a-half-hour flight back to the UK, it means that I don’t get back as much as I would like to. I was last over at the end of January and hope to get back again sometime this year.
“Life in LA couldn’t be more different from Lancashire, or London for that matter.
“The weather is a big bonus. The climate is warm pretty much year round, there are palm trees everywhere, and I get to see the Hollywood sign in the distance from work a lot of the time. It’s a huge city with no centre and that takes some getting used to.”