I am 53 years old and live in the most stunning part of the world, near the beach in South Australia. Born in Adelaide, I had a fabulous childhood with doting parents, two annoying brothers and spent my early years running barefoot through our gorgeous country. School was okay but although I was reasonably bright, I had little application unless it was for sport – running or water skiing or playing tennis, softball and netball … loving every second of life. The best part about school was the best friends I made – who are still best friends.
I was incredibly lucky that I was born into a family and went to a school where the belief was that your life is a choice, and you can choose whatever you want. From the time I can remember, my parents told me that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. Anything. There’s a lot of options when you look at it that way.
But when I left school at 17, although I knew that nothing was going to stop me achieving my dreams, I didn’t have a dream. What I did have burning inside me was a solid, unbreakable work ethic.
In my early 20s, I travelled and worked around Australia, then met Mark Watts while he was working on the Formula One Grand Prix Circuit and moved to England to be with him. We’ve now been married for 27 years and have three divine, smart, intuitive and kind children, Abbie (24), Harry (22) and Lucy (17). Two dogs, Bella and Middie complete our family.
At 26 years, I believed I’d found my dream job when I discovered I could make a living – and a good living – from writing. This was a revelation. I wasn’t an author, but through a number of strange and happy circumstances, I found myself working as a writer, moulding and creating words for advertisements, brochures and corporate speeches, and loving every second of it.
Even better was when I started working for myself and could combine writing and travelling – and I got paid for it! The harder I worked, the more fun I had, the more successful I was.
Then in 1994 our first daughter was born. The love that I felt for my newborn child was unparalleled. Totally and utterly amazing. Followed 2 years later by the arrival of my son. My life was perfect.
At this point it would be far more interesting if I scripted the beginning of The Fairies as such:
One day while sitting in a beautiful garden, a gentle breeze blowing the flowers, their heady perfume permeating my senses, a tiny and very beautiful little winged creature flew down from her home in the trees and settled on a mossy patch next to me. She told me the world could be a better place if children started their lives believing in beauty and magic and fantasy and were taught subtle messages of love, friendship and caring. This beautiful fairy whispered this could be achieved through magic, music and dance, and it was my destiny to produce an entertainment concept that could spread the word.
However, it didn’t quite happen like that.
Before I had my own children, I was quite an indignant observer of parents who used the TV as a babysitter, but that soon changed with ‘two under two.’ Preschool TV became a godsend as I tried to cope with the never-ending circus of three-hourly feeds, two-year-old tantrums, mounting piles of dishes and the need to keep everyone fed and reasonably clean. Not to mention the fact I was still working as a freelance copywriter.
I was consequently inhaling quite a bit of preschool TV when suddenly I realised four men in coloured skivvies (The Wiggles), were making a living entertaining children, singing and having a fabulous time.
The thought of singing and entertaining children had huge appeal. In a past life I used to warble my way through Adelaide’s bars as a singer, and for those of you who have ever dreamed of being a rock star, the singing bug is a very, very difficult one to get out of your system.
I also found there were plenty of shows for boys (Postman Pat, Fireman Sam, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder) but there was nothing on TV that was pretty that my glitter, sparkles and high-heeled obsessed two-year-old wanted to watch. Pretty and magical and sparkly with dance and music as its core.
And so, one day soon after that when Abbie was 2 and Harry 5 weeks old, I simply decided to make it myself.
In the early days, I designed and funded a 5-minute pilot with very limited sets, quite hideous pantomime-based costumes, two songs and no story line. It was with this pilot that I firmly intended to take on the world. Naïve? Absolutely! Was that a good thing? Absolutely!
With my 5-minute pilot and intense conviction in hand, I commenced door knocking, finally being rewarded with entertainment company Polygram taking a punt on me and offering me a contract. I was ecstatic and signed on the dotted line, but that’s when the next roadblock was put in front of me.
As sometimes happens in the world of business, things take place that are totally and utterly beyond your control. Not long after I signed and produced two hour-long movies for commercial DVD release (at great expense!), Polygram was taken over by international giant, Universal, who decided that they didn’t want any kids DVDs. They didn’t want The Fairies.
Dozens more appointments with high-powered TV executives followed, and finally I had an interview with the head of ABC Commercial, who ended up taking my pilot DVDs and selling over 70,000 of them.
(Oh, and around this time, we also had another baby – our gorgeous Lucinda, who is now 17 years old.)
I knew that the only way The Fairies would succeed on an international scale was if they had their own TV series. In my mind, the fabulous sales of my early DVDs would cause the big wigs in the industry to sit up and take notice and perhaps do the unthinkable – back a product that was the creation of a non-industry housewife and mother.
So I worked hard at making this come true. I kept pitching The Fairies, and re-pitching, and calling people constantly, until finally Channel 7 took a good look at the concept. And then came the phone call. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
Sitting at home having a glass of wine with my parents on 23 March 2005, my son came rushing up with the phone. In typical Harry fashion, he yelled out ‘Mum, it’s someone from somewhere,’ and I was laughing as I took the call.
‘Jen, it’s Lisa from Network Seven. I’m ringing to let you know we’ve just had a board meeting and Seven would love to broadcast your fairies show if you can deliver it by 1 November.’
I asked for 24 hours to consider it, and then in typical brave fashion said yes, of course it’s achievable to do that in 7 months.
All that was left was a few simple elements to bring together:
Raising $2 million in private investment
Finding studios to film in
Designing and manufacturing the largest children’s sets built in South Australia
Auditioning and contracting cast and singers
Designing and making costumes, sets and props
Designing a filming methodology that would achieve the best possible outcomes within our preschool television budget
Composing, programming and recording over 100 lyric versions of the 63 songs and 9 short stings
And finishing writing 26 x 30 minute scripts plus two 50 minute dvd scripts.
And we delivered the impossible. And we did it on time, and on budget.
Admittedly the road that I initially thought I would travel was a sleek, newly surfaced highway, with lots of restaurants and hotels along the way, little traffic, and no delays.
Whereas my road has had many deviations, many windy and hilly patches, and a few roadblocks that seemed insurmountable at the time.
Since that day, we have produced 76 x thirty minute TV episodes, 9 stand-alone movies and over 200 songs (and their dances). We have created magical Fairy Dancing lessons for children from 6 months old (Fairy babies), with a focus on 2-5 year olds (Fairy ones, Fairy Twos and Fairy Threes), and now we’re bringing Fairy Dancing to the world!