Mike Spencer studied Film, Radio and Television at Christ Church

02 June 2021

Christ Church graduate’s success producing TV’s biggest reality shows

Mike Spencer is an Executive Producer at ITV for one of the biggest reality TV shows in the world, Love Island.

He has been involved with the show since the programme first aired in 2015. He also worked on the first hugely popular series of The Only Way is Essex, as well as the National Lottery Draw Show, The Paul O’Grady Show, and most recently has produced his own spin-off shows.

Mike graduated with a BA (Hons) in Film, Radio, and Television with Media and Cultural Studies at Christ Church in 2007. He is now mentoring Christ Church students who want to get into the TV industry.

We spoke to Mike about his career, his successes, and what advice he would give to students looking to get their first career break.

MY TIME AT CHRIST CHURCH

“The journey through the three years at Christ Church was interesting, and after my first year, with the support of tutors, I really grasped what it was about and why I was there.

“I had studied Art at A-Level and went from studying that to an academic course at Christ Church, so initially I really didn’t think it was for me. But it was those early conversations with Dr Karen Shepherdson, when I was thinking I really can’t do this, that she broke it all down and I eventually got better grades. After I moved in with people from my course in my second year, my time at university got better. My high point was graduating and doing something I never thought I could do.

“Aside from learning the craft and being in a practical setting on the Film, Radio, and Television programme course, I took away a lot of life skills and structure and how to plan things out. It is a great way of learning about how to be an adult and preparing you for the real world.

“Thank God for Parham Road being next to Asda! It was a life-saver.”

AMAZING FACILITIES

“The set-up that Christ Church has with the TV studio is absolutely amazing. Having that experience gives you a basic understanding of what the industry is like. It gives you an overview practically on a small scale to make a short film, what it’s like to make a TV show.

“I’d also never thought about radio, but learning and being in a radio studio was fantastic – I was there the first year Canterbury Student Radio (CSR) started and we had a slot on the drive-time programme.

“All this gives you an understanding to pick what area you would like to move into – it’s really great and that’s down to the facilities at the University.”

FIRST ROLE AFTER UNIVERSITY

“When I first left University I couldn’t get a job – this was a time when we were sending CVs and letters to companies, so I posted out CVs and no one was coming back to me. I got really fed up, so I went and did a season as a holiday rep, then I got a call while I was away from someone who I did work experience for at GMTV to say they had a couple of week’s work experience. While I was there the head of showbiz there said about a job at the National Lottery Draw Show for a runner’s position.

“I went for it and got the job so I spent 18 months at the National Lottery Draw Show. I was seeing celebrities all of the time like James Morrison and Paulo Nutini, who would come and perform and I would look after everyone. I’d make teas and coffees, getting their food, picking them up from the train station. I even went down to the local Co-op with James Morrison in my car and I remember just driving down the street thinking ‘I can’t crash I’ve got James Morrison in the back!’

“There were so many amazing experiences and that job gave me a massive overview of what was in tele, what you needed to make a TV show to get it on air, and then I knew what path I wanted to take from that job.”

Mike Spencer picked up the BAFTA for ITV's Love Island in 2015Mike Spencer picked up the BAFTA for ITV's Love Island in 2015

CAREER PROGRESSION

“After my time on the lottery show, I managed to get a job on The Paul O’Grady Show. I started as a junior researcher, and then worked my way up to assistant producer for various series. Initially it was the Channel 4 series, then I worked on Paul O’Grady Live on Friday night’s for ITV1.

“I went from that job to interviewing, researching – you would do all of the phone chats and you’d write the interview then you would pitch that to your ‘exec’ then they would go over your interview and it would or wouldn’t make the show.

“I remember so many people like Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue, Alicia Keys, David Walliams, there was just so many we worked with on that show. Anyone that was coming on to promote their book or TV show, we’d write the interview and get them on air. That felt like I’d been chucked into the showbiz world which was a whole other level of excitement. It really felt like that was the making of me, especially with writing the interviews.

“We had lots of contributors on The Paul O’Grady Show which really got me into casting. Aside from the celebs, you had normal people doing extraordinary things, so I started casting quite a lot which led to start working on The Only Way is Essex.”

THE ONLY WAY IS UP

“I started at The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) as a researcher on the casting team, at the start of series one, where we were casting for the second series.

“I did Gemma Collins’s first casting tape with a girl called Misha Stewart. We cast Joey Essex, Chloe Sims, and I absolutely loved it – getting into the Essex world, finding these characters, and I felt like that was a really exciting part of my career. Looking back now it was a great experience to be able to meet people, do their auditions and put them forward to the channel to get them onto TV – especially people like Gemma Collins. Gemma wrote a story in her book about how she first met me and Misha. She was a force when she came in and I remember we did a casting tape at her house and she did champagne Wednesdays with her friends, it was one of the most bizarre things I had witnessed but it was so exciting.

“It was interesting to see the reception of that show because it was loved and it was hated, it’s fair to say. Love it or hate it, people were talking about it and it’s still doing so well.”

LOVE ISLAND SUCCESS

“I was the casting producer of series one of Love Island. I had a responsibility to find a group of people for a programme that had been on air ten years before but the format had been slightly tweaked for this version.

“I knew I had a big job and often it’s the cast that make or break the show. I needed to find an amazing group of people. We even came back to Canterbury Christ Church to cast for the first series but we didn’t manage to find anyone. We did a cast in the Students’ Union.

“We went all around the UK to find this great group of people but when you look back it’s definitely a different show to what it is now. Hannah Elizabeth is still one of my favourite people I’ve put on TV, she’s just such an amazing character. Series one was a really difficult job and full-on but it set the tone for what was to come next.

“Series 7 returns this year. It comes with it’s challenges, we’re all finding making television with covid is a challenge but I’m just excited to get the show back on air and hopefully people love it.”

HIGHLIGHTS

I think one of my career highlights was going on stage to receive the BAFTA for Love Island in 2015.  Obviously, mum’s at home crying her eyes out! That was an amazing moment for me to be there and to be amongst all those amazing people. My certificates is above the toilet! It’s a good talking point when people use the loo! It was a real highlight and Love Island in general. I’m grateful for that show.

Mike with some of the The Only Way is Essex castMike with some of the The Only Way is Essex cast

“TOWIE is another highlight for me and gave me career elevation.

“Meeting Dolly Parton is another one. We filmed in Nashville and it was amazing to be around her. We were filming a reality series and we hung out with Dolly for a bit, she’s so iconic. We had a photo I felt so shy. You can tell I look so nervous that she was there. I’m 6ft 3 and she is tiny! I’ve heard rumours she’s got tattoos all over her but she always wears sleeves! I was desperately trying to have a look.”

“I still get the buzz when I’m making a TV show and I’m thinking what can I do next. I developed a series last year during lockdown because I was thinking what can I do. Love Island had been postponed so I started to think about the people I’ve worked with and created Olivia Meets Her Match with Olivia Attwood. I managed to get a commission for eight episodes on ITV and it’s been recommissioned too.”

Mike and Dolly PartonMike and Dolly Parton

MENTORING CHRIST CHURCH STUDENTS

“Sometimes being at University can be a challenge for a number of reasons, being stuck in your halls and not being able to go out and it’s all very dramatic, especially during the last year of the pandemic.

“I did a Q&A previously at the University and we spoke about mentoring. Students could apply and I was hoping I could help ease them into the industry.

“I’d already mentored a student with the Royal Television Society so when we put this out at Christ Church a number of students applied, and I picked Mia.

“Mia knows she can come to me for advice on tips when applying for jobs, I’ve given her suggestions on how to redo CVs. Luckily, Mia is exceptional as a student and she has gone above and beyond to do work experience. She’s a real go-getter and my role for her is to guide her as much as possible and I’d love to see her when she gets her first job.”

SUPPORT IS IMPORTANT

“For me, it is nice to be able to give back I would have loved a mentor when I was at University. I think the University has changed since I was there in terms of mental health and support but at the time it wasn’t pushed. 

“When I was at University I hadn’t come out as a gay man. I didn’t really know who I was but it gave me the initial grounding to think about who I was. Now there is tons of support available for students.

“If I was going to go back and give any advice, I’d say use that time at uni to be yourself; you are supported, you are in a safe space. Just be yourself, don’t hold back, it’s a place you don’t need to hold back.

“For me I like being able to help and I’m happy to continue to do that and once I can and restrictions are eased, I’d love to come back to the University and see what it’s like.”

TIPS AND ADVICE

“My advice for any students studying at Christ Church is please, make your contacts, and since I did the Q&A lots of students have reached out on LinkedIn.

“Make the contacts, bother people, you’re not going to get what you want.

“Go get it, email everyone. You can’t offend anyone by being pro-active. Anything can happen you just have to work for it! The more real industry experience you get the more likely you will get a role when you graduate.”

Series 7 of Love Island returns to ITV2 this summer.

 

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Last edited: 15/01/2020 11:19:00