How I changed my life for 3 days… and you can do it too!

Back in April this year, I escaped my busy office for 3 days to do something extra ordinary, something completely out of my comfort zone and most importantly a once in life time opportunity. By now, you’re probably thinking, what the hell did he do!? A sky dive or bungee jump? Swimming with sharks in open sea or maybe rally driving? No, neither of them. I went back to 1890s and become a Victorian Slum. How!? Let me tell you in this blog.

The start…

New Opportunities - Green Pushpin on a Map Background. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, a Twitter notification pops up on my iPhone – “Hey Tomasz, we’re doing a documentary for BBC2 and we’re keen to chat with you”. – Hmmmm, a documentary, what do I have to offer… – there is me thinking. I did some googling and found that Wall to Wall, the production company behind shows like The Voice and Long Lost Family, has been commissioned by BBC 2 to do a documentary on how modern people would find themselves back in Victorian times. Still intrigued as to why me, I decided to tweet them back and scheduled a quick call to learn more about the role. Over the course of last few years, I have been interviewed by various media across the World but never featured in a documentary. During the call, I learnt that during the Victorian era there has been quite a significant immigration from Eastern European block, including Poland, and the producers would like to reflect it in the show.

After the call, I received a little bit more information in a form on e-mail which then followed up with a Skype interview with one of the assistant producers. Then silence begun – I thought, they found someone else. Someone who has had a different story, is older than me and therefore more experienced as an immigrant (not sure if this is even possible!).

A few days later, I got an email to say that BBC has found my story very interesting and they would like to invite me to part of the show.

 A top secret operation

I knew when you’re making a film or documentary, you always trying to keep everything as secret or as much as possible but I never realised, it also involves the actual crew or the “actors”. Other than the fact that it’s a documentary, set in East End of London and involving modern people, not actual actors, I didn’t have any more information.

On one of the Saturdays in April, I got invited to a costume fitting – once again, no information leaked here.  I got picked up from Clapham Junction by a guy in a black suit in a black BMW with tinted windows, he dropped me off at some house, I walked in there, greeted by Mark, a friendly guy with a big smile, I got asked to hand over my phones and then changed into some “very tired looking” (old, well used and worn out) clothes. Some adjustments were made there and then. – So Mark, how is the film set? – I dare to ask. – Great and very real, they have done a great job – says the costume maker. – Anything else, you can tell me. Where is it? How is it? – there is me having a mother go. – Wait till Tuesday and you will find out – said the costume maker.

Once the fitting was over, I got picked up in another unmarked, black car with a man in a suit. Two days later, I packed my overnight bag and went back and headed over to somewhere in East London. I had no idea where I was to go or anything. When I arrived at Stratford Station, I got a text from the production team with details of the hotel. Once at the hotel, I was hoping to find out a bit more but no surprise here, once again, I was told I will find out more at the set itself.

Finally, the big day arrived…

Up nice and early – 6am – the first day of filming is here. Once I had the costume fitted, I got picked up from the hotel by a member of the crew and dropped at some sort of car park opposite to Stratford shopping centre. About 10-15 people were running around some with microphones, others with cameras.

When I was taken to the Slum, I remembered what Mark said, it was very real and well re-constructed. Everyone dressed in authentic costumes from Victorian era, all the machinery, room fixture and fittings were reproduced. As mentioned earlier, I was “playing” a role of a Polish immigrant who arrives to the Slum hoping for a better life then back home. Sadly, I was left with not much money – only £1.27. Back then that got you a slice of bread with margarine and a bed for a night at the dose house. Well, it was a coffin bed.

Over the course of 3 days, I got engaged in various tasks and jobs that earned me a few pennies, enough to get me some food and a bed… on some nights. I have learnt a new skill too (Ps. Potential new business!?) – to find out what it is, you will have to watch the show. As you may know from history lessons, back then immigrants were used as a cheap labour, often working 12-16 hours a day in a very basic conditions, with no breaks, no food or even toilet breaks. They had no rights, no trade unions, no contracts, basically nothing. The employer owned “them” and once he or she had no work for them, they were jobless.

image002 You can do it too…

You can do it too and learn more about the Victorian times – every Monday at 9pm on BBC 2. After months of editing and back end work of amazing crew, the documentary is now being aired. The next, third episode, will feature my arrival and 2 others – Jewish – immigrants to The Victorian Slum. I do encourage you to watch it – firstly, catch up with the first two episodes on BBC iPlayer and then tune on Monday, 24th October at 9pm to see the third episode. It’s going to be an eye opener for you – you will learn a lot about our past and how much life has changed since 1880s.

Personal reflection

I must admit to start with, I wasn’t sure what to think of the whole thing, I was thinking it might be some sort of scam – everything was so secret, nobody wanted to give anything away. As soon as I go there, I understood why the producers didn’t wanted to give anything away.

I have learnt so much about the past and about the British history. Also what it was like to be working and living in Victorian times. When life was so hard and you had to think whether you’re going to get yourself a bed for the night so that ou can be refreshed and ready for the day ahead or sleep rough on a so called hungover bench (a narrow bench with a rope in the front of you to stop you from falling down) but have food for the night. I also have learnt to live without today’s modern communications – for 3 days, I had no mobile phone, no internet, no Facebook or Twitter, no TV and etc. Also, I had no Starbucks or meal deals from Tesco or Sainsbury’s. I simply had £1.27. Rest of it was down to me, how I wanted to play it. There was no script, no plan, everything that you’re going to see is driven by the outcomes of the day. Every tear you will see is natural and real, every drop of sweat was hard earned. There was no breaks for lunch or tea, we were working throughout the whole day and the cameras and mics were on all the time.
I wish everyone could be given this opportunity, as it’s not only an eye opener but will teach you to appreciate everything you have in life and how other had to sacrificed their lives for us. Even though we have everything, we still continue to moan as we want more and more luxury in live.

Thank you…

As my blog draws to a close, I would like to thank the entire team at Wall to Wall for the opportunity of doing some extraordinary, something unique and a once in a life time opportunity. I also would like to thank the BBC for commissioning such amazing programme, the “modern families” that were there with me on the set (I only had to do it for 3 days, most of them were there for 2 weeks!). Lastly and not least, to my wonderful team at GottaBe! for stepping in and keeping the business alive whilst I went back to 1800s – I know it was tough but you guys have made it and I am mega proud of you all. My family and friends who had to wait months to find out what really happened over those 3 days (under the contract, I was not allowed to say a word to anyone about the set!) and you, for taking your time to read my blog and hopefully, tuning in on 24th October to watch me on the big screen and to find out what really, I have learnt… including that skill!

 The Victorian Slum is aired on Mondays at 9pm on BBC 2. 

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