LAST NIGHT’S VIEW: Living with the Amish…

Following on from last year’s successful series, Channel 4’s Amish, World’s Squarest Teenagers – which followed a group of Amish teens as they sampled life in Britain – comes Living with the Amish, also on C4. Review of Living with the Amish And this time the tables are turned as we follow a group of ‘typical British teens’ as they spend six weeks living with different Amish families in the US.
Having met our six teens, the first episode kicked off as they went to stay with Jonathan and Marietta, a sweet Amish couple who hope to have five children eventually (but God hasn’t blessed them yet.)

Narrated by Jonathan – and for those who didn’t watch last year’s programmes – he explained the Amish live by sets of rules that ‘help us lead a simple Godly life.’ And there are rules for everything – from getting up at 5am ‘to make the most of the day’ and stopping work on the dot of 7pm for evening meal – to the clothes the Amish wear to dating (no sex before marriage), no electricity (although they did have a generator to run a washing machine…) and no cars (they use horses and carriages.)

Our teenagers therefore had to don the required hand-made clothes and hats for the boys, bonnets for the girls, remove all jewellery and make-up and of course hand in all their iPods, mobiles and other essential gadgets. Life with the Amish consists of no television, only home-cooked food, and a day full of regimented routine. Women are expected to take care of the house, gather food, sort the laundry, sew and bring up the children. Men till the land, farm, build the homes and bring in the firewood.

Charlotte, 18, explained she wanted to take part in the experience ‘because life seems so complicated at home.’ She confided to Marietta she worried what she looked like, even with make up. The episode also focused on James,17, who at the age of 14 had gone into foster care and now lives in a hostel. Then there was Siana, 19, an undergraduate, Hannah, 17, a Christian who was ‘questioning her faith’, George, 17, who is schooled at Eton and Jordan, 18, a student.

Quite apart from the fact that it is always interesting to see how other people live, the Amish way of life is fascinating for two main reasons. One, could any of us cope without the Internet, TV, our mobiles and so on? And then many of us surely dream at least sometimes of paring our busy lives down.

How wonderful the Amish way of life does appear. After all, everyone knows their place. If you’re a woman there is no complex decision to make about whether to return to work or not after having a baby. For a man, too, satisfying physical hard work is what you will be doing, no questions asked. No pressure to earn more money, do well in exams – and as one Amish woman explained, there is a huge sense of supportive community.

Happiness for an Amish woman is found in keeping the home clean and tidy, doing the laundry, the washing up, the housework. Charlotte, shown sunbathing in England as her mum painted her nails, confessed she had never washed up in her life but was grateful to Marietta for ‘teaching her.’ Meanwhile, she discovered she enjoyed hanging out the washing.

Most poignant was James – we saw him in England alone in his hostel bedsit – in Jonathan he found someone who was patient enough to teach him how to fish, listened to him and valued his input.

Only Siana, who was born in Sierra Leone and whose mum had come to the UK to give her a better chance in life, dug a little deeper. “it’s a bit too quiet, a bit too slow,” she observed as the teens embarked on a day’s fishing, “I don’t feel individual… I feel as if a chunk of me has disappeared. I think I’d go nuts if this was my life.”

Much as I adored the series last time – and perhaps it was because I remembered that so well and therefore how the Amish live isn’t new to me any more – but as the fishing scene went on a little, I found myself agreeing with her.

Watching Amish, World’s Most Square Teenagers I marvelled at how wonderfully simple their lives were – and idyllic. But this time I felt as if I’d seen it all before and much as I wanted to be inspired, I confess I was the tiniest bit bored.

Alison Smith-Squire

What did you think of Living with the Amish? I would love to know … why not leave your view below…

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Hayley Okines in a new TV documentary this week…

Featureworld interviewee Hayley Okines appears in a CHANNEL 5 documentary on Thursday this week.

Hayley Okines meets Justin Beiber

Hayley with Justin Beiber. Photo: Copyright Featureworld

Hayley Okines, who has a condition known as progeria, which makes her age eight times faster than a normal person, stars in Channel 5’s documentary, Extraordinary People, this week – and it is set to be her most moving documentary ever.
This programme, The World’s Oldest Teenager, follows Hayley to the USA where in the New Year she is to try a new drug. Forever Young could transform all of our lives as it could enable everyone to live 20 to 30 years longer – and Hayley, who will be 14 in December, is to be the guinea-pig to bravely trial it out. It takes nerves of steel for her mum Kerry, because there could be side-effects no-one knows of. At the same time, it could transform Hayley’s life. When doctors diagnosed Hayley as a toddler, it was estimated she might not live until her 13th birthday. Now, although nothing can reverse the rare genetic condition she suffers from – which causes arthritis and hip problems as it prematurely ages her – it could give her the chance of a future.
At the same time this incredible film, which is narrates by Hayley herself, follows her as she meets fellow progeria sufferer Harry Crowther. Since meeting a year ago the pair have struck up a strong friendship and regularly keep in contact on Facebook. They are helping one another through their life-threatening illness.
Hayley is also shown with her brother and sister – who don’t suffer from the condition – and as a normal teenager. And in that way, she is just like any other girl of her age – she adores clothes, make-up, Facebook and Twitter – and is possibly singer Justin Beiber’s greatest fan. Last Christmas Hayley, who now often wears a blonde wig when she goes out, met Justin Beiber and was delighted when she got this photo of him!
And like any other teenager she and mum Kerry fall out sometimes. “Hayley is tiny so I find it hard to let go,” says mum Kerry, “I don’t even like her going on the bus by herself into town – but of course she wants to just like her friends.”
Meanwhile, Hayley, who is recognised wherever she goes and even has her own Wikipedia page, is shortly to have her autobiography published. Old Before my Time, written by Hayley, her mum Kerry and writer Alison Stokes, will be published on 24th November by Accent Press and includes two eight page sections of full glossy colour photos.

Read more about how Featureworld has helped Hayley Okines raise awareness of progeria here: Hayley’s story.

Are you the parent of a child with an unusual condition? If you would like to raise awareness contact me here: Sell My health story.

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Sell Your Story UK is looking for writers…

Do you work in Public Relations? Are you a literary agent, a TV director who makes reality documentaries or a producer of a daytime TV chat show? Perhaps you are an intern working at a PR company or on a magazine? You might be a trainee journalist on a local paper. Maybe you are an expert in website Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or gaining publicity on Facebook or Twitter? Or you might be working in a busy charity press office or running a successful blog. If so, read on…

Sell Your Story needs writers

Gaining publicity for you...

When I started this blog 18 months ago it had just a few posts and a handful of visitors a day. But today it has over 1000 pages and posts, is currently viewed by just under 10,000 unique visitors a month and its popularity is fast increasing. It began as a way for visitors to sell my story website Featureworld to read the stories behind the headlines – to read what happens when people sell their story to the press – and that will always be its first premise. But, when I began, I also wanted Sell Your Story UK to become a helpful resource for anyone considering selling their true real life story to a magazine, newspaper or television. At the same time, I wanted to help non-fiction authors, charities and small businesses gain publicity for free.
Today I am regularly asked the same questions time and again – how do I become a journalist? (it was so long ago for me that I don’t think my experience of becoming a tea girl at a press agency straight from my rough comprehensive is relevant any more…), how do I break into TV? what are literary agents looking for in a non-fiction book? how can I find a ghostwriter? can a PR agency help establish my brand? what’s a typical day like for a film editor? … numerous questions allied to the field of real life journalism that I can’t answer!
So I am now on the hunt for ‘experts’ to write a short piece on their field for Sell Your Story UK. In return for helping me build up the valuable advice sections on Sell Your Story UK you will gain a dofollow link to your website, some free advertising for your company, blog or yourself and hopefully some new fans or new business.
Incidentally, don’t be put off if you don’t love writing. If you don’t want to pen your own small piece, I can email you a template of questions or someone can ring you and have a quick chat on the phone.
If you have an idea for a blog for Sell Your Story UK either email me directly at or fill in this quick form Here.

Britain’s Tallest girl – see her on TV …

Featureworld interviewee Jessica Pardoe, who is Britain’s Tallest Girl, appears in an amazing mini TV documentary. Just released this week, you can view it here…

Jessica Pardoe on TV

Jessica's amazing height is shown on TV...

This incredible film might be in German! but I must say it is one of the best little films I have ever seen about one of my interviewees and Jessica is thrilled with it. Unsurprisingly despite only be uploaded to You Tube a few days ago, it has already had 20,000 views – and that was last time I looked…
When you sell your story through Featureworld, I will always give you the option of placing your story in the worldwide press and media. And unsurprisingly, given that at 6ft 9″ Jessica is actually one of the tallest women in the world, her story has been of interest abroad.
So I wasn’t surprised when a colleague of mine from Explosiv, part of the German RTL network, said her story would be of interest to them.
I negotiated for a camera crew and an interviewer from this well renowned TV Station, to spend some time with Jessica and the result was this amazing mini documentary for national German TV. In it we see Jessica more than head and shoulders above her friends, trying on clothes and shoes in High St shops, at home with mum Lisa (who is 6ft but actually manages to look petite next to her daughter) and driving (yes, Jessica manages to squeeze those long legs behind the wheel – just!)
Meanwhile, Jessica is about to appear in her first fashion shoot. And through Featureworld she is also set to be modelling for a major fashion brand. Watch this space…

Watch the video: Jessica Pardoe on TV

Jessica is just one interviewee I represent at Featureworld. Read about Jessica and others here: Press Representation at Featureworld

And if you have an incredible story to sell worldwide, contact me here: Alison

Last night’s view 23 week babies – and story in The Sun

Should 23 week babies be resuscitated or allowed to die? Featureworld interviewees Carla Hart and partner Antony Brown talk about their experience with baby Jed in an article in THE SUN newspaper today.

Sell your baby story to the Sun

Featureworld parents join in the debate...

Carla and Antony, the parents of Jed, who was born at 23 weeks and is now an adorable and healthy toddler, have joined other mums and dads of premature babies who were upset at last night’s BBC2 documentary.
The documentary followed a number of parents who’d given birth to babies at this crucial 23rd week – which is currently on the cusp of life. But although a well structured documentary, which showed a surviving baby, one fighting for its life and one which, despite doctor’s best efforts, died shortly after being born – it struck me as somewhat one sided.
Seemingly edited to side with the view of the narrator – basically he claims 23 week babies should be left to die as it would spare them pain of treatment, and save the NHS money as so many grow up disabled and then need expensive care – it somewhat demonised parents who naturally wanted their child to live.
This was done by cutting to various medical staff who were ultimately critical of these parents, saying out of earshot if it were them, they would let their 23 week baby die.
And I was also rather baffled by one medic’s view that ‘we have reached the stage where we can push nature any further.’ Really? Thirty years ago IVF was just a dream; when I had my first child, the abortion limit was 28 weeks. So I found this an odd view from a professional – after all, whether we like it or not, science is always progressing and pushing boundaries so might well find a way to do without a uterus altogether in future. And so I’m sure in future younger babies will survive and doctors will perfect their treatment.
There was also a glaring anomaly. We had a physiotherapist saying such children, if they are disabled, are not given adequate funding on the NHS to help. She talked a lot and made it sound as if thousands of adult 23 weekers were in this situation, that it was a huge problem and sucking the NHS dry. But then we were also told that hardly any 23 week babies do actually survive (the narrator using this argument to further prove trying was also pointless as they usually died anyway after a few weeks) and it is only in the last few years such babies have been treated. And I can think of many other things that cost the NHS far, far more. Alcohol for one…
Which brings me to the main point. If you are ill tomorrow and become disabled, should doctors decide you might be too much of a drain on the NHS and let you die? Where do you draw the line?
Yes, life isn’t perfect. It might be painful and involve a struggle. But even if their premature baby does die, parents I’ve spoken to all say they need to feel they did all they could to give that child the chance of life.

Read about the 23 week twins

Read other recently sold stories: Archives

Has your baby beaten all the odds? Let me know about it here: Sell my story

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Last night’s view: Country House Rescue and Junior Doctors…

Perhaps it’s because my own ‘kids’ are aged 22, 20 and 19 – but I do feel young people often, wrongly, get a bad press. So it was refreshing last night to watch two programmes, which showed people in their twenties in such a good light.

Last night's view - Channel 4's Country House Rescue

Country House Rescue

First up – the new series of Channel 4’s Country House Rescue. This is where Ruth Watson visits a usually crumbling and dilapidated old mansion where the family is at odds over the best way to save it. It’s an appealing programme not only because of its nose into how the other half live, but because it’s the only time when you come away relieved you don’t live in a rambling old castle.
Last night’s episode was no exception as we took a tour of historic Wyresdale Park in Lancashire and met the traditional James, his wife, Sally and son, Jim, 29. The estate had fallen into disrepair and now father and son were ‘at war’ over how best to keep it afloat and pay for the repairs. James, a farmer, admitted they needed more income but stated, ‘I don’t like anything commercial’ whereas son Jim, who organised large music events and lived in a trendy part of East London, felt the best way forward was to knock the crumbling out-buildings down and hold events there. Mum Sally – interestingly, she’d met the wealthy James as a student when he was her landlord and she rented one of his many properties – saw both sides.
The programme developed into perfect Sunday night viewing (preferably watched with tea and a cream scone) as Ruth worked out a plan to develop the outbuildings as a tea room (for the stream of ramblers rambling past the house), mini farm and arts and crafts shop. It was lovely to see son Jim, sensitive enough to his father not to battle on about his events, and welcome this idea. Incredibly, some 1000 people turned up on the day. That said, whether serving teas in a tent on a regular basis to eke out a living was quite what pink-faced wife Sally had in mind when she married James remains to be seen…
BBC 3 - Junior Doctors review

Junior Doctors

Meanwhile, BBC3’s Junior Doctors makes emotional viewing. This week’s programme has concentrated on how the young doctors cope with death and realising they can’t save everyone’s life. We saw Lucy genuinely moved when she discovered one patient was dying from pancreatic cancer and Adam trying to make a patient’s last days as comfortable as possible. But surely the most watchable is laid-back Jon, who despite his generous size (you do worry for his health when you see him sweating as he races down the corridor to a cardiac arrest) seems to take every emergency in his stride. And the quiet confidence he exudes makes you forget he is fresh out of medical school.

To be in a documentary programme yourself click here: Casting Directory

Read recent stories sold through Featureworld: Archives

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Last night’s TV – Channel 4, The Model Agency…

As part of an occasional series I am going to look at TV programmes and topical stories in the press. And what better way to start – when this week the size zero catwalk models debate has once again hit the headlines in the national press and magazines – than Channel 4’s real life fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Model Agency.

Sell story about modelling.

The Model Agency is on Channel 4

First, I must confess aged 17 – and shortly before I trained to be a journalist – I did some modelling myself. Incredibly Carole White was my boss and Premier was my agency. It will be very interesting to see if in the later episodes of this series, it actually follows the day in a typical model – which as I recall was endlessly spent sat on the Tube going from one casting to another. I discovered I hated sitting for hours while my hair and make up was done and the whole experience was soul-less and lonely. You get the picture – it wasn’t for me.
The agency swiftly decided I was hardly going to be top model material either. Unlike India – the 16 year old model in last night’s programme who went awol on her first assignment in New York – when after about a year I chucked it in, I don’t remember anyone begging me to come back.
Last night, aside from a few videos of the ethereal India, we learnt from Carole and her staff of ‘bookers’ that this was a girl they’d spotted and nurtured from the age of 12. They’d waited four long years for her to grow up and finally she was about to be launched as the latest hot property. But then a crisis! India, who had flown to the US for her first ever job, sent the woman who ran the New Face’s department an email. India felt sick. Worse, she was sick of modelling and wanted to return to school.
The tearful New Faces lady -somewhat bizarrely as she had a perfectly comfortable office within touching distance – sat crumpled on the pavement outside trying to convince India in a long-distance phone call to carry on. After further hand-wringing, she even flew to New York to persuade India to stay – and one would imagine try to salvage the investment and the thousands they’d banked India would make the agency in the years to come…
She told us she was often closer to the girls than their mums were – but this time India flew back home with her real mum…

Do you have a story to sell about modelling? Perhaps you went to a modelling agency and were told you were too fat? Or maybe modelling has changed your life? Sell your story here: Sell my story

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