THE BIG INTERVIEW | ALI HAMIDI
As an angler, Ali is probably one of the most recognisable faces in the media, thanks to his numerous and excellent appearances on mainstream TV. His knowledge and determination has led to the pastime we all know and love having a very important platform, which is not only entertaining, but also vital to encourage participation in fishing. Behind his larger than life persona, he is a very intelligent, skilled, and talented individual who has done an excellent job for his employer, Korda, and for angling in general.
Ali and I have known each other for well over 15 years, stemming back to the days when I was a junior reporter covering the BCAC for Angling Times. His friendship with Rob Hughes and Jon Jones, who ran the event back then, led him to be at the final at Dovecote Lake near Milton Keynes, unsurprisingly, to do some filming. Since then we cross paths on a regular basis at various events, filming, and other occasions, and more recently, during the production of his hit book, The Carpers’ High. It is a huge pleasure to interview him.
You’ve always had a connection with Angling Publications, so when and how did that come about?
Tim Paisley tells a slightly different version of events than I remember, saying that I used to phone the office every day, trying to get a feature published. What happened was Gaz Fareham got an article published in Carpworld, and at the time, we were both really interested in getting stuff published, so I wrote a piece on fishing big silty meres.
I was living up north then, doing my degree, and thought I could do with a bit of extra cash. The person I approached was Julian Cundiff. I saw him at a carp show, collared him, and he told me to send it in. So, it was Jules who saw my first articles, and he actually signed it off, so it went in. I got a proper taste for it, and wanted to write loads, and I got masses of good feedback from people.
Back then, if you had something in Carpworld it was mega; there were only magazines, not all the other media platforms. The response to anything was really good, and once you’d been in Carpworld, you were on the way. I wrote about several of the meres, including Redesmere, and bumped into Crowy, who said: “Well done on those articles, fella.” I always tell Jules and Crowy how important they were, and I don’t forget that. That was the start of my journey, so when it came to doing my last book, The Carpers’ High, I wanted to publish it with Angling Publications. I could have gone another way, but a part of me is as loyal as a dog, so that’s why I did it with AP.
After that, I did another article simply because I was so in love with carp fishing, which was a thing called Carp Fishing Legends. If I remember, I wrote about four or five people who I thought were special. I sent it into Jules, who said he liked it, and would run it by Tim, who knocked it back. He told me that to call carp anglers ‘legends’ was wrong, and it never appeared. By that time, I had a series in Crafty called Ali Hamidi’s PVA Workshop, which Crowy had given me. Then Ian Poole stopped doing BaitWorld, and I took that over, so in a very short period of time, I’d gone from nothing to having a regular column in both magazines. I was working at the time, and time was very short, but I look back at it with fondness, and a little horror at the diabolical pictures I used to send in.
Was it your experience at Sky, or your marketing background that made you think you had something to offer angling?
I was at university doing marketing and sports journalism, and was really keen to get into that sort of thing. But from a young age, I was into drama, business studies, media, and PE, so it was a combination of all that, plus my love of fishing, that sort of guided me. I did my dissertation on the promotion of carp angling, and Tim will remember because I phoned him up and interviewed him, simply loads of question on all sorts. I should really look it out.
In my second year, I had to find a work placement, and I thought it had to be something special, not just doing something rubbish at the local fishing shop. I’ve had kids ring me up at Korda wanting to do just that, and I’ve told them to aim high, and go somewhere like Google or Apple, which will look amazing on a CV.
I went to Sky, and as you know, I’m not the shyest of people (much laughter on the tape), so I quickly made loads of good contacts. At the time, I burst into the office of Roger Moody, one of the big cheeses at Sky, with a pile of fishing DVDs and said: “Have you got 5 minutes, fella?” Of course, you are meant to have an appointment, not wander down the corridor and pop in, especially as I was on work experience. Anyway, he was so taken aback by my courage he told me that if I ever got support for a fishing show, with my enthusiasm and ideas, I could have one.
That was it for me, and I went all out to get backing. I spoke to Tim, Rob Hughes, and others, and ironically, I got Rob into Sky and he took the opportunity, and sort of said, “Thanks, you can piss off now.”
By then I was working in marketing, and didn’t want to move to London to work at Sky because I could earn more where I was, but I kept my contacts at Sky. That was my trump card when I came to Korda – the TV element – and it’s something I’ve always built on.
Did you have interviews with anyone else before you went to Korda?
At that time my career was going really well, and I was already a marketing director for a company. One of whose clients was an event management company, which actually had PlayStation on its books, so, I ended up getting job offers from both companies. I was living in Spain at the time, and didn’t really like it, so was looking for something else, and I was missing my fishing. There I was with two great job offers, from two mega companies, then I saw this advert for a marketing role at Korda.
I knew Damian, and he’d known me since I was a kid in Essex, not actually a good thing. I don’t think he realised just how far I’d come; he just saw me as this annoying little kid who he’d seen around the lakes. I applied for the job, and to be fair, my CV was so much better that anyone else who’d gone for it: experience, knowledge, qualifications, including a Masters. So I went for the interview, but I think Damo was hell-bent on me never ever getting it, and he even told Dan they wouldn’t employ this guy. However, after the interview, even though they’d already offered the job to someone, they said, “We’ve got to give it to him.”
It was a match made in heaven, but I’m not sure Dan would say that, or Damian for that matter. They say I’m high maintenance, but they know I mean well, and my heart is in the right place.
Can you enlighten us to how the Korda/TV relationship came about?
Underwater had started before I arrived at Korda, and really reflected Dan’s philosophy. He’s one of the few people willing to put his money where his mouth is, and is passionate about giving information. People always talk about the Korda marketing machine, and it came into existence to provide information to all. He’s always written things well before Korda was a big entity. You probably know better than most because you worked with him for ages. If he tied a rig using a particular product he said the name, regardless of whose it was. Then Korda started making products, so obviously, he talks about them. People often criticise him, but they don’t realise he is still just giving information, which is the same ethos he’s always had. No one gives better technical information than him.
Going back to the original question. He did the State Of The Art videos with Frank Warwick, then the Underwater series, which really catapulted Korda to the next level, but it was just Dan doing what he loves.
As I said in the beginning, I had connections at Sky, and told Dan that I could get us on TV, and that’s where Thinking Tackle was born. We got the contract, but we were still paying for it, and Dan was investing in producing the videos. We got a bit of help and support, but back then we did all the editing at Sky. Now we do everything in-house. We have multiple editors, cameramen, the full bit – we are our own production company; there are production companies out there that are smaller than Korda. We have loads of projects on the go all the time, and we spend millions on creating information, and still get criticised for it.
Without Dan’s foresight and support, I would have just been the little lad who went to uni with loads of ideas about fishing, none of which would’ve seen the light of day. In the end, we did nine series of Thinking Tackle, and we were going to go into a tenth when The Big Fish Off arrived, and Monster Carp came into existence, which really killed it.
When did the celebrity side come into the equation? It’s a big step from technical fishing programmes to lifestyle-type shows.
Once subscription telly took on the repeats (which has been going on for 10 years now), we got something on terrestrial telly, which was the next big step, and something I’d always wanted. I want to support fishing, and luckily, Dan and Damo are the same and want fishing to grow from a grass roots level. To get to these people you have to go via TV they are already watching, so that was the challenge. We wouldn’t get on there with a show like Thinking Tackle. We might watch it, but your missus or mum won’t. Basically, something for anglers just isn’t for the mass market, so that’s where I had to get my thinking cap on.
A director who I’d done some work with, a guy called Nick, actually came up with the celebrity idea. We’d presented a few things to ITV, and the one they liked was with me and Dean coaching. It was the celebrity thing that swung it really, as it was safe ground. We were going to use people who either did or didn’t fish, and pit them against each other, very much the reality angle. The idea was that even if the viewer didn’t like fishing, they would watch for the celebrities competing. This was where we created friction with the angling market because there were guys on there from things like Made in Chelsea, and they might not have liked it, but it served a purpose.
Now it’s gone from strength to strength, and we will soon be filming the fourth season. For us it’s a breakthrough because the commissioners like it, and the number of female followers is massive, which is just great. It means that we have the support to keep doing it.
How did you actually find the celebrities, was it through your friendship with Mick Norcross?
Yeah, it was Mick, who was in Towie, his son Kirk, Tamer was Mick’s friend, David Seaman was my mate, and Scott Maslen you already know. It was down to loads of networking, which is one of my real strengths; you know me, I aim high and get them by hook or by crook.
You were working with proper celebs, as opposed to angling guys, so what was that like, and were there any prima donna moments?
I can say that there wasn’t one, nothing remotely like that springs to mind. They were guests who I really loved and we hit it off instantly, and there were others who I won’t be going out for a drink with. But that’s just normal, it’s like people in an office. There are people I’ve become friends with, and stayed friends with. In series 3, which is on now, there are people like Kell Brook and Ricky Hatton who I’ll be friends with forever more. We really did hit it off.
That sort of leads into another question. You must have the most enviable contacts list there is, but who are your friends?
My real mates are from my everyday life, and regardless of where I’ve been or what I’m doing, I can’t wait to get back to my missus, and my local mates who were at my wedding. Just normal folk from my local scene. I make friends from all walks of life, just like anyone. I have fishing mates, people I meet at football, and guys from The Big Fish Off. Mick Norcross and I have been friends for ages; Jamie O’Hara from Big Brother hasn’t been on any of the shows but he’s a really good friend of mine, and came to my wedding. Tamer is a good mate, and although we don’t see each other for months, we will have a catch-up and a good night out.
I really hit it off with Kell when we filmed, and was at ringside when he fought Golovkin. I gave him a hug when he got out of the ring. There are some bonds with him, the same as there are with Deano, and the boys who I do Monster Carp with. Tom and I have been mates since he started work here when he was 16. He’s like my little brother, although he’s definitely wiser than me.
We’ve talked a lot about financial investment. How do you feel this has been beneficial to Korda as a brand, and angling as a whole?
Without a doubt, there’s a certain kudos about being on television; it’s the fickle world we live in. People sit in their lounge, and when you suddenly appear on their TV, that’s a big deal. If they just see you walking down the street, it’s not. It is just the world the media have created. I looked into all these things when I studied, and what influence it all has on individuals. That’s how we come to love the likes of footballers.
We see a massive positive affect from it, but I find it hard to put into words. I can be out clubbing with the wife, and groups of lads are there star-struck, and I wonder why. I’m just a bloke who goes fishing. I even get stalked in the supermarket. My mates who aren’t into fishing think it’s mad; we can go out to watch boxing, and a gang of 10 lads will stand-up and shout my name. It isn’t all from fishing, it’s from being on TV.
Monster Carp is a show I love, and it excites me as a carp angler. How did it come about?
The logistics of it were epic, and for ages I was at loggerheads with Dan. The focus of the show was moving away from doing the technical stuff, and I had to tell him it couldn’t go on air as he wanted it because it wasn’t what the guys wanted. Then I went filming with Dan, who was the lead of the show, and that was a weird dynamic. It was hard to deal with emotionally, because it was very uncomfortable. I was telling him what to do, and Dan is a leader of people, he doesn’t get led. I’m like that as well, which puts me in a very strange position.
The whole concept of the show was very Top Gear. Three mates travel the world, and it not just about the fishing; it’s about the emotion, the shared experience, the adventure, and reaching the finish line. Even though it’s called Monster Carp, it’s not about that, it’s about what makes these trips so special. I think Tom summed it up at the end of the Japan show, with me, him, and Pecky, and he said, “The adventure is in the adventure.” It’s a funny little quote, but one that really does get it, and resonates with me completely.
The episodes were filmed in a different order than they appeared; the Japanese one, which was filmed last, went on first. It was actually the Hungarian one, on Balaton, that was done first, and at the time there was no agreement with any TV company, just Ali’s dream. We set off filming hoping we’d got it right. I’d sort of planned and had written the opening bit that I read at the top of the show, and that was the script. We were trying to achieve mystery, travel, culture, and adventure.
By the fourth show, we knew it was going on air; they loved the Hungary show, so I had a template, which includes all the stuff that adds together to create the big picture. The scenes we create away from the fishing are as important as the fishing; it’s like the glue to bond it all together.
I hadn’t realised it wasn’t commissioned, and that you weren’t following a plan you’d been given. In fact, it’s only now that I realise you were creating it all on the spot.
Both The Big Fish Off and Monster Carp were created from scratch, and the risk was solely Korda’s until we got approval. Now when I come up with an idea, it’s far more relaxed, because they know I have a track record. Two shows have been big successes, so it’s built a bridge. I understand them and know what Korda are trying to achieve, so everyone gets the best result.
When you are spending someone else’s money, there’s so much pressure, which is what I’ve been doing. I had to come up with a concept and pitch it to Dan, with no proof I was right. The good thing was that I had good support from Dovey, Spooner, and Damo, who could see it, but even though Damo was asking what there was for Korda in all of it. However, we’ve gone past that, and we have a never-ending stream of things that we do purely for fishing. This TV thing needs to be a great watch and enjoyable, plus you can’t have a show that’s biased. I think that Monster Carp is totally justified editorially because they are my mates. I’m not going to do it with people from different companies; it needed to be done with friends for it to work, and we had to prove that.
Where do you see angling on TV going in the future?
It’s hard, but I don’t really look at what other people are doing. I’m so engrossed in what we are doing, and want to make it the best it can possibly be – interesting, exciting, and turn on people who aren’t into angling. Basically, I want to show all the reasons why you should get into fishing, whether it’s travel, adventure, adrenaline, culture, even companionship, whatever channel you choose. The more avenues there are, the better the telly, and the more likely someone is to give it a go. That’s where Monster Carp ticks all the boxes.
I do have some other ideas that involve other species globally, but at the moment I want to draw people into coarse fishing. In the next series, we have a dabble after other species, but that’s more about the culture, and which angler would turn down the chance to try something different?
What do you think about the general quality of other angling that is on TV now?
River Monsters was definitely a plus for us in getting on to ITV; because they did so well it opened the door for other fishing-related shows to be given a chance. Robson Green was another one, and he had massive viewing figures, although most anglers didn’t like it. However, if you ask the lady next door, either that or River Monsters is what she watched and remembers. That’s exactly what we want to achieve, but with more fishing integrity because we use proper anglers, in real situations, but at the same time we want it to be a household name and appeal to all.
Both those shows are positive elements to getting more fishing on TV, but you still have to have the know-how of delivering top-class telly. It’s not like any fishing brand can just go up and have a chat, you have to have had the CV. Most people haven’t got a clue as to how hard it is to catch a fish for the cameras. In fact, they actually think it’s easier than normal fishing. As Darrell Peck puts it: “It’s fishing with the handbrake on.”
Most memorable TV moment?
From a dramatic point of view, it was the end of series two of The Big Fish Off, when we caught the arapaima with Ricky Rayment. Although it was from a commercial venue, it was the whole thing, and it went mental from the moment we hooked it. The line went around a feeder, we had to jump in the lake – everything happened. The feedback from the whole thing was tremendous and everyone loved it. It was heart-in-the-mouth stuff, and the moment it went in the net I just knew it was something really good. The director looked like he’d seen a ghost and didn’t know what was happening. The braid was tangled everywhere, including around our legs, cutting into them. One minute we sitting around chatting in the intense heat, and the next, got two people were swimming underwater, trying to follow a fish. It was just mad, but excellent all at the same time.
As a contrast to that, what was the worse moment you experienced?
To be fair, I’ve had a really good run, and never felt like I was staring into the abyss. I’ve had a few where we’ve struggled, but I’ve never had a show where we’ve caught nothing. These days, a show like that just wouldn’t see the light of day; it would be the worst advert for fishing. In the Thinking Tackle DVDs, there were a few gruellers, and I can remember arguing that they couldn’t go on air. Everyone else thought they were fine, but if I’d have been the commissioner, I would have turned it down. The truth is that it was all good.
Bit of a change of tack here. Angling politics – love it or hate it, and do you think there’s a place for it in angling?
I think it’s unavoidable, but I try not to get involved, although I do get dragged in occasionally. I keep my nose out because for me it’s pointless, and you aren’t going to solve much. Stuff like the fish from Rob Hales’ place, with people sending death threats because a bloke caught a carp. That’s really beyond belief. I always joke about it at my shows; I’m a legal import, and I turned out alright! So, how can people say that their carp is better than anyone else’s? If you think that, just crack on.
There are many different people with a variety of backgrounds, with X amount of fishing time, but they all deserve to go fishing. Just let them get on with it, and fish for what they want to fish for. If it’s not hurting anything, was brought in legally, and doesn’t threaten the rest of the country’s stock, then let them get on with it. It’s actually a form of fish racism – it’s like the EDL of carp fishing!
Do you support any angling bodies, and if so, which, and why?
Obviously, I’ve supported the PAG for a number of years, by doing talks and stuff. Since then, Dan has created Embryo, which I’m behind. The Angling Trust is on the radar, because of my England Team connection a few years ago, but I haven’t done much since. Cards on the table – what do I think the AT has done for fishing? Not a lot. The fishing industry itself has done more than they have, which is the same as FIPS.
When Korda sponsored the England Team, I went out filming and saw what it was all about, and I was embarrassed. The World Cup I went to in Portugal was like going to a local club match, and it only meant anything to the guys who were there. You build it all up, with gold medals and trophies, but it didn’t mean anything because FIPS hadn’t communicated with any of the angling media globally. It was just a match, jobs for the boys, and I remember getting very animated with the head of FIPS about the whole event. I think angling as a whole is in the dark ages, and some of the bodies running it are too!
I must admit that when Korda got involved with Team England, I thought it was going to be a huge success. What went wrong?
I was really behind backing it, but I was sold the dream from inside the England Team. We weren’t involved in anything apart from financial and media support. When I actually went there and got involved in things, I thought it was terrible, and FIPS were doing nothing. It comes down to the fact that it’s only as good as what the home nation can do.
FIFA do everything with the World Cup – sell the TV rights, tickets, all sorts of things. That’s from the inside going out; this thing was from the outside going in. As long as FIPS is like it currently is, there is no vision, and match fishing will be kept in the dark ages. I said this to Dick Clegg until I was blue in the face, and I told the AT the same.
I had a vision for what I could do in the fishing industry, with massive support and great colleagues to work with to make it come true. At the other end of the spectrum, things like the AT and FIPS have an opportunity that they are making nothing of. It’s a real shame because it would be great telly, and I know Rob Hughes is now trying really hard to do that. However, the governing body are doing nothing, which is the bit that frustrates me.
On that controversial point, what has does the future hold for Ali?
Hopefully, down the, line a family, but if not, loads of dogs. If I’m lucky enough to have a family, awesome, and then loads of dogs. I love what I do, but it is really stressful; I love the people I work with and the company I work for. On the dog front, I’d like to do my bit for charity, and help stray dogs abroad. Maybe I’ll do a TV show about helping dogs one day – who knows?
That’s a great answer and it’s really made me smile. Fishing-wise, have you got a bucket list of places to go fishing?
It depends on which type of fish you’re talking about. I went to the Amazon with The Big Fish Off, and would really love to go back there, I like going to the Florida Keys, and would love to own a boat out there one day. South America; I think there’s some great fishing to be had there, as long as the commercialism and need for food doesn’t ruin the ecosystem.
Carp fishing-wise, I’d love to go back to Iran and make a Monster Carp programme. I haven’t been back since I left aged 6, so to return and meet my family would be an emotional little number. When you talk about the size of carp in the world, and draw a circle around SE Europe, Russia, Asia, and northeast Africa, you probably have the biggest natural-sized carp in the world. That’s the sort of place I’d like to try.
On that intriguing note, Ali, let’s wrap it up. Thank you for your honest and eye-opening insight into your world. Cheers fella.