Below Deck’s Irish star Daisy Kelliher: ‘Some guests behave appallingly badly. Some crew will fight and flirt’ – The Irish Times

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I am texting with Daisy Kelliher, the Dublin-born woman who has a starring role in Bravo’s reality television show Below Deck Sailing Yacht. “Daisy” keeps being autocorrected to “Faust”.

Probably everyone who appears on any kind of reality show has made a type of a Faustian deal with the network. In return for money, exposure and potential fame, you rescind your privacy and autonomy for a number of weeks while filming. After that, you surrender into the unknown blue yonder of future media attention when the show airs, and then repeats of the series in different territories.

In the case of Below Deck, a hugely successful franchise, the show follows the “upstairs” guests who charter super yachts for a couple of days, and the people “below deck” who serve them: the chef, stewards, bosun, deckhands and the captain, who commutes between the decks and whose word is god-like.

It all started 10 years ago, and now the show has several franchises that film around the world. There is Below Deck Mediterranean, Adventure, Down Under, and Sailing Yacht, and filming locations have included the Caribbean, Australia, Italy, Spain, Malta, Thailand and Norway.

Kelliher is the chief stewardess – the equivalent of head of housekeeping – of the interior of Parsifal, the yacht the network has chartered several times for Sailing Yacht. Series four streamed earlier this year. We have just sat down together to have lunch in Balfes, in Dublin’s Westbury hotel. (Superfood salad with prawns, a glass of white wine, and sparkling water is her order. Margarita is always her cocktail of choice on the show.) Will there be a fifth series?

“I can’t say,” she says.

Kelliher might be contractually bound to keep quiet about whether she was filming this summer or not, but no such gag order applies to punters on TikTok, who have posted clips of Parsifal in Ibiza in recent months, camera crews clearly visible on deck. We can, I think, be pretty certain there will be another series next year, and that Kelliher will be in it.

There may be several Below Deck franchises, but to date, Kelliher has been the only Irish crew member to appear in any of them. Lively, opinionated, self-confident Kelliher has a distinctive South Dublin accent, which carries. “People might not recognise me at first, but they do a double-take when they hear my voice,” she says. I think some of those people might be in the restaurant with us: the lovely staff are very, very attentive.

So how do you get scouted to be on a reality TV show? Kelliher had already been working in the industry for years. “I worked on two boats that travelled the world; three years on each of those. In between I did Med and Caribbean charters, French Polynesia, the Baltic States, Indonesia. I’ve worked for multimillionaires and billionaires.” She laughs. “I try to work just for the billionaires.”

I ask if the crew – who must all have former real-world job experience on boats – are cast by Bravo with an eye to stirring drama. Pretty much all crew members on the various shows I’ve seen are easy on the eye: Kelliher herself is smiley and gorgeous.

“I don’t know how the casting process works, but they are definitely looking for honesty, openness and vulnerability,” she says. “They ask things like, ‘Are you open to having conflict with someone? Are you open to having a romance with someone?’”

Ah, the conflicts and the romances. Charter guests come and go, but the crew are on board for the full six weeks of filming. There is conflict and romance aplenty. Chefs in particular seem to be adept at both. Kelliher herself this past series had a rocky romance with a cast member, engineer Colin MacRae, which ended spectacularly badly. She also had an ongoing flirtation with the man-baby first officer Gary King, who is under the illusion that all women find him sexually irresistible. (Mics capture every cringe-making sound of sex between crew members.)

“Everything is non-scripted,” says Kelliher. “Obviously, it is all edited to be more interesting. And you can be absolutely sure on any given season that some guests will behave appallingly badly, and that some crew will fight and flirt.”

Most actual real charters involve people chartering a boat for at least a week, and possibly longer. (If you are a billionaire, chances are you’ll own your own super-yacht.) The format of the Below Deck show is that no charter is longer than two nights. This allows for the maximum permutations of difficult/drunk/high-maintenance/occasionally normal charter guests. The one who pays the bill is called the “primary” at all times by staff. And the bill even for two days for six or eight guests is astronomical: fifty grand? Sixty grand? More? Probably more.

Why would any members of the public choose to drop a shedload of cash and also lay themselves open for ridicule by allowing their charter to be filmed? Some charter guests behave appallingly – trying to make sexual advances on the crew, jumping into the sea while drunk at night, fighting and yelling with their fellow charter guests – to take just three examples. (The person who jumped in the water was made to leave the charter by the irate captain.)

“We do ask each other that all the time. I guess people who come are fans of the show. Reality TV is huge in the US, and Below Deck keeps getting bigger. It’s an experience for people to be part of a show.”

What is it like being filmed 24 hours a day? (The camera crew work in shifts of four at a time, and none of them sleeps on the boat.)

“Surprisingly less intense than you think. You are so busy that the formula works, working such long and hard hours. They do sometimes get in the way, but they will always step out of the way for us and let us do our job. We are told never to look at the cameras. They are so strict with the fourth wall.”

This fourth wall was famously shattered in the latest series of Below Deck Down Under. A female crew member, Margot Sisson, had passed out drunk in her bunk after a night out in between charters. Male crew member Luke Jones – the bosun – climbed naked and uninvited into her bunk. The production team intervened for her safety. Jones was taken off the boat and immediately fired.

What about the money? On top of the charter fee for the boat, the “primary” leaves a tip at the end; always an envelope stuff with cash. No wire transfers or Revolut here. Who carries that much cash these days? Charter guests on reality shows. The visual drama of wads of cash is essential. Tips for a two-day charter are $15,000-$20,000 on average, and are shared out among all crew, including the captain, which seems odd. Working in international waters, it’s tax-free money. But the real question is: how much do the crew get paid by Bravo for filming?

“Not as much as a Housewife!” says Kelliher, referring to the Bravo franchise Real Housewives. (Her own favourite reality show is The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.) She won’t disclose how much she earns from filming, except that everyone gets paid differently, depending on their responsibilities on board, in the same way an ordinary charter salary scale would reflect.

“On a normal charter, on a boat the size of Parsifal, I’d be looking to earn about €6,000 a month,” she says. Obviously, these are not normal charters, so it seems likely to be a multiple of that. Cast members do not receive any royalties when shows repeat, or are streamed, or sold to other territories.

I definitely regret the wine. The more nervous I got, the more I was using it as a bit of a crutch

So, given Kelliher’s extensive former experience of working on boats before filming, how accurate does she think the show is at portraying what really goes on with guests and staff during these high end charters?

“I think it is quite accurate,” she says. “The pressure cooker element is obviously turned on. There is drama and conflict and romance in every industry. The show is edited down from hours and weeks of footage, and there are ‘hero’ edits and ‘villain’ edits.” She says she thinks her portrayal on air is fair, while pointing out “so much is left out”.

The series usually ends with a reunion show. The fourth series of Sailing Yacht’s reunion show was filmed via Zoom while the show itself was still airing (one episode drops per week). During the reunion show, it was clear Kelliher and MacRae had had an acrimonious end to their relationship, and it was uncomfortable viewing to watch her become increasingly heated and distressed as filming continued.

“Yeah, it started about two in the afternoon and went on for hours. The aim was to have a glass of wine, but several hours later, I had finished the bottle,” she says. “I knew I was going into filming feeling quite vulnerable. I definitely regret the wine. The more nervous I got, the more I was using it as a bit of a crutch.”

Is there enough duty of care for cast members during and after filming?

“I always get into trouble when I answer this question,” she replies. “I think for me there is, but there are massive concerns for younger people. I am not sure if everyone knows what they are signing up for.”

Definitely a Faustian bargain.

Below Deck is on Now TV and Netflix

This content was originally published here.

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