The Greatest Show Never Made tells the story of bookseller, 25, who made fake reality show – only for contestants to turn on him
- More than 20 years later, a new documentary is lifting the lid of a 2000 scam
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‘New reality TV show seeks contestants. One year, £100,000. Apply if you’re characterful, resourceful and energetic,’ a small advert in the theatre industry’s paper The Stage read.
It was 2002, reality TV was in its infancy and Big Brother had just aired it’s third season. It would be three years until The Apprentice graced screens.
Hundreds of wannabe stars applied to be in the new show – despite little to nothing being know about it but enticed by the promise of a six-figure sum.
Bu the show, which was never named, never aired.
The advert was place by then 25-year-old ‘Nikita “Nik” Russian’ who had no experience in reality TV or any kind of broadcast production – but instead worked part time in Waterstones Piccadilly.
The documentary lifts the lid on the 2002 con. Pictured, actors playing John, Lucie, Rosy, Daniel, Jane and Tim
Nikita saw his chance to make a quick buck. His plan? Gather three teams to make £1,000,00 in a year. Keep the cash, and then dole out £100,000 to the winner.
A genius scheme it was not, despite hundreds of applications and whittling it down to a key cast of 30, he was ultimately outsmarted by his contestants – who took him hostage and turned the cameras on him.
Now, more than 20 years later, Nik is talking for the first time, as part of a sensational new documentary set to air on Amazon Prime Video this month.
In 2002, Nikita – who isn’t Russian and was born Keith Anthony Gillard in Feltham, Surrey – recruited 30 young Brits who gathered in London with the hope of winning the £100,000 prize.
They had passed auditions on Raven’s Alt – an island in the Thames – where they first met the charismatic and charming ‘Nik’.
With floppy hair and dashing good looks, the ‘fake’ TV producer didn’t tell would-be contestants exactly what the show would be, but charmed them enough to convince them they would find TV fame and fortune.
The 30 contestants quit their jobs for the chance. Some gave up their homes, left relationships and turned up to film with just their passports.
But things went quickly awry when they began to film. Gathering in a London park they were told their task was simple – make £1 million in a year. There was no seed money and no guidance or support.
‘New reality TV show seeks contestants. One year, £100,000. Apply if you’re characterful, resourceful and energetic,’ a small advert in the theatre industry’s paper The Stage read (recreation for the documentary)
Alarm bells rang. And when they were told to give Nik access to their bank account so he could monitor their earnings, two of the three teams immediately quit.
Unexpectedly, they would also have to find their own room and board.
Seven member of the third group decided to keep filming (themselves) and headed to contestant Tim Eagle’s to regroup.
Among them was Jane Marshall, who was 21 and living with her parents near Manchester, at the time.
Speaking to the Guardian, she said she ‘felt like something was missing from my life’ and hoped the show could boost her profile as an aspiring actor’.
Also there was Lucie Miller, then 34, who said Nik was ‘so professional’ and ‘oozed confidence’.
Another contestant, Daniel Pope, then 25, says Nik was ‘a very handsome man who looked as if he belonged in Hollywood’.
After regrouping, they discovered that Nik was not a TV producer – but a part-time book seller. His production company, Nikita Russian Productions, was just him.
Scenes have been recreated for the documentary – pictured is Daniel
Although at one point he had a childhood friend helping him out – he left before filming began over ethical and legal fears. He also had a professional director on board who quit before filming began.
In a bizarre twist, Nikita then turned up at Eagle’s flat, announcing he was homeless and asking if he could stay – angering many of the contestants he conned.
They let him in and for the next week was held captive while the contestants attempted to make their own documentary about him.
They also contacted a news crew to film him and expose the con, with an team from ITV eventually showing up. (Nik has since said he was ‘s**t-scared’ because ‘at least one person wanted to do him serious harm’ during that week, but Tim said ‘no fisticuffs’).
Decided to change the narrative, Tim set up a diary room and the group began making their own show. He put the camera on Nik too.
‘We stuck him in the corner and grilled him until this proper crew came,’ recalls Nik. ‘I love the multilayer madness of that – we managed to hoist him by his own petard and hang him out to dry on the medium he so wished to be a part of.’
Soon after, Channel 4 made a documentary about the con, called the Great Reality TV Swindle, but he didn’t co-operate with the crew.
After it aired, and exposed him, Nik said he was homeless, sleeping outside a cinema and in parks.
Now, 20 years on, the 45-year-old is telling his side of the story for the first time for the new documentary.
Footage from the time, with interviews from today and scenes recreated by actors come together to make the show.
He now goes by Nick Quentin Woolf and lives in Buckinghamshire.
Speaking to the Times, he said that Nik Russian was a ‘persona he was trying out’ and he truly believed in wanting to make a ‘DIY vibe’ TV show.
‘I had an idea, a bit like The Apprentice in embryo. Teams of people pulling together, making money [and] everybody ends up hopefully with a nest egg. People who wanted to be in camerawork could get some camera experience. And people who wanted to be a presenter could be a presenter.
‘I thought: ‘I’ve really come up with a genius idea.’ The problem was I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes [in TV]. There was no funding. I was somewhat seduced by the DIY thing and wrongly so. I was overreaching and naive.’
He added that he ‘didn’t create an illusion’ of a proper production company and denies telling contestants it had been commissioned by Channel 4. He added he had no intention to lead customers to think food and lodging was provided.
Completely unrecognisable from his youth, he says after the scheme he ended up drinking heavily and moved to the south of France for ‘isolation’.
He has since written a novel, The Death of a Poet, about ‘trauma and the consequences of bad decisions’.
Now sober, married and a father-of-two, he writes about culture for online publications and has worked as a writing mentor.
One mentee is Tara Westover, the author of the international bestselling memoir Educated.
The Greatest Show Never Made launches on Prime Video on October 11
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