Apparently the romanticism of Loch Ness with the added draw of a resident monster is something of interest to the NBC television audience in the USA. Add in a wild swimmer and a celebrity presenter and hey presto! a short TV clip is created. I had the privilege of being the wild swimmer and experienced an interesting insight into the world of the TV presenter.
NBC came to Scotland in April 2012, a year ago today, to create a short three-minute clip of Ben Fogle indulging in all things Scottish – buying a kilt in Edinburgh, caber tossing in Perthshire and wild swimming in the Highlands. http://www.today.com/video/today/48118747#48118747
The day Ben (or rather his film crew) chose to visit Loch Ness the weather forecast was overcast with a biting wind and sudden showers. And so it was. We met in the Dores Inn car park at 7am on the 25 April where it was decided to head to Urquhart castle to be able to get the best backdrop.
A really friendly man with a comfortable RIB was waiting to whisk the three film crew, Ben and I the seven miles across Loch Ness to the spectacular castle ruins. It was a nice easy boat ride with an unusual following wind to the boat jetty alongside Urquhart Castle.
Once there Ben pulled out his wetsuit and asked if I was wearing one. He looked quite surprised when I said I don’t wear one. Still, being the consummate professional he was, Ben put the wetsuit to one side and stripped to his blue swim shorts. The film crew wanted to show Ben jumping into the water off the jetty as it would make for a great shot. Ben turned to me for advice and I had to say, in a water temperature of just 5C (41F), it might not be the best idea unless he felt himself to be sufficiently acclimatised. I did add that as an adventurer and explorer who has completed a race to the south pole and rowed across the Atlantic, he would likely know his own limitations.
Ben took the sensible option. He entered the water from the beach at a most impressive pace and with the cheeriest exclamations on cold water entry I have ever heard. I was already swimming and, for the benefit of the camera, waved to him saying “Come on in, the water’s lovely”. Turned away from the camera Ben’s face told a different story. He was definitely feeling pain from the cold. It didn’t help that the wind had increased and the water was getting quite lively.
Chatting while swimming in choppy water and with a significant wind was hard enough. Trying to speak in a voice clear and loud enough to be picked up by the microphone in a boat a few metres away whilst attempting an elegant breaststroke with waves breaking over your face was fairly challenging. After a few minutes in the water the film crew decided they needed us a bit further from shore to get the castle ruins in the same shot so we swam out into the loch….would Nessie pay us a visit?
Ben was starting to shake. Again, his professionalism as a presenter kicked in and he turned on the charm sufficiently for the cameraman to get his shot. He then took the offer of boat assistance to get back to shore. I put my head down and switched to front crawl. The head-up swim had been different for me and I needed to stretch my neck. At the shore we climbed out and went for the towels. As Ben put some clothes on the producer asked if I would mind returning to the water to re-record my opening line ‘Come on in, the water’s lovely.’ I was more than happy to do so and felt a little sad the overall swim had been so short.
Once dressed (isn’t the Robie a wonderfully useful item for a wild swimmer?) we were back onto the boat to be returned to Dores. What a different journey. We bumped along, heading directly into the wind and the waves and it was raining. The skipper offered Ben some big thermal waterproof overalls which he accepted gladly and tucked his head down to endure the return trip. I put on my flourescent work jacket and was toasty enough to enjoy a chat with the skipper. Acclimatisation was the key. I had been swimming in Loch Ness on a weekly basis all winter. Ben had not.
Sadly the Dores Inn was not open for business on our arrival back to the village. Instead we attempted to celebrate the swim with a wee dram of whisky on the beach, clinking the glasses at several different angles to please the film crew. It was a token gesture and the scene got left on the cutting room floor, or whatever the equivalent digital analogy is. I enjoyed the filming more than I had expected. It was interesting to see the team working together in some trying conditions. Life as a TV presenter isn’t as glamorous as you might expect.
I arrived into my office by 8.35am and no one had any idea of the adventure I’d already had that morning. I chose not to share the information and slipped straight into work mode.
The aim of the film clip was to attract Americans to venture north of the border when visiting London for the 2012 Olympics. Did it work? I’m sure Visit Scotland has the figures somewhere. The full clip can be seen at: http://www.today.com/video/today/48118747#48118747 You have to endure the adverts first but can then skip forward to the swimming bit which is about 1:14 to 1:50 – my 36 seconds of TV fame.
I used to wonder how many viewers saw the clip, but I don’t really mind. It was a rather interesting experience and I did my bit for the Olympic cause. It also earned £150 for my channel relay charity, Aspire. A nice boost to my sponsorship total.
The day must have been memorable for Ben too as our swim was the topic of his Country Diary column in the Sunday Telegraph that week. A very interesting read, just click on the picture below and it becomes a readable size.