One of the over-riding memories I have of leaving the city behind and arriving on the Isle of Jura is how much time I suddenly spent outdoors. Granted, this may have been largely due to the fact that I was camping out in a damp and leaking old stone cottage, ahead of rebuilding it. But also it was an expression of my new found freedom — walking up hills, running and cycling, and regular swims in the sea.
I repeat, regular swims in the sea. In Scotland.
When we came to think about making the video for the single ‘Take Hold’, which is all about that incredible feeling of liberation, I wanted to try to capture a bit of that spirit — and the idea was born that we should feature some swimming, in particular, some underwater swimming.
The remote island thing necessitates a certain self-sufficiency
Now, in every aspect of life, the remote island thing necessitates a certain self-sufficiency and resourcefulness, and film-making is no exception. Accepting that we didn’t have the resources to do helicopter, crane or underwater shots, we decided that the best way of achieving some ‘effortless’ underwater swimming footage would be to select a pier on the island that gave the camera some height, and jutted out to sea enough so that I could glide past underneath in some deep water.
We selected a pier at Feolin, which is where the ferry comes into Jura, a place which is conveniently deserted in the evenings after the last ferry has taken its passengers for the day. The cameraman took position on the pier and I stripped off enthusiastically and entered the water, only to be shocked that it seemed at least a few degrees colder on this Atlantic side of the island than in the patch of sea I am used to swimming in, at the bay near the cottage. Undeterred, I carried on and did my first 10m underwater. In the wrong direction apparently. Another try. “Could you just go a bit deeper next time?” Gulping, I went back under, splash splash. “Once again, deeper?”
By this stage my eyes were seeing in blurred vision so I elected to close them completely as I swam deeper underwater, surprisingly difficult in the bouyant sea. Despite my legs being half numb, the rocks on the sea bed still managed to impart pretty shocking pain when my efforts took me too close to them — leading to an underwater scene reminiscent of the film Jaws, with blood dissolving in red streaks from my shins and rising to the surface.
I will spare you the descriptions of the subsequent tens of takes, needed for various technical reasons, including me ‘not swimming as well as I was earlier’. Twenty minutes later, with my head imploding with a cold induced headache, I was needing to take a break to attempt to warm my freezing and bleeding limbs. Hardly able to walk, picking through the sharp and crab-infested shallows (getting a vicious nip on the way!), I reached the rocky beach to be faced with an even greater challenge. The Scottish midgy.
Stripped completely naked
You may imagine that being completely numbed by swimming in an arctic cold sea would at least spare you from the irritation of being attacked by Scotland’s finest tourist deterrent. It seems not. The little blighters were on me in clouds and, blessed with a caring wife, I found myself standing on the water’s edge, stripped completely naked and being whipped repeatedly with a towel to try to discourage the midgies from feasting on my shivering skin. I was attempting, with fingers that couldn’t grip, to get a shoe on with one hand and pull on a jumper with the other. You can imagine the scene.
Unfortunately, as I finally hopped back to the Landrover, I realised that three car loads of tourists didn’t have to imagine it. Unknown to us they had booked a special late ferry, were parked by the pier, and had seen first-hand the scene evolving before them. I can just about recall their faces, white with shock, and open mouthed with disbelief.
So, in the future when you watch Rihanna, Miley and me, don’t forget that it can be tough getting your kit off for a pop video.