A couple of years back I appeared in an episode of Hotel Babylon, where I was the swimmer stunt-double for the lead actress.
It was an…interesting experience.
Film and TV sets are funny places. If the people high up are in a good mood, this positive vibe will trickle down to the peasant folk. If not, then the atmosphere can be pretty tense.
Arriving on set at an ungodly time in the morning I was asked to change into the supplied swimwear and swimcap and stood next to the actress I was standing in for, for a compare and contrast session.
I was told my scene wasn’t to be filmed until later, but that I should probably stay in my swimwear, so for the next 5 hours I pottered around in a delightful (!) dressing gown with my swim cap half on half off my head.
Eventually I was taken down to the pool area, where Dexter Fletcher greeted me with the comment “Ah the shoulders of a swimmer!”.
The pool looked more like a large bath, and the freezing water was barely waist high.
Discussing the scene with me the director issued extremely detailed instructions stating, “So er…if you could just dive in and swim a few strokes quite fast…we’ll shoot a few scenes and should be done!”
I enquired which strokes he would prefer: butterfly, freestyle, breast-stroke; seeing as the character was meant to be of an Olympic standard surely the scene should look as authentic as possible.
The director looked at me like I was speaking the language of The Clangers.
There were several large lights placed inside the pool and wires strewn all over the place. I’m not quite sure how that all got past (past or passed? I should have concentrated more in grammar class) health and safety but in showbiz anything goes!
With my ill-fitting goggles on and cap firmly wedged almost over my eyes (thanks to the make-up department who weren’t even sure how the swim cap should be worn by a professional swimmer – I felt rude pointing out that they had the cap inside out) I could barely see a thing and did my best to dive confidently over the camera-man who was standing IN the pool, into the shallow water.
Blinded by the lights in the water I couldn’t even see the wall to turn, and the cap was so tight I was effectively deaf. I couldn’t hear “Action!” or “Cut!” so at one point the camera-man had to grab me by the feet to stop me.
Not at all embarrassing.
After several re-takes it seemed like the team had got the shots they needed and I was looking forward to drying off and tucking into some food.
But that dream was not to be.
I was allowed to remove the cap and googles, but was told to stay in the wet swimming costume in case they needed me again.
Oh but I was given a towel.
Now I make a point of never complaining on set. I’ve had pins almost stuck in my eyes, been burnt by a fabric steamer, had clumps of hair pulled out, been unable to breathe in a ridiculously tight corset, and had an allergic reation to an over-dose of fake tan.
At a costume fitting for a period drama I was told that I should refrain from plucking my eyebrows for the next month. Even though I was only being used for one day. I should point out that my eyebrows do not resemble the overly-plucked look so therefore would not have been out of place in the era that the drama was set, and furthermore, I was unaware that my role was so important that the camera would be taking a close up of my brows.
Anyway I digress.
I sat shivering in my wet swimming costume for over 2 hours (not complaining at all) until a kindly make-up artist took pity on me and asked if I was alright. Seeing me speaking to her, one of the crew came stomping over and rudely stated that I would have to stay in the costume until they were finished. Fortunately, the make-up artist retorted that if I got pneumonia I could easily sue them. He quickly changed his tune.
Still the finished product was surprisingly good and at least when I’m old and wrinkly I can look back at this clip and prove to my grandchildren that once upon a time I was fairly mobile!