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Robson Green and Jim Murray on fly fishing in Scotland – and how the hobby got them through dark times

Robson Green and  Jim Murray officially opened the salmon fishing season on the River Tay at Kinclaven Bridge, Meikleour. Picture: Kim Cessford.
Robson Green and Jim Murray officially opened the salmon fishing season on the River Tay at Kinclaven Bridge, Meikleour. Picture: Kim Cessford.

Ahead of the salmon fishing season opening on the River Tay, actors Robson Green and Jim Murray caught up with Gayle Ritchie to chat about their shared passion for the hobby.

Robson Green is grinning from ear to ear. He’s just arrived at the Meikleour Arms for a warm-up, having enjoyed a spot of chilly fly fishing on the River Tay.

It’s the night before the official opening of the salmon fishing season, and Robson and his best buddy – fellow actor Jim Murray – have been putting in a bit of practice.

“Fly fishing is IT for me really,” says Robson. “I don’t want to do any other kind of fishing. It’s about feeling at peace with yourself and the world around you.”

The Grantchester star, who fronts Channel 5’s Extreme Fishing, exudes warmth and charisma. His blue eyes twinkle, his smile is wide and generous and his laugh is loud and genuine.

Sitting in a cosy snug in the Perthshire hotel with just Jim, photographer Kim Cessford and me for company, Robson seems relaxed and happy, keen to talk.

Robson and Jim in the Meikleour Arms. Picture: Kim Cessford.

Jim, meanwhile, is an avid angler whose face lights up at the mere mention of fishing (and the sight of a pint of local IPA brought in by a waitress).

The Cutting It star, who will play Prince Andrew in the next two seasons of The Crown, became firm friends with Robson in 2017 when the two men worked together on BBC drama Age Before Beauty. They bonded over their love of fly fishing and talked about doing a show – a veritable “angling odyssey” – together.

They travelled across Iceland for 2021 ITV series Robson and Jim’s Icelandic Fly Fishing Adventure and are now working on a six-part follow-up British series with Scotland’s rivers featuring in two episodes.

“It’s going to be imaginatively called Robson and Jim’s British Fly Fishing Adventure,” says Robson.

“It’s so ‘Ronseal’: it does what it says on the tin. We wanted to call it ‘In Flow’, but the commissioning editor thought people may think it’s a show about plumbing or incontinence.”

What it focuses on largely, explains Jim, is “two guys fishing in Iceland baring their souls.”

And, over a platter of venison terrine and a couple of coffees (and another pint for Jim), the actors share some of their stories.

Salvation

For Robson, fly fishing was his salvation during one of the darkest periods of his life.

Thrust into the media glare when he was in 90s TV drama series Soldier Soldier, he struggled to cope.

“It became a real monster,” he reflects. “More than 23 million were watching it and I couldn’t go anywhere without being recognised. I wasn’t able to switch off. I was acting all the time. I sought solace in drugs and drink and had real addiction issues with alcohol and cocaine. I needed help.”

Robson Green and Jerome Flynn in Soldier Soldier.

At that time Robson was unable to articulate his sense of self, of who he was, and struggled with recognition – feeling he always had to give people a certain energy, a smile, a wink; to meet their expectations of his character.

“I went to a really good therapist, this great guy from Norway, and he helped me through it.” he shares.

“He said ‘You need some time to be you, to be yourself. We talked about how I used to go fishing as a kid, how happy I was fishing with my uncle, and my dad, and he said, ‘Have you ever thought of going back to that?’ So I went back to it and it was kind of my salvation.

“It got me through a really dark period, an unstable time in my life. I find real peace in it, and the older I get, the more want to do it.”

Robson Green. Picture: Kim Cessford.

These days Robson thinks twice before he says yes to work, and he finds that liberating.

“I was recently asked to do an audition and I asked myself, ‘Do I want to go to America? Do I want to spend a lot of time overwhelmed with self-doubt whether I can do this anymore?’,” he frowns.

“I’m in a situation now where I want to do something that makes me genuinely happy rather than stressed.

“And knowing the one concrete thing is that Jim and I are going to go fishing around some of Britain’s most idyllic locations is incredible.”

Navigating grief

Jim too found fly fishing helped him navigate grief and trauma and was a powerful healing tool after he and actress wife Sarah Parish lost their first daughter in 2008.

“Ella-Jane was only alive for eight months. I struggled and was lost emotionally about how to grieve for a few years,” he laments.

“I went off fishing, just for a couple of hours, to escape the humdrum and general malaise that was our life at the time. Then I realised the escape – fishing – was the thing I needed. And so I kept escaping more and more.

“It wasn’t about catching fish. But slowly and surely it helped. It took me a long time to realise I was getting better and my mental health was improving every time I went fishing, rather than just because time was healing wounds.”

Jim and Robson talk candidly about how fishing helped them navigate dark times. Picture: Kim Cessford.

It was while he was in a river south of the Yukon on the northwest coast of Canada in the middle of winter – it was about -12C – that Jim had something of a “moment”.

“I realised – it’s fishing that makes me tick. I came home and thought – if it’s helped you, it can help other people.”

Jim studied what’s known as “flow”, a term coined by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and describes a state of complete immersion in an activity.

“I realised if I spent more time in ‘flow’, which sounds a bit woo, that it could help me get over that negative traumatic experience, and that I should tell more people about it. It gives me peace, clarity and happiness.”


Season opener

Robson and Jim were honoured to open the salmon fishing season on the Tay at Meikleour boathouse on January 15, having been invited by Claire Mercer Nairne, owner of Meikleour Estate.

The opening – featuring a piped procession and traditional whisky blessing – was hosted by Meikleour Fishings and the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board.

It was a particularly special occasion, marking 100 years since Georgina Ballantine landed a 64lb salmon on the Tay following a two-hour struggle on Glendelvine Water. It was the largest recorded from a British river with rod and line.

“To be invited in the centenary year is incredible,” says Jim. “Sadly I don’t think there’ll be another 64lb fish caught any time soon.”

Robson and Jim raise a toast at the official opening of the Tay at Meikleour Fishings. Picture: Kim Cessford.

Meanwhile Robson describes the ceremony as a celebration of those who care for the river.

“The fact there are thousands of healthy Atlantic salmon travelling up here every year is testament to the people who look after it. And I believe if you look after a river and take care of it, it’ll look after you.”

Zoila Brozas (Robson’s partner), Robson and Calum McRoberts (head ghillie) head out to cast the first line of the opening of the salmon fishing season on theTay at Kinclaven Bridge, Meikleour. Picture: Kim Cessford.

However, he also tells me – with his tongue in his cheek – that it was the Tay that “put him off” fly fishing a few years ago.

He needed to learn how to Spey cast (a casting technique) ahead of filming an episode of Extreme Fishing in Canada and booked a lesson on the Tay.

“I put a rather large fly with a treble hook into the ghillie’s ear!” grins Robson. “He said, ‘How on earth does an untutored ham like you get a fishing show?’ I’ve injured a few ghillies – and myself – a lot. I’ve been to A&E a few times.”

‘A beautiful bar of silver’

It was Robson’s uncle who taught him to fly fish and his advice was to slow everything down, and think about “Strauss and the Waltz”.

Humming a tuneful rendition of The Blue Danube, Robson adds: “He said, ‘listen to the music’, and it worked.”

He’s been fishing Scotland’s rivers for years, and remembers seeing someone catch a 30lb salmon on the Tweed when he was a wee lad. “It was bigger than me! A beautiful bar of silver,” he beams.

Jim, Robson and Zoila Brozas (Robson’s partner) officially open the salmon fishing season on the Tay at Meikleour. Picture: Kim Cessford.

And while Jim made his first trip to Scotland just 12 years ago, he says, “being a Murray”, the country is in his family’s narrative.

He laughs: “We wear kilts but we don’t live in Scotland, so we’re a bit pseudo plastic Scottish. But Scotland is like a second home. It appeals to all the things I love, beyond fishing; the scale of it.”

Sense of connection

Both agree fly fishing isn’t all about the catch – Robson had his excitement with Extreme Fishing; it was all about the trophy. Now it’s about a sense of connection

“It’s a necessity for me,” reflects Robson. “It’s a natural connection. You feel at home on the water. You realise home isn’t a building or the city that surrounds it; it’s a feeling and you feel you belong there. It just feels right. There’s something very beautiful visually about fly fishing. You kiss the water. Although when it’s blowing a hooley and hailstoning you do question it.”

It’s a natural connection. You feel at home on the water. You realise home isn’t a building or the city that surrounds it; it’s a feeling and you feel you belong there. It just feels right.”

Robson Green

Their fishing documentaries are not just about two guys messing around on the water, says Jim. There’s a bigger responsibility.

“A lot of the rivers are in dire straits, whether through over-abstraction, sewage or chemical pollution. It’s spreading awareness about the increasing struggle they’re going through; we’re keen to get message across that our rivers need support.

“We need more activist anglers to get involved and our next series will be about encouraging that. It’s also a chance to showcase the splendour of our rivers to people who don’t have the opportunity. Those who are struggling in life whether through addiction, or perhaps being homeless. Those in minority groups.

Jim cracks open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the opening of salmon fishing season on the Tay. Picture: Kim Cessford.

“We’re lucky enough to go out, indulge in our hobby, and make TV shows and share our experiences with other people.

“And as much as acting is noble, entertaining and saying beautiful words – a real privilege – the older you get, the more you sometimes think it’s a bit silly to be dressing up and pretending to be someone else. Fishing is grounding.”

Fishing on the Dee

Robson and Jim are taking part in FishDee24 in June – a 24-hour fishing fundraising marathon on the River Dee where anglers compete to raise funds for work to reverse declining salmon numbers and support the entire ecosystem.

“Fishing at twilight will be fun!” remarks Robson.

Robson made the first cast on the River Dee at the season opened in 2020. Picture: Kath Flannery.

Sink or swim

Another passion shared by the actors is wild swimming. (Robson made an ITV documentary about his aquatic journey through the wild waters of Britain in 2009).

He was inspired by his father – “an amazing swimmer” – who threw him and his brother into the Tyne when they were young.

“It was either sink or swim. But dad was an incredible swimmer. And so like fishing, wild swimming stayed with me ever since.”

Jim gets his cold water fix from daily freezing showers. “I’ve had one pretty much every day for five years since Robson suggested it,” he says. “I always have that sense of anxiety before getting under the water but it’s worth it for the feeling afterwards.”

The Crown

Before the pals head to dinner, they can’t resist telling me about Jim’s audition for The Crown. The thought of it makes them fall about laughing.

“We were on the Dee, and all I wanted to do was relax, detach myself from the acting world and go fishing with my best mate,” recalls Robson.

“Then Jim told me he’d been asked to audition for The Crown and asked would I read the part of The Queen. He went off for five minutes, got his head in the right space and when he came back, my jaw hit the floor. I went, ‘Oh my God, it’s Andrew! Even before Jim uttered his first line of dialogue, I knew he’d got it. He altered his hair, the way he looked and composed himself. He’d transformed into Prince Andrew. We read it and he smashed it on the first go. I was on Loch Broom at Ullapool when he sent me a message saying he’d got the part.”

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown.

Jim says he’s playing Andrew “before THAT period” and is excited about clinching the role.

“A character’s a character,” he muses. “If I was asked to play Hitler and I thought the script was very pro-Nazi, I would think twice.

“But The Crown by its own caveat states ‘this is fiction’. We’re not getting into the inner psyche of Prince Andrew. It’s more a mural of royal life at that time. It’s a great opportunity. But when I got offered the audition, I thought, Christ, this is going to get in the way of fishing, and then I thought, ‘It’s for The Crown, it’s a big deal.’ I love a challenge.

“And by the way, Robson does the best male Geordie Queen ever!”

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