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Still Game’s Greg Hemphill on River Tay wild swimming, becoming a Fifer – and why he won’t rule out a Jack and Victor comeback

Greg Hemphill and his actress wife Julie Wilson Nimmo, who live in Elie, visited Tayside and Fife swim spots to film their new TV series, Jules and Greg’s Wild Swim.

Greg Hemphill (Still Game), and wife Julie Wilson-Nimmo, wild swimming.
Greg Hemphill (Still Game), and wife Julie Wilson-Nimmo, wild swimming.

When Still Game star Greg Hemphill took a dip in the River Tay at Broughty Ferry during filming for his new TV series last summer, he was struck by the power of Scotland’s longest river.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” he said, thinking back to his visit last August.

“It was like a bore tide or something.

“It looked like it was going in two directions.

“The water at the edge of the river was flowing back the way towards Dundee and the water in the middle was flowing out.

“It was incredible.”

Greg Hemphill and Julie Wilson Nimmo with the Dundee Dookers.
Greg Hemphill (far left) and Julie Wilson Nimmo (front) were joined on their swim in August 2023 by Dundee Dookers. Image: Solus Productions/BBC

Hemphill, who starred as Victor McDade in the classic sitcom, Still Game, was in Dundee with wife Julie Wilson Nimmo – who appeared as Miss Hoolie in children’s TV show Balamory.

The couple were recording Jules and Greg’s Wild Swim at locations across Scotland.

Highlighting the rise in popularity of wild water swimming, the show sees the pair travelling to different locations in their campervan, visiting lochs, rivers and bays.

But in an interview with The Courier ahead of the six-part show’s launch this week, Greg said what struck them most on their travels – including Tayside and Fife – was the community of supportive people that’s built up around wild swimming.

“One of the things that I loved about Fife and up to Dundee was you got the sense that wild swimming is something that’s been going on for a long time,” said Greg.

Julie Wilson Nimmo (left) and Greg Hemphill with Soulful Sunday participants Emma and Rachel.
Julie Wilson Nimmo (left) and Greg Hemphill with ‘Soulful Sunday’ participants Emma and Rachel at Broughty Ferry beach in 2023. Image: Lesley Monaghan

“This isn’t some new fad.

“It might be a new fad in other parts of the country.

“It was certainly a new fad to us.

“But it didn’t feel that way when we went to the East Neuk or up to Broughty Ferry and along the Tay.”

What Tayside and Fife wild swimming locations did Greg and Jules visit?

Greg explained how they visited the East Neuk and several locations on the Tay including Broughty Ferry, Kenmore and Aberfeldy.

Many of the people they met had been doing it for a long time.

Even before the Covid-19 lockdown, there were communities of people supporting each other with the social element “probably the most important” factor.

One of the newer groups they met was the Dundee Dookers in Broughty Ferry.

It was set up in July 2022 to provide men with a support group for their physical and mental health.

Greg found it “fascinating” that this “fantastic group of guys” use the cold water dipping experience to stabilise their mental health and as a “sounding board for their thoughts and feelings”.

Greg Hemphill and Julie Wilson Nimmo meet Dundee Dookers. Image: Solus Productions/BBC

He was also impressed with their local river knowledge with cold water safety paramount at all times.

“It was fantastic to be with people that knew the area so well, because every body of water you go to there’s a bit of trepidation,” he said.

“That’s why we are always encouraging, and the people we learn from have always encouraged us, to do it with a group of people rather than do it on our own.

“To be there with the Dundee Dookers – they are checking the tide, they are checking the currents, the temperature of the water – all of those things.

“You are right next to an RNLI hut.

“You always felt like you were in safe hands.”

How did Greg Hemphill and Julie Wilson Nimmo get into wild swimming?

Born in Glasgow, Greg, 54, spent much of his childhood in Canada after his family moved there in the mid-1970s.

This has contributed to his Scottish-Canadian accent.

He returned to Scotland in the mid-1980s to study at Glasgow University where he graduated in theatre, film and television.

A comedian, actor, writer and director, the father-of-two is best known for his work with Ford Kiernan on BBC Scotland comedy series Chewin’ the Fat, and for writing and starring in Still Game as Victor McDade.

Still Game's Isa (Jane McCarry), Jack (Ford Kiernan) and Victor (Greg Hemphill).
Still Game’s Isa (Jane McCarry), Jack (Ford Kiernan) and Victor (Greg Hemphill). Image: BBC/Robert Pereira-Hind

Greg doesn’t remember if people were into cold water swimming when he grew up in Canada.

He swam indoors in winter and outdoors in summer, purely in the interests of “learning how to swim”.

But while this helped him feel “really comfortable in the water”, it was after moving to Elie in Fife a few years ago that Greg and Jules first got into cold water sea dipping at the bottom of their garden.

They became hooked.

“It was a strange one because we’d sort of been doing it through lockdown,” explained Greg.

“Jules started doing it first, and I was getting more and more curious.

Julie Wilson Nimmo and Greg Hemphilll take to the water in Jules and Greg’s Wild Swim. Image: Solus Productions/BBC

“She would disappear on a Saturday night and pack a bag, and on Sunday morning she would go away at 7.30am.

“I would have a pretty brutal hangover on a Sunday morning and she’d be like ‘do you want to come’?

Julie Wilson Nimmo in an ice bath. Image: Solus Productions/BBC

“I’d say ‘no no you’re good. Enjoy yourself’.

“After a few weeks I felt like I’m missing out here.

“Something’s going on. She would come back glowing for the rest of the day.

“Then eventually I kind of got into it!

“We were going on various excursions here there and everywhere.”

How the idea for a TV series came about

Greg remembers one particular trip they made to Loch Ness.

He was “blown away” by how deep the water got just 10 feet from the shore.

As they were driving back, “jabbering and talking” about how much they loved it, Jules suggested they should pitch it as a TV show.

The result was a one-off documentary aired a year ago, and now this six part series commissioned as a follow-up.

Greg Hemphill and Julie Wilson Nimmo at Tobermory, Isle of Mull. Image: Solus Productions/BBC

One of the things they were keen on, says Greg, was that they “weren’t going to be presenters as such in the traditional sense”.

Instead, they wanted it to be “warts and all”, doing their thing without hair and make-up and meeting some fascinating people.

They also didn’t want the show to come across as “preachy”.

They just wanted it to show them having fun.

“We’re so hard wired in Scotland to avoid the water for most of the year,” said Greg, recalling how when he first gave it a try in the sea at Elie one April, he was struck by the cold and thought “this is hard core”.

“Even in the summer you are encouraged to wear a wet suit.

The traditional Broughty Ferry New Year Dook on January 1, 2024.
The traditional Broughty Ferry New Year Dook on January 1, 2024. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson

“When we were going in in the winter, we were only going in for three minutes.

“Yet you felt transformed for the entire day.

“The next day you are like ‘when are we going in next’? It was so instantly addictive.

“I’ve been quite faddy all through my life.

“I can go to the gym for six months and something stops and I don’t go back – I couldn’t even explain to you why.

“Whereas with this I’m thinking I’ll do this until I’m old. It feels like a form of physical therapy.”

What does cold water therapy do to the body?

Science suggests that 15 degrees or below is cold enough to be considered cold water therapy.

While April temperatures tend to be the coldest, that generally means you can swim in in Scotland all year round and it’s considered cold water dipping.

Having been to Spain and Greece since he started cold water dipping, Greg now finds those temperatures “a bit warm”.

“I’m saying to Jules –‘let’s go to Helsinki, let’s go to Iceland, let’s go to the fjords’!” he laughs.

Greg Hemphill.

But the experiences have also got him thinking about the spirituality of the experiences and how, a century ago, tidal pools were commonly used for bathing around Scotland’s coastlines.

While there are risks if not done safely, benefits include increased metabolism, better circulation, reduction of stress and enhanced mood.

“There’s so many different things I’ve been thinking about in the last few years,” he said.

“You do start to think – is this why they started to baptise people in the olden days, in Biblical times, because it felt so good?

“Maybe that’s the reason. I don’t know.

“But it does set your mind wandering into those kind of areas.

Menopausal Mermaids at the outdoor pool in Pittenweem in October 2023. Image:Steve MacDougall/DCT Media

“There’s a stillness and a mindfulness that kind of takes over when you sort of go into yourself and you get this kind of wonderful inner peace in your mind.

“It’s hard not to equate it with some form of spirituality or certainly a physical and mental well being.

“It sort of quietens the noise if you are one of those types of people.

“But there are so many different reasons why people do it.

“Some people do it because they have a sore hip or they’ve got arthritis in their hands, or they are suffering grief and loss.

“Some people come out of the water crying, some people come out howling with laughter, giddy or chatting.

Pittenweem Tidal Pool.
Pittenweem Tidal Pool.

“The water amplifies how it is you are feeling.

“If you are feeling bad, then it’ll bring it to the surface and it’ll bring it out in a very positive way.

“I’ve seen that and I’ve experienced that quite a lot.

“That’s very very moving.

“You feel as if you are in the grip of something bigger.”

Greg Hemphill calls himself a Fifer – and laughs about a run-in with Phill Jupitus

Having moved around most of his life, Greg says he now classes himself as a Fifer.

He loves the people, the climate, the history and the “vibrant community” of the East Neuk, particularly the arts.

Conversation turns to a Courier interview with Pittenweem-based comedian Phill Jupitus almost five years ago.

Phill told The Courier then how he once pulled into a garage in Leven to fill up the car and Greg was there filling up his car.

Comedian Phill Jupitus out the pier at Anstruther Harbour in 2019. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson

After chatting, Phill recalled how when he went in to pay for his petrol, the young man behind the counter said: ‘You are blooming joking me!

“That was him from Still Game and you’re blooming from Never Mind the Buzzcocks!’”

Gregg laughs that he remembers that encounter well.

“A few years before Phill had come to the (Still Game) Hydro show,” he said.

“I didn’t know he was a fan of Still Game.

“He just came to the show and introduced himself.

“Everyone was like ‘oh my God, brilliant, we loved the Buzzcocks and all that’.

Phill Jupitus, Samantha Hynd (Thorntons Investments) and Fred MacAulay at The Courier business awards in 2019. Image: Kim Cessford/ DC Thomson

“We had a lot of mutual friends – people like Fred MacAulay – but we’d never met.

“He said to me ‘I’m moving to Fife’, and I said ‘wow that’s cool, Jules and I want to move to Fife’.

“We were living in Glasgow at the time. I said ‘we’ll maybe see you there’ and he said ‘yeah maybe’.

“Then the next time I saw him was at that petrol station. So I was like – ‘so you did it then’!”, he said with a laugh.

Would Greg Hemphill consider bringing back Still Game?

Jules also still gets recognised for playing Miss Hoolie in Balamory and “loves it”.

People still call Greg “Victor” and he loves that too.

But while he still sees Still Game co-writer and co-star Ford Kiernan all the time – they now run a “Jack and Victor” whisky business together while Ford has been doing other things like dabbling in music – would he ever consider bringing Still Game back?

Still Game writers and stars Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill (right) visited Inverness Telford Street Co-op in December 2022 to meet fans and sign bottles of their whisky and gin. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

“I do miss it,” he said.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’d like to bring it back.

“There’s an old saying in Hollywood that goes ‘people want a sequel until they get one’.

“There’s a difference between missing something and longing for it.

“We didn’t want it just to go on forever like Last of the Summer Wine.

“We wanted it to have a lifespan so the audience would fall in love with these characters for a period of time and then they wouldn’t be there.

“I think the ending was great. It was very moving, for us too.

“I watched it and felt like I was just a fan of the show.

“I was really proud of it as was Ford and everyone else.

“You don’t want to disturb that, and going back to things disturbs those things.

“But having said all that, I’m old enough and smart enough to know that you never say never.

“And that’s my position on it!”

When to see Jules and Greg’s Wild Swim

Jules and Greg’s Wild Swim started on January 10 at 10pm, on BBC Scotland.

Episode two features Fife, and episode three features the Tay with all episodes featuring on iPlayer.