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Reviews / Review: Alison Steadman in bird heaven

Alison Steadman with Shetland Nature supremo Brydon Thomason - Photo: Courtesy of Shetland Nature

It’s fair to say Shetland has had a pretty good time of it in TV land in recent years.

Simon King, for example, brought the isles’ notable wildlife to national attention – becoming the unwitting poster boy for Fair Isle hats in the process – whilst DI Perez and his crime drama chums liked the place so much that they came back for a second series earlier this year.

On Tuesday night it was the turn of Gavin and Stacey actress Alison Steadman to bring our little archipelago to the living rooms of Britain, with the hour-long ITV1 show giving those bored witless of the World Cup some respite from the schedule-dominating sport.

With the nibble-happy Luis Suarez grabbing the headlines in the hours before the programme aired, thankfully it was Shetland’s wildlife – and not the Uruguay football team – that inspired the soul come bedtime.

The somewhat prosaically named Alison Steadman’s Shetland saw the 67 year old, an RSPB patron and self-confessed wildlife enthusiast, prowl the isles to check out natural hotspots from the south mainland up to Unst.

The city-girl-meets-country documentary opened with a visit to Sumburgh Head alongside the RSPB’s Helen Moncrieff as an appreciative Steadman checked puffins off on her bird watching wish list – something, perhaps, which locals often take for granted.

There was sea kayaking too, as the actress flirted with self-centrism by repeatedly bleating about how scared she was to paddle through a cave, whilst St. Ninian’s Isle reared its golden head in all of its glory.

Well, it wasn’t quite in full glory, with the April weather often crafting changeable weather and dull skies – but thankfully the land and seascapes managed to pierce through with majestic prowess.

What better to dichotomise the grey skies than with some cutesy token Shetland ponies, which were seen chilling on the Reawick beach with breeder Charlotte Cree-Hay.

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It was extremely cold, as the eight-layered Steadman assured us, but that didn’t stop the young stud owner and her valiant pony hitting the sea to do some lengths in nature’s very own swimming pool.

It was from the westside to Noss, where Steadman met up with some bird counters – ‘You stay here for five months?’ – and then on to over the road from Tesco, where she spotted some sunbathing seals after presumably picking up her messages and probably another jacket to warm herself up with.

Amongst the scenery and nature meanwhile was a romantic meal by a beach fire with local forager Kenny Johnson, who went all Gordon Ramsay on us with some spoot and urchin pasta.

This came after he bamboozled her with some local names – skaadman’s head, for instance – which, as a recurring theme throughout the hour, helped to unearth Shetland’s inimitable quaintness.

There was time too for some otter spotting with Shetland Nature supremo and photographer Brydon Thomason, who playfully put Steadman in her place after some more moaning on another brisk day. “This is beautiful Shetland weather,” he said. “This is what you came for”.

A few chunks of otter poo later and the actress was on the tip of Unst, learning about Robert Louis Stevenson’s links to the Muckle Flugga lighthouse before heading to Hermaness to go full circle and revisit birdsong, which she recorded to reel-to-reel tape as a teenager.

It was there, with a never-ending myriad of gannets swirling nearby and massive parabolic microphone in hand, that the programme ended as Steadman, now in bird heaven, reflected on her time in the isles – a place she had wanted to visit for years.

It’s nigh on impossible to fit Shetland’s nature highlights into one hour, so kudos to Steadman and her team for managing to max out a whistlestop tour of the isles with some top scenery, endearing wildlife and first-rate local knowledge.

Some may have come away from the show having learnt more about Alison Steadman than Shetland itself, however, but those watching on from afar will certainly now be encouraged to follow her trail up north and see the isles for themselves.

The programme can be viewed again via the STV Player at: http://player.stv.tv/programmes/alison-steadman-shetland/

Chris Cope

 

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