Last Night’s TV – Simon King’s Shetland Diaries

by Lynn Connolly

Though the concept isn’t new – sending a well known TV personality off somewhere to live like the natives do – there’s a certain something that makes this new show very watchable.

In the first outing of this new series, we saw the perennially happy Springwatch presenter Simon King taking himself, his wife and young daughter off to live in Shetland for a year, primarily so that Simon could be near the otters that live in large numbers there.

And why not; Shetland is beautiful. It’s got a Wuthering Heights feel to the scenery and there’s the added bonus of having some rather spectacular flora and fauna which includes the otters of course but also whales, gannet, terns and sea urchins.

On the downside, when the weather takes a turn for the worse in Shetland, the immortal words of Peter Kay really are appropriate; “Gerrin! It’s spittin’!”

Because when it begins to spit rain, you can almost guarantee it’s going to be shortly followed by horizontal driving rain, the sort that gets you wet through, and may well be accompanied by winds so strong, you may not be able to stand up. The sort that may blow you to your death.

However, the King family are the dictionary definition of perfect, so they’re emotionally well equipped to deal with adversity. Simon and Marguerite have a mutual admiration club going on that’s touching to see, and their daughter Savannah is a beautiful little girl in whom a love of nature and all its faces is being nurtured.

But there were times in last night’s show when it seemed that choosing Shetland for something of a sabbatical/busman’s holiday looked like a very bad plan if you have a young child. For instance, there was a tense moment when it looked like the family and their car might well get swept into a swollen and potentially lethal river.

And their hunt for a suitable home didn’t go so well either, with two being entirely unsuitable for a couple with a young child and the third – which they eventually chose – being custom built for midgets apparently.

In fact, the downsides to living on Shetland are legion; there are few, if any, inside loos, it’s dark for around eight months a year and being a neighbour of the North Pole, though Father Christmas may make it his first port of call, few other people do. So it’s lonely, isolated, freezing cold and miserable. But again, it’s beautiful. Enigmatically so.

But wherever there’s beauty in nature, there’s a flip side of brutality too, and that became apparent when an arctic tern was injured and a call to the RSPB drew the conclusion that Simon should “put it out of its misery”, so he did.

However, there was beauty again in the otters and they are Simon’s real passion. He enthused about them so much, it was quite infectious. And they were very sweet to watch as they enjoyed a feast of crab and frolicked in the shallows.

So as we left Simon et al at the end of this first show, he and his family were being welcomed into the community and sharing in the delights of a festival during which a replica of a ship is burned as homage to the Viking ancestors of Shetland.

I can’t wait to see how they’re getting on in the next installment.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.