WITH their wild terrain and pristine beaches, the remote islands of Uist are considered one of the nation’s best-kept secrets.
But the Outer Hebrides were almost overrun with celebrity presenters last autumn after the Covid pandemic curtailed globetrotting.
Joanna Lumley recalls today how she bumped into Jeremy Clarkson, James May, Richard Hammond and their 45-strong crew as they filmed The Grand Tour on the six-island chain, which has a total population of just over 5,000.
The trio also crossed paths with comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, no doubt keen to catch some of the area’s abundant trout and salmon for their BBC2 series Gone Fishing.
Just weeks later, Dame Darcey Bussell would make the 40-mile journey from the mainland for her new Wild Coasts Of Scotland show.
And Romesh Ranganathan also visited the Outer Hebrides – namely the isles of Skye, Harris and Lewis – for his Christmas BBC show The Misadventures Of Romesh Ranganathan.
Clarkson recently quipped how the Outer Hebrides ‘must have done pretty well out of Covid’ in terms of visitors – a sentiment not disputed by publican Alan Graham, from South Uist’s Orasay Inn.
‘We’ve had a lot,’ he said. ‘Obviously, these kinds of programmes help us. We always appreciate the publicity it gives us. ‘There is no doubt about it, this is a very interesting place to visit.’
Ms Lumley, whose previous travel shows have included sailing the Nile, admits in today’s You magazine that the travelogue market is saturated. ‘Michael Palin kicked it off,’ she says. ‘But now everybody’s doing it. Stephen Fry, Sue Perkins – you name it, somebody’s been there before you. The world has become very small in terms of what has not been done.’
Ms Lumley had planned to make a documentary last year retracing the ancient spice route, but ended up filming at beauty spots across the British Isles during the brief lull between lockdowns.
Her Home Sweet Home launched on ITV last week, highlighting the best of the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and Essex.
Patricia Yates, of VisitBritain, said: ‘These programmes are very good at finding out the expected and the unexpected and, of course, always looks beautiful. Having a personality that connects you to it is always a real positive.’