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Don't Try This at Home

Nick Goding is an experienced producer, who spent several years working on Wild at Heart, the South Africa-set hit drama. We caught up with Nick recently, and asked him what it was like to film with a variety of animals, as well as a certain orphaned hippo…

“Throughout the series, we filmed with all sorts of animals, some highly intelligent, and others rather stupid. Some were rare, like the aardwolf, and others more common, such as zebra.  But they were always stunning, and the excitement of working with these beautiful animals was hard to get over at the end of each series. Walking down a British high street in December a few days after filming with lions in the heat of an African highveld is a huge downer.

The scenery, weather and animals were fantastic. The one exception to this is the wildebeest: possibly the most skittish animal of all - wouldn't you be if you were just born to be lion fodder? They were almost impossible to film with as they never did what you hoped or expected. The most fun I had was always with the cats: lions, cheetahs, leopards, rooikats and even the tigers we prevented from going to a circus were graceful and loved to work for their supper.

Jessica the Hippo

It's not really about things going wrong, but the risk assessment of one scene took some writing and planning. The scene was Danny and Evan [played by Stephen Tompkinson and Luke Ward-Wilkinson] running into a waterhole for a swim to cool down, and as they are in the water, a hippo comes up to them, and they run out of the water before it kills them.

To do this we hired the tamest hippo in Africa, Jessica, an orphan hippo who was then about seven, and enormous. But nobody had ever swum with her before, and here we were putting two actors, a camera operator, focus puller and grip into the water with her.

As well as the crew, we had two guys with guns to ward off the crocodiles which might have swum into the filming area. I'm glad to say it all went to plan, and has been the subject of much dinner-table chatter since. I now think we were mad to attempt it, but proud to have achieved it in relative safety. It's not something you can try at home, is it?”

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