Channel 4’s desert-island sitcom High and Dry was shot in the Seychelles, an archipelago off the coast of East Africa.
When writer and star Marc Wootton flew there on a recce, it wasn’t the cerulean sea and unspoilt beaches that seduced him – it was an unusual delicacy.
“The taxi driver told us he was having bat burger for tea and that absolutely got me going,” he says. “I thought it was just a joke they tell visiting idiots, but it’s true: the locals eat fruit bat.”
Unlike in the UK, there’s no shortage of bats in the Seychelles and they fill the sky at dusk. Finding them on a menu proved trickier, however. “Our hotel dished up lots of Creole food, which is lovely – wonderful spices, loads of fish – but bat was off the menu. So I bugged the chef until he agreed to make bat curry for the crew.” And? “It was weird. Gamey, bony. There’s a lot of wing to a bat.”
In High and Dry, Wootton plays an overbearing air steward washed up on a remote island with several passengers after their plane goes down in the Indian Ocean. He was inspired to write the series after a long-haul flight.
“I did some live shows in Australia and on my way back I was upgraded to first class by an air steward who was a fan. I quickly realised it was a Faustian pact and I had to become his new best friend. It got me wondering: what happens when you’re captive with someone you don’t want to be with?”
The cast spent a month filming on Mahé, the largest of the Seychelles’ islands at 61 square miles. Blessed with rugged mountains, a lush interior and pristine beaches, it’s home to 79,000 people, almost 90 per cent of the country’s population, but it’s still easy to escape. Every day the cast and crew would sail around the island to secluded beaches, spotting hawksbill turtles en route.
“The thing I really wanted to achieve was a 360-degree shot of untouched paradise, without any trace of humanity,” says Wootton. “So most of the filming was done on a beach called Anse Major, which you can only get to by boat or on foot. It’s gorgeous: turquoise water, white sand, what’s not to like?”
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Nevertheless, there were days when Wootton yearned for a chilly TV studio back home – especially when the monsoon season began.
“You’re doing 12-hour days and six-day weeks in crazy heat. There were a couple of very stormy days when we couldn’t even approach the beach, and the crew had to swim to shore to rescue our equipment. All that beard growth, knackeredness and costume degradation in the final episodes was real – they look like they’ve been through the wringer and they have!”
When he wasn’t hastily rewriting the shooting schedule, Wootton spent every spare moment exploring Mahé. “I get restless on a beach. I’m one of those people that wants to see and experience everything.”
One highlight was a trip to the Botanical Gardens, where you can see native orchids, spice and fruit trees including the coco de mer palm, which is unique to the Seychelles. Its seeds are the largest and heaviest in the world and famously freighted with erotic meaning, while the male trees have phallic-looking catkins.
“There are all sorts of ancient legends about these beautiful, erotic-looking trees. People used to believe the trees grew underwater and that they mated on stormy nights. They’re protected so you need a licence to buy one as a souvenir.”
Another Seychelles native you can see roaming around is the Aldabra giant tortoise. “They’re magnificent. They’ve been around for so long and when you look into their ancient faces it just puts things into perspective.”
So, bat curry aside, would Wootton do it all again if he gets a second series? “Oh my gosh, absolutely – it’s paradise.”
High and Dry begins on Friday 4 May on Channel 4 at 10.30pm
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