By Shelley Marsden
EASTENDERS actor turned BAFTA-winning documentary maker Ross Kemp turned his gaze on Northern Ireland and the Troubles to kick off his third Extreme World series on Tuesday.
In the series, which also sees him investigate sex trafficking in India and the crack cocaine epidemic in Brazil, he looks at Northern Ireland fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement.
The programme, which he called “an eye-opener”, saw him meet with people from both sides of the community, and speak with loyalists, republicans and the police as he explores the issues behind its divided society.
He travelled to Belfast last summer with a camera crew, to capture the Orange Order parade through the city on July 12, and walked with marchers towards Ardoyne, the notorious scene of sectarian clashes during the Troubles.
He said: “You’re not aware of a lot of what goes on there over in the UK, and a lot of young people have no idea about the Troubles and the issues that existed in Northern Ireland, so there is a generation of people across the UK that has no idea how dangerous a place it was”.
“For me it was very much about looking at where we are now, 15 years on from the Good Friday Agreement. I hope that we allowed people with extreme views from both sides of the community to have their say and we spoke to people who have genuine grievances, but I really wanted it to be non-judgmental, completely unbiased. There were people who actually thought I’d take sides, but that’s not me and it’s not what I’m interested in,” he said.
Acknowledging that, particularly with the Northern Ireland show, his series was likely to spark controversy, he said he believes lots of people living in Britain today and watching the show have little understanding of the Troubles, and hopes he can change that.
Speaking to Ireland AM recently he said: “If you told them there was a 60-foot peace wall in Belfast they wouldn’t believe you, and even if you told them what the Good Friday Agreement was, they wouldn’t understand what it is and the good I believe that has come from that is something worth celebrating”.
Of Northern Ireland today, the presenter said that from what he had witnessed, divisions persist and will take possibly generations to disappear, adding: “It’s pretty obvious saying this but I still think it’s worth saying and celebrating the fact that I think Northern Ireland, and I went there during the Troubles, is a very different place and a far better place than it was.”
The man who brought us Walford’s Grant Mitchell has been highly praised for the intimate access he gets to often dangerous subjects. Previous programmes have seen him infiltrate Venezuela’s lawless prisons and, when other broadcasters were banned from going there, Ross gained entry to Pakistan, at risk to himself and the production team, to tell the story of the battle for Karachi.
Kemp has said he would not rule out going back to Ireland in future, this time to investigate gangland activity in Dublin and Limerick.
Extreme Worlds, Northern Ireland is available on Sky Go online. Ross Kemp: Extreme Worlds continues on Tuesdays, 9pm on Sky1 HD.