The intensity of the atmosphere around last year’s Twelfth parade past Ardoyne was the most surprising aspect of filming in Northern Ireland, according to documentary maker Ross Kemp.
Speaking ahead of the Extreme World episode being shown on Sky 1 HD tonight, the EastEnders star turned TV hardman said the news reports he grew up with could never convey the depth of feeling which exists in the two opposing communities.
The hour-long programme – the third of six featuring troubled regions of the world – examines opposing cultures in Belfast as well as the threat posed by dissident republicans in Londonderry.
At a press screening of the episode in Belfast yesterday, Kemp said shadowing the PSNI at Ardoyne from early morning on July 12 until the early hours of the 13th had made a lasting impression on him.
He said that although he had grown up watching news bulletins of the Troubles, he “had never really grasped the intensity of it”.
He also said he was shocked at the number and size of the peace walls in the city. Residents on both sides of the walls said the opposing communities had fared better than their own as a result of the peace process.
The programme includes PSNI helicopter footage of loyalists attacking police lines close to the Ardoyne interface after the decision to halt the parade was upheld, and features behind-the-scenes access to the Shankill Protestant Boys flute band as they prepare for the annual Orange Order celebrations.
Bandsman Gary Lenaghan tells Kemp he views nationalist opposition to expressions of unionist culture as “a war without bombs and bullets”.
According to the programme makers, the aim of the Sky team was “to discover what makes some people, on both sides, so unwilling to let go of the past”.
On Kemp’s Ardoyne experience, they said: “Accompanying the police, he experiences how those caught in the middle attempt to keep the peace as the bottles and bricks rain down on the first of four nights of protest.”
In Londonderry, he meets Gary Donnelly of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement who warns that a return to full-scale violence in Northern Ireland is possible as “the causes of conflict remain”.
Asked if his time in Belfast and Londonderry had put him off ever coming back to visit Northern Ireland, Kemp said: “I’m hoping I do come back here – I really love this place.”
l Ross Kemp Extreme World is on Sky 1 tonight at 9pm.
NI ranked among extreme hotspots
The Northern Ireland documentary is the third episode in the third Extreme World series.
In the first episode of the current series, Kemp travelled to India to investigate the sex-trafficking industry – where hundreds of thousands of girls and young women go missing every year and are forced into a life of prostitution in the country’s major cities.
In the second episode, he visited the Pacific Ocean state of Papua New Guinea – regarded as one of the most dangerous countries in the world – where he was confronted by armed hijackers and said he genuinely feared for his life.