Former sprinter Linford Christie describes how he's discovered open-water swimming and the British coast after his Channel relay attempt for Stand Up To Cancer. Interview: Alex Reece

I’m definitely a fan of the Devon coast. I never realised how beautiful parts of the UK were until I started swimming (while appearing on Channel 4’s Sink or Swim in 2019), and they took us to places like Burgh Island. It was the first time I’d been there – I didn’t even know it existed! It made me want to get a caravan or Winnebago and just drive around.

What struck me first of all about Burgh Island was just how beautiful it was. When we arrived, you could walk across to it on the sand, and then when the tide came in, you realised you had to get a sea tractor to get across, even though it wasn’t very deep. And after we had a little swim around, the tide went out again, and it was as if nothing had happened. It was amazing.

How would I describe my swimming level before the show began? On a scale of one to 10, I would say two. But it was a great cause, Stand Up To Cancer, that was obviously the main idea. And they promised me that I’d be able to swim in three months. Now, I love open-water swimming. I became a swim addict. The principles are very similar to running, except when you’re tired on the track, you can stop. In the water, you can’t!

When we were swimming the English Channel, it wasn’t that cold. We wore a wetsuit, which was really good. We did a few lessons in Brighton and I’ve never experienced anything like that, the waves just threw you around. The next day I felt like I’d been in a tough rugby match or I’d just got beaten up. But the Channel itself was nice – we did an hour each – apart from when the weather got bad.

In the first six weeks I lost 10 kilos, so it shows I needed it! I never thought about going on a swimming holiday or encouraging people to swim before (although all my kids can). It’s just one of those things I thought would never happen. It’s given me a lot of bravado, this new life skill.

Linford teamed up with SwimQuest to offer training camps and programmes for people new to swimming and improvers. Visit for more information.

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