Actor, documentary-maker and gameshow host Ross Kemp on what it was like to shake hands with ghosts and dive The Solent’s Mary Rose shipwreck as he opens a new experience at the ship’s museum.

Since Ross Kemp took a break from the world of full-time acting some 20 or so years ago, the 58-year-old has found himself in all manner of extreme situations, filming documentaries on everything from Afghanistan and the Amazon to pirates and prisons. However, he admits, diving 35 metres underwater for his latest docuseries, Deep Sea Treasure Hunter, has been one of his most nerve-wracking.

‘I’ve worked in a lot of hostile environments, but I’ve never had to worry about where my next gasp of air is coming from,’ he says. ‘And you can never underestimate how technically difficult it is to film underwater either – it’s not like you can go again and keep running the scene because you only have so much air in the tank.’

Great British Life: Ross on his dive in the Solent for his show Ross Kemp Deep Sea Treasure Hunter. Image: Sky HISTORYRoss on his dive in the Solent for his show Ross Kemp Deep Sea Treasure Hunter. Image: Sky HISTORY

In the new series, for Sky History, Ross and his team of experts dive down to the depths of the ocean to explore shipwrecks of major historical importance, including The Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s famous ship, which lay undiscovered for hundreds of years, entombed within The Solent seabed, before it was finally located by divers in 1971 and parts of the wreck brought to the surface.

‘It was an incredible honour to dive The Mary Rose. It’s a very exclusive club and for someone of my limited diving expertise, it was a very rare opportunity to dive on such an iconic wreck site. She had 33 years in service, was paid for by Henry VIII himself and was named after his first daughter, it was a very personal ship to him and in many ways reflects his time on the thrown – she tragically went down not long before he went down,’ says Ross, who began recreational diving in the 1990s but hadn’t dived for a number of years before he began the intense training for the programme.

As well as being filmed for the second series of his shipwreck diving series (the first was titled Shipwreck Treasure Hunter), footage from Ross’ dive to the bottom of The Solent forms part of a new ground-breaking interactive experience at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Ross is joined by some of the original divers who helped raise The Mary Rose to present an immersive cinema experience, which relives the world’s largest ever maritime excavation and raising. Original archive footage includes His Majesty King Charles III diving with the excavation team 40 years ago, before The Mary Rose was raised in a spectacular salvage and recovery project, which took over ten years of excavation, more than 500 divers and some 28-thousand dives before the remains of the hull could be raised.

An estimated global TV audience of 60 million watched live in October 1982 as the remains of the ship made it to the surface after 437 years. Since then, some thousands of unique Tudor artefacts have been recovered from the wreck, many of which sit in the impressive collection housed at The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.

‘Some 19 thousand artefacts have been brought up but while we know that the starboard side has been lifted, we also know there are parts like the bow castle and the port side that were washed away and are still down there,’ explains Ross. ‘We found some pottery and what we believe to have been part of the bow castle and when you’re there, touching those items, it’s a bit like shaking hands with ghosts.’

Ross has a personal connection to Portsmouth and The Solent because his great, great grandfather, Arthur 'Pop' Chalmers, who served in the Merchant Navy in the First and Second World Wars and survived three shipwrecks, was born in The Ship & Castle, the pub which overlooks Portsmouth ferry port.

‘The ferry terminal wasn’t there in those days so you were straight into the docks, that’s where they used to go and bath and swim and play – they used to jump out of the window of the pub and end up in The Solent,’ Ross explains, adding that members of his family used to swim across to the Isle of Wight and back for a hobby. ‘This part of the world is very dear to me.’

While Ross says he has found the whole shipwreck diving experience ‘completely fascinating’ the father-of-four admits it has been a rather long and wet 12 months so hopes to spend a little more time on dry land this year.

His successful quiz show host debut on BBC’s Bridge of Lies, which sees teams of contestants competing for cash by crossing a bridge made up of stepping stones across the studio floor, may well help realise that. The show, which became the BBC’s best-performing daytime quiz show of the previous 12 months when it aired in March last year, was recommissioned and has moved to prime time. This year will also see him return to acting with a role in Channel 5’s upcoming police drama, Blindspot.

So, after more than 120 documentaries, could 2023 be the year we see Ross make a full-time return to acting and perhaps reprise his role as Grant Mitchell on Eastenders?

‘The one thing I forgot was that it takes a subject and about five people to make a documentary, whereas it takes a script and about 100 people to make a soap or drama – it’s a far more labour-intensive occupation than making documentaries. But I’ve spent the last almost 25 years doing documentaries and that’s a lot of travel and a lot of days away from home,’ he says. ‘I don’t think you can ever rule [a return to Eastenders] out. It was 10 years of my life and was very good for me so I’d be a fool to rule it out.’

Dive The Mary Rose 4D is open at now

Great British Life: Ross Kemp at Dive The Mary Rose 4D (c) Harvey MillsRoss Kemp at Dive The Mary Rose 4D (c) Harvey Mills