St Albans-based open water swim star is still ‘King of the Channel’

The unofficial king of the channel with 34 crossings, the male record, Kevin Murphy

The unofficial king of the channel with 34 crossings, the male record, Kevin Murphy - Credit: Archant

In war-stricken Basra, 2003, a journalist received a call from his concerned boss telling him to get in a ‘safer’ car with a fellow broadcaster, but the car was full.

Little did he know that the car would soon come under fire and the other journalist, Terry Lloyd, would be one of three men shot down by American troops.

Kevin Murphy, of Lye Lane, Bricket Wood, who worked as a journalist for 44 years up until 2009 for many different news organisations, including Independent Radio News, explained simply: “I’m alive today because there was too much camera equipment in the van.”

The Iraq war is just one of the many historic events reported on by Kevin, who covered 9/11, the Dunblane massacre and the Lockerbie bombing, to name a few.

It was his stressful career that saw him turn to swimming as an outlet and at 66, the two-time nominated Sony ‘International Journalist of the Year’ still holds the title ‘King of the Channel’, having completed the 21 mile feat a total of 34 times.

Kevin said: “Swimming was my escape. Some people turn to booze or drugs when they get stressed - there has to be an outlet, and mine was swimming.”

But much to his dismay, the record holder has had to hang up his long distance swimming cap following swims that tore the tendons in his shoulders, and a heart attack and double bypass surgery in 2009.

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He went on: “When I asked the doctor if I would be able to swim it again he told me ‘I’ve never heard that one before’, so who knows.”

Kevin may not being diving into the icy depths of the English Channel again any time soon, but the former journalist has an impressive CV of swims under his belt and spoke to the Herts Advertiser about his achievements.

He said: “I was the kid who came second and third in the races, but I soon found out that although I wasn’t the speediest swimmer, I could swim long distance.

“At 15 years old I swam Lake Bala in Wales and the kid who was always down the pecking order was suddenly at the top. That made me want to push myself even more and go one better.”

Kevin won a series of long-distance swims before completing the English Channel aged 19. He said: “I felt as if I had proved something to myself. I had pushed myself way beyond my limits and I could push beyond other people’s.”

He soon challenged himself further by doing a double Channel swim, and later was the first person to attempt a triple channel swim - only to be stopped half way through his third lap because the water became too treacherous.

He then bravely swam North Channel and held the fastest time for 18 years until he was beaten by ‘Queen of the English Channel’ Alison Streeter.

Kevin added: “The man who had attempted the swim before me had died; it can be a pretty difficult swim but I wanted a new challenge.”

His swimming has taken him all over the world, from the sunny seas of California and Sydney Harbour, to the myth filled waters of Loch Ness and Aurlandsfjord in Norway.

His global swimming record parallels his eventful career as a journalist, where his work would take him to many a hard-hitting news scene.

Kevin commented further about the stresses of his job. He said: “After Dunblane I walked around the school, I saw the children’s coats still on the hangers.

“When I was in Ireland and I talked my way into a pub where someone had machine gunned a group of people.

“I was part of the first wave of journalists sent to 9/11 and I had family members come up to me asking if I had seen their loved ones, I hadn’t, and I knew full well they wouldn’t see them again.

“Forty-plus years of going to these events can take its toll.”

Despite retiring from journalism six years ago, Kevin still works closely with his swimming passion as the secretary of Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation.

He lives with his wife Jane, also a former swimming champion, and has two adult children Matthew and Joanne.