With the second season of Vet On The Hill coming to an end, Dr Scott Miller talks to William Gadsby Peet about chipmunk CPR and a puppy called Skull Crusher
Scott Miller is a very hard man to track down. His whirlwind filming schedule for the second series of Vet On The Hill, the popular Channel 4 documentary that follows the vet’s adventures from his surgery in Richmond, meant it took the better part of two months to find a space in his jam-packed calendar for an interview.
In fact, it was a long car journey with his veterinary team and the show’s film crew to see a poorly one-eyed cat called Josephina that gave me a valuable window of opportunity to chat with the celebrity vet on the phone.
“I think she was born that way, bless her,” Scott explains. “But the socket is getting a little bit mucky so we might have to take out whatever is left. She’ll have a permanent wink, but I’m sure she’ll carry it off!”
‘Permanent wink’ – what a delightful way of describing the result of eye surgery on a cat. Indeed, a large part of the show’s success is down to Scott’s magnetism, charm and special way with words, qualities that come across even on the phone.
No stranger to the camera, he moved to London from Australia over a decade ago and made his debut appearance on British television as the first non-contestant to appear on Big Brother, the reality TV show, entering the house to look after some poorly chickens.
His genuine commitment and charisma caught the eyes of both viewers and producers alike, and he went on to make regular appearances on shows including This Morning, Blue Peter, The Paul O’Grady Show and BBC Crufts, to name a few, before landing his ‘big break’ with Vet On The Hill.
The show gives an action-packed, hands-on insight into the world of veterinary medicine. The first season included everything from a depressed donkey to a Shar Pei in need of a facelift. Scott even had to deal with a severe spinal injury to Betty, his own dog, caused by an explosive disc disease that had paralysed her back legs.
Fortunately, one of his best friends is an orthopaedic surgeon called Michael Hamilton, and after extensive surgery Betty started walking again.
Series two has seen plenty of similarly jaw-dropping moments including, most memorably, emergency CPR on a chipmunk.
“We were filming with this chipmunk and he got a little bit stressed out, which sometimes happens with smaller animals even if you handle them carefully,” recalls Scott. “So we had to chase this thing around a room because it was so fast, and we finally managed to catch it but when I went to put it back into its cage it literally just went ‘thunk’ and hit the bottom of the cage.
“It was such a shock! I’ve got a camera in my face, I’ve got the owner literally beside me and a newly graduated vet on my other shoulder, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’ and internalising a whole bunch of swear words.
“Fortunately, I just went in to autopilot mode. I went straight for mouth to mouth, blowing into the chipmunk’s mouth and massaging its heart, and thank God it came back to life.”
As if bringing chipmunks back from the dead on camera weren’t enough, Scott also runs three veterinary practices with his ‘work wife’ Maz (also his sister-in-law), and has three children with his actual wife Zoe, not to mention a menagerie of pets at home that includes two dogs, three guinea pigs and a cat called Ricketts.
“It is very intense trying to balance family life with filming,” says Scott, wistfully. “It’s tough but I’m hoping that I manage it. I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for Zoe; she was a TV presenter in her previous life and fully appreciates the rigours of making a television show. The way she’s able to single-handedly look after all the kids at times, and the dogs and the cat and the guinea pigs, and do it all with a smile is absolutely amazing.”
And are any of the Miller brood looking to follow in their father’s footsteps and become a vet?
“My eldest is dead set on becoming a vet so we’ll see. My youngest, on the other hand, has decided she wants to be a doctor in space. Her name is Quinn so she could be Dr Quinn, medicine woman in space! And my son really just enjoys head-butting stuff, so I’ll have to look in to potential career paths for him. Possibly something in rugby!”
Being a celebrity vet must surely earn Scott some serious brownie points in the ‘cool dad’ department, especially when his work leads to unexpected family additions.
“At the start of this season we did an emergency caesarean at about four in the morning on a dog called Bonnie,” says Scott. “There were six puppies in total but the first puppy had been in there for a while too long so I was quite concerned about her health. Thankfully she ended up breathing in the end and we actually had all of the litter survive, which was quite amazing.
“As a thank you, the owners very generously gave us one of the puppies. We ended up letting the kids name her and they decided to call this adorable little white fluffy dog Skull Crusher, which I thought was hilarious but my wife not so much. Fortunately, the kids and I overruled her but we compromised and for short she’s called Skully.”
While the work of Scott is often very locally focused in the borough of Richmond, he does consistently try to infuse a broader global narrative into his programme. Having spent many years working for charities such as International Animal Rescue and MONA he is well aware of the bigger picture.
“Treating cats and dogs at the local clinic is something very close to my heart and I enjoy it hugely, but I think it’s vital to work on some of those huge global issues for animal welfare as well,” he explains.
“I’m very concerned about climate change. Research has shown that we’re heading towards a seventh extinction event, where we’re going to lose a third of the world’s species in the next 50 years. It’s terrifying, as I see the animal population as a sort of ‘canary in the mine’ for humanity.
“It’s a worrying time for conservation and I’m hoping to use whatever meagre status I’ve accumulated by doing this show to better highlight those risks. That’s my real passion; it’s conservation in wildlife and I’m really hoping I’ll get the opportunity to get out there and bring these important issues to light.”
In a world where climate change denial is seeing a worrying resurgence, I’ll have my fingers crossed that Dr Scott Miller succeeds.
- Series 1 & 2 of Vet On The Hill are available to watch on catch-up TV; visit channel4.com
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