Dominic West on his natural swimming pool: ‘When I’m in the mood I do a spot of underwater gardening’

The Crown star built a naturally filtered pool at his English base and now wants to bring a similar project to Limerick’s Glin Castle

As a Bafta-award-winning actor, Dominic West is known for the diversity of roles he’s played over his long and successful career, from the tragic Jean Valjean in the BBC adaptation of Les Misérables, to the former Prince Charles in the Netflix series The Crown, the troubled writer Noah Solloway in the Sky Atlantic series The Affair and the anti-hero Jimmy McNulty in HBO’s The Wire.

But the actor also has a hidden talent – wild-swimming pool builder.

West is married to the Irish garden designer Catherine FitzGerald, who he met while studying at Trinity College Dublin, and they have four children: Dora, Senan, Francis and Christabel (Senan played a young Prince William in season five of the Crown). The couple split their time between their family homes in the Cotswolds and London, as well as Catherine’s ancestral home, Glin Castle in Co Limerick. The couple acquired the home following the death of FitzGerald’s father Desmond, the 29th Knight of Glin.

It’s at their Cotswold home that West, who is soon to reprise the role of Eddie in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge on London’s West End in May, first discovered his love of natural swimming pools. Here, he masterminded the creation of a very large and exceptionally beautiful one in its large country garden, just months before the pandemic made so many people around the world enviously dream of doing something similar.


A famous actor builds a swimming pool ... what’s new about that? some might say. To which the answer is, that West’s pool is nothing like your conventional Hollywood swimming pool. Put out of your mind, for example, any thoughts of the legendary pool belonging to Hollywood’s Beverley Hills Hotel, beside whose glittering aquamarine waters the actress Faye Dunaway was famously snapped languorously lounging by her future husband Terry O’Neill the morning after her Oscar win. Forget, too, those smart suburban American pools through which Burt Lancaster’s The Swimmer travelled, or those manicured swimming pools of the French riviera, glimmering bluely in the Mediterranean sunlight.

West’s swimming pool is a different beast entirely.

A million miles away from these chlorine-filled, biodiversity-free, energy-consuming status symbols of yore, it’s fringed with wildflowers and is home to a rich variety of native garden life that happily share its naturally filtered waters and plant-filled edges with its owners.

I first got in contact with a company that quoted me an insane sum of money ... that was never on the cards, so instead I decided to build it myself

Not only is it nature-friendly and planet friendly to maintain, but it’s also, as West happily points out, vastly cheaper to construct so long as you’re not afraid of carrying out most of the work yourself, as he did.

“When the idea of a natural swimming pool occurred to me, I first got in contact with a company that quoted me an insane sum of money, somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million pounds. That was never on the cards, so instead I decided to build it myself.

“Depending on the size, you can make them for a couple of thousand pounds, which is just one of the many reasons they’re becoming so popular. But I quickly realised I needed some help, when I found myself with this giant muddy hole in the garden, which is when I came across the work of David Pagan Butler. I got in touch, and we quickly became firm friends.”

Known for his innovative ‘bubble-powered’, chemical-free, low-energy, organic natural swimming pools, Pagan Butler‘s work has won him more than 100,000 devoted followers on YouTube, where the former film-makers share self-build videos explaining their design and construction (one video shows he and West happily larking around together).

His designs use aquatic plants contained within a shallow planting zone to filter the water along with a simple, low-energy aquarium-type air compressor which moves the pool water through layers of sand and gravel into perforated drainage pipes where it’s naturally cleaned by beneficial micro-organisms.

There’s no use of nasty, environmentally harmful, allergy-causing chlorine or expensive-to-maintain high-tech filtration systems, while Pagan Butler is also an enthusiastic advocate for upcycling and repurposing materials wherever possible, both for environmental reasons as well as to keep costs down.

There’s something very special about swimming in a natural swimming pool. It makes me feel bullet-proof, while of course there’s also that immediate connection to nature

As a result, his natural swimming pools are so affordable to construct and maintain that their designs have been replicated all over the world, from Chile and South Africa to United States and Europe.

Measuring 30m long, 4m wide and 2m deep, West’s family pool is a giant, but he points out the concept can be easily scaled right back. “It can be any size you like, just so long as you follow the basic principles of David’s design. That versatility is one of the many great things about it.”

For the couple, their own pool has proved to be a wonderful way to support biodiversity and nurture garden wildlife as well as boost their health and wellbeing.

“I’ve always loved swimming in the sea as well as in lakes and rivers. But there’s something very special about swimming in a natural swimming pool. It makes me feel bulletproof, while of course there’s also that immediate connection to nature. When I’m in the mood I do a spot of underwater gardening by weeding the aquatic plants. Then when I’m finished, I head straight for our home-built sauna.”

For FitzGerald, her work as a garden designer strongly informed the planting surrounding their pool. “It was very important to me that it looks and feels very naturalistic, so that it appears completely rooted in the wider landscape. So we planted native trees like hawthorn, willow and rowan, and encouraged wildflowers like oxe-eye daisies, purple loosestrife and yarrow.”

Those softened edges are one of the many things that West loves about the design.

“There are no hard lines, no sense of it being alien to the garden. Instead, it’s just very beautiful in this gentle, dreamy kind of way.”

In fact, the couple love it so much that their plan is to install one in the gardens of 800-year-old Glin Castle, which they now run as an exclusive private venue, hosting intimate weddings, family occasions and both private and corporate events.

“Can you imagine a natural swimming pool set within Glin’s beautiful Robinsonian gardens?” exclaims FitzGerald. “Wouldn’t that be glorious!”

Dominic West and David Pagan Butler will be speaking together about natural swimming pools later this month as part of the inaugural Festival of Gardens and Nature at Ballintubbert House, Co Laois, the brainchild of Catherine FitzGerald and Ballintubbert’s owner Minnie Preston. See