Ishak Helmi was the first Egyptian to swim the English Channel.
Also known as Hilmy Bey, Ishaq Bek Helmy and Ishak Hilmi Bey
Son of Abdel-ader Helmy Pasha, an Egyptian general. This made him independently wealthy and so, for 4 or 5 years, he virtually resided at Dover/Cap Gris Nez. He assisted on many other swimmer’s attempts, including Ederle’s successful swim in 1926
Considered a member of Egyptian royalty with the rank of bek, Helmi received an allowance of $25,000 a year and was in training to swim the Channel at the behest of King Fouad I, who for nationalistic reasons wanted an Egyptian to make a crossing. In 1925 he rented one of Cap Gris Nez’s two hotels for the entire summer for his use alone, annoying many other Channel aspirants who couldn’t get lodgings anywhere near their start point. Despite this, he was very popuar with those swimmers who met the ‘affable giant’
He made one successful swim, on the 31 Aug 1928 time 23 hrs 40 mins. It was the slowest France – England swim on record until 1949 when Phillip Mickman’s time was 23hrs 48mins.
He was unsuccessful on five attempts; 5th.Sept 1924, F/E 8hrs 30mins. 14 Sept 1925, F/E 14hrs 05. 8 Aug 1926, F/E 10hrs 00mins. 27 Aug 1926, F/E 3hrs. 7 Aug 1927, F/E 8hrs 15mins. 27 Aug 1929, E/F 7hrs 17mins.
He seems to have made no more attempts after 1929 yet he seems to have been in Dover/Cap Gris Nez in 1930:-
Dover Express 11/7/1930 Dover gold cup aspirants currently in training at Cap Gris Nez;- Elsie West of Bristol, Miss Patricia Retief of Cape Town, Miss Peggy Duncan of Cape Town, M. Doria, Swiss and Helmi, Egyptian
He was appointed Beach Inspector at Alexandria after his swim but was dismissed in 1932 after arresting a senior Austrian politician for ignoring the red danger no swimming flags
ALEXANDRIA. Thursday Hilmy Bey, the Egyptian swimmer won has swam the English Channel, has resigned his post as beach inspector at Stanley Bay, following yesterday’s incident when an Austrian Minister was forcibly removed from the water owing to dangerous currents
29 July 1932 – Western Daily Press – Bristol, Bristol, England
The Channel Swimmer known here as Helmy but whose correct name is Ishak Hilmy Bey, has been the centre of a political sensation in Egypt and has been recently dismissed from the Alexandria municipality
19 August 1932 – Dover Express – Dover, Kent, England