Wildlife presenter Steve Backshall is currently in Monterey Bay, on the west coast of California, co-hosting the BBC’s Big Blue Live, a three-part series showcasing marine life, alongside Matt Baker, Liz Bonnin and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Watch Steve and co on the live programme on BBC One at 8pm, Thursday 27 August 2015. When back in his native UK, Steve will be bringing his tour, Steve Backshall’s Wild World Tour!, to Richmond Theatre this November
Interview by Maryam Rasheed
Q: Steve, you’re currently in California filming Big Blue Live. Tell us about that?
We’re attempting to get dolphins and whales live on camera, obviously a massive challenge. If we succeed in that, it will be pretty big and pretty special!
Q: You grew up in Surrey. How did that get you interested in the great outdoors?
A: From a very early age I was very lucky to spend most of my time in the great outdoors. My mum and dad are terrific outdoors people. And I grew up on a small holding in Bagshot in Surrey, which is itself surrounded by the Surrey heaths – it’s just the best place for reptiles. There were a whole range of birds that were best spotted in that heathland. Also I had an opportunity to travel an immense amount. My parents both worked for the airlines. I got a mixture of the domestic and exotic from a very early age, and I knew whatever I was going to do in my life, it would involve those things.
Q: You have faced a lot of nerve-wracking situations over the course of your career so far, which one did you find the scariest or most enjoyable?
A: Diving with leopard seals underneath Antarctic ice. They are such big and intimidating animals that make a living by basically shaking penguins out of their own skin! They’re really quite frightening and the whole idea of diving in water that’s below freezing under the ice is itself pretty intimidating. That would probably qualify!
Q: Is there any unchartered territory? Or somewhere you’re dying to go?
A: There are plenty of places I have yet to go to. One of the beautiful things of what I do is that it is infinite. There are infinite amounts of animals out there to see, be filmed, and be discovered. There are parts of the planet that are still completely unknown. My list is pretty much infinite. If I had to choose one thing it would be finding snow leopards in the Karakorum.
Q: Could you talk to me a bit about the format of your show, Steve Backshall’s Wild World Tour!?
A: It will be a show that’s packed full of behind-the-scenes footage of action and adventure from some of the world’s wildest places. There will also be plenty of opportunities for the audience to interact with me; they’ll have an opportunity to ask questions and to find out anything they want to know about wildlife and expeditions, for example, what it’s like to live for months on end in the rainforest or in the Arctic. Hopefully I’ll learn as much from the audience as they learn from me.
Q: Where will you be touring?
A: I’m touring all over the country and I’ve made a distinct effort to cover everywhere. We’ve got shows in the north, we’ve got shows in Scotland, we’ve got shows in Wales and we have shows down south as well. Richmond has such a lovely theatre, we’ve been there before and so we’re coming back.
Q: Are there any locations in the area you’d recommend to adventure enthusiasts?
A: The river [Thames] is the obvious one. Along the banks of the river there is the heronry, which is a site where herons nest. And they’re there in their dozens, it’s absolutely stunning.
Q: What is your career highlight to date?
A: Probably my first ascent of Mount Upuigma in Venezuela. I was climbing to the top of a mountain that had never been summated before. It was one of the most stunning and exciting expeditions of my life.
Q: You were on Strictly Come Dancing, what was that like?
A: It was something completely new, a completely different challenge. It put me totally out of my comfort zone and was exciting and challenging and a tremendous amount of fun since.
Q: What’s your aim when writing books?
A: Primarily making sure that it’s fun. That it’s exciting and full of adventure. The first thing I want I guess is for people to read my books, watch my programmes, and get some enjoyment out of them. That is enough if a small proportion take away a deeper message about learning to love our planet and wanting to do something to protect it. That is more profound achievement. But first and foremost, my desire is to entertain.
Q: People say you’re the next David Attenborough, would you agree?
A: That’s a tricky one. Everyone who does this job is always going to be compared as some point to Sir David. It is obviously enormously flattering every time someone says it but I know full well for every one person that’s saying that there are another 10 people that are saying he will never be the next David Attenborough. It’s one of those things. It is a comparison that no one will ever live up to. There will be no equal. I’m content with being the next me.
Q: What advice can you offer for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
A: You need to be absolutely certain that this is what you want to do. You have to be prepared to sacrifice everything else in your life to get there. There is so much competition it requires so much fixation on the topic. It has to be all encompassing. If you go into it thinking maybe I could do this, maybe I could do something else, don’t bother. You haven’t got a chance in hell then. However if this is what you know you want to do, go out there and throw yourself into it 100%. It will be the best way to spend your life.
Q: What’s home like for Steve Backshall?
A: I’ve got lots of tribal art from many of the places I’ve been to on expeditions. I collect animal skulls, skeletons, and fossils. I’ve got loads of those around the house! I have a vast collection of books and almost all are species guides. I could basically build a house out of those books and, for the first time, I have a home to come back to – a personal life to come back to – in Buckinghamshire.
Steve Backshall’s Wild World Tour! is coming to Richmond Theatre on 8 November 2015. For tickets call 0844 871 7651 or visit atgtickets.com. For more details on the tour visit stevebackshall.com. Big Blue Live will be on BBC one at 8pm tonight (Thursday 27 August and again on Monday 31 August 2015).