Exclusive interview with Steve Backshall
by Karen Shaw
TV presenter, BAFTA winner, children’s author and all round ‘dare-devil’, Steve Backshall is about to embark on a nationwide tour. Following on from the huge success of his 2015 tour, Steve will be visiting 27 regions throughout the UK, sharing stories from expeditions, face-to-face wildlife encounters and endless ‘jaw-dropping’ moments! The Wild World tour will have something for everyone as Steve will give his audiences a glimpse behind the scenes to what he claims is ‘the best job in the world’. Tales from his nail biting adventures to the world’s wildest places with the most bizarre and deadly beasts on earth will leave audiences of all ages on the edge of their seats.
It’s a bright, sunny morning when I catch up with naturalist Steve Backshall and his mood is cheery with a voice that oozes sheer enthusiasm, not surprising considering he got married three days ago to Olympic gold medallist Helen Glover.
Initially I’m slightly perturbed that I’m interviewing Steve so soon after getting hitched. Surely he should be on some far-flung island feeding his beloved on grapes, or maybe they’ve already had their first marital fallout…
Laughing he assures me all is well and is looking forward to his honeymoon to Mexico in a few days’ time. “We are so excited,” says Steve. “I’m just praying that when we get out Hels doesn’t ‘flake out’ and ‘hit the wall’!”
Helen achieved a gold medal in rowing at the Rio Olympics, returned home to a victory parade in her home of Penzance and then married the man of her dreams all within three weeks, so to be fair this lass has earned a rest. I imagine Steve’s idea of a honeymoon would involve wrestling crocodiles in a lake of acid, laughing, he assures me that they have plans to go shark diving and catching rattlesnakes. It must be love! “Hels is really looking forward to it,” he smiles.
Steve is no stranger to danger. He’s scaled mountains, slept on the side of cliffs and almost been devoured by a whale so I was curious to discover if walking down the aisle was as frightening.
“I wasn’t at all nervous,” says Steve. “It was the best day of my life. Hels has just come back from Rio and had gone through a lot of stress out there, but she didn’t have an ounce of nerves regarding getting married. We just loved every single second.”
While most couples celebrate their wedding day into the early hours and are maybe a little worse for wear the following day, it came as no surprise to me that the following morning Mr and Mrs Backshall were surfing and lifeboat racing with their pals! His stag party involved a few days of paddle boarding with no mention of drunken debauchery, not even a mention of a lamppost. “There were no high jinks or messing about as there usually is with most lads on a stag night.”
With his new bride on his arm I wonder if he’ll be taking more care and ‘toning down’ his daring adventures. “With a lot of the things I do, I don’t see them as dangerous as perhaps others might, as I’ve been doing them my whole life. I began catching snakes when I was a kid, and have continued to keep them. So dealing with them doesn’t seem as dangerous as working with horses or dogs and likewise things like climbing, spending time in the jungle or diving is what I’m used to. I actually feel more nervous being in a city on a Saturday night after closing time, that’s much more intimidating than working with animals. That said, recently I’ve been in some situations where I have been thinking more about Hels and my future than my own wellbeing.”
“Steve Irwin (the TV adventurer killed by a stingray) had spent his whole life working with snakes and crocodiles and was fantastic at it. I’ve been through all the medical literature and I’ve never found an instance where that has happened to anyone before. It was something you just can’t prepare for, so it certainly won’t change how I live my life.” Steve is a man who evidently lives very much in the real world. Despite that, however, he’s very aware of the importance of social media. “I do my best to keep involved in it. The last few days since the wedding, Hels and I have been staying in a cottage with no power, Wi-Fi or phone signal and that’s where I’m happier. Sometimes I have to force myself to engage in social media. Hels will say ‘You haven’t sent a tweet for two weeks,’ and then I’ll force myself to do it.
“I know that kids will get more out of the real world, the outdoor connection with nature. But, I don’t want to come across as an old fuddy duddy. I’m also very aware that the audiences I talk to may enjoy games and apps. I understand the lure and temptation of modern technology and to a degree they are great for kids. There are apps which teach you everything from bird calling to navigating. It’s important to recognise the benefits of technology, while subtly letting them know the outdoor world and nature can be cool too.”
Having travelled the length and breadth of planet Earth in pursuit of wildlife, I was eager to learn what fascinates him the most, the animals or the community living alongside them. “In series two of Deadly we did a programme in the Sonoran desert and three days later we were in the Arctic filming polar bears. The jump in diversity of habitats of people and animals was extraordinary. Although, first and foremost I’m a wildlife person, my last expedition was all about people and it was great. I really can’t prioritise one over the other. They go together.”
An established author of countless books, Steve’s first love was writing achieving his first degree in English and Theatre Studies. “I always thought that that was where I was going with my life and it’s cool how I’ve come full circle and come back to it. When this whole crazy TV adventure comes to an end as it surely will I like to think that writing will be a good back-up plan.
“Factual books are always easier; I can sit down, focus and write them quite easily. With fiction you have to be in the right mood, be inspired and have the story already in your head. Writing fictional books is similar to having a film playing in your head that you’re recording. A good day writing fiction is absolutely amazing. A bad day is awful.”
A man constantly on a mission, how does he manage to find the time? Does he write while dangling from a rope over a cliff face?
“I don’t have a life where I can have a set schedule and my brain doesn’t work that way. I need to feel inspired to get anything done at all. Most of my writing is done on the road while I’m away filming, usually when I’m on a ten hour car journey on my laptop.”
Like me, Steve is a seventies’ child and was a firm fan of the TV programme Animal Magic and when I suggest that a fair description of himself would be a mix of Bear Grylls and Johnny Morris, he replies: “I’ll take that,” giggling, he goes on to say “in fact as of now, that’s going on my business card.”
For more details of Steve’s Wild Word tour go to stevebackshall.com/tour