A new three-part BBC series sees Matt Baker journeying into the wild planes of Alaska to bring nature and wildlife live to our screens
Matt Baker is set for a busy few months – even by his hectic standards. Along with his fellow team of Countryfile presenters, next month he will be off to the undulating pastures around Blenheim Palace for the hugely successful Countryfile Live show. But before that, later this month, he will be heading to a very different kind of landscape – the wilds of Alaska for live shows on the region’s amazing wildlife.
Along with fellow presenters Steve Backshall and Liz Bonnin, he’ll be presenting Wild Alaska Live on BBC1, three days of programmes featuring everything from humpback whales to beavers, brown bears to wolves. Matt says: “It follows in the footsteps of Big Blue Live that we did a few summers ago in California. Alaska is, of course, one of those places of wonder, from glaciers to rainforests. I think it’s the best kind of live family entertainment, where everyone gets to experience a new and exciting place all at the same time together," says Matt.
It certainly sounds like a challenge, but Matt has a history of being a bit of a daredevil. “Having had the eight years on Blue Peter I’ve done many scary things, from hang gliding world record and sleeping in jungles to major endurance tests with the marines and paratroopers.”
But the personable presenter is quick to point out that it wasn’t completing a challenge that was important but being honest about how he felt doing them. “During my time on the programme I would always get a lot more letters from a story where I was nervous or frightened about something than films where I would just be seen achieving a goal. One fine example was an Olympic diving film where I had to dive from the top board. It took me forever to pluck up the courage to go head first without over rotating. Mind you, Alaskan ten foot bears, the largest land predators on earth sound like a daunting prospect – one well worth tuning in for.”
When Matt returns from Alaska he’ll be heading off for a very different kind of adventure – the hugely popular Countryfile Live show from August 3-6. Last year’s event was a smash hit, and this year’s looks set to be even better. “I only had a day at the show last year but this year I’m taking part in the full four days! What we hope to do with Countryfile Live is to break down the barrier of the TV screen. We’re saying to people who love watching the show on TV ‘come and join us, have a look for yourselves and get hands on.’ It’s such a huge privilege getting to meet some of the many, many people who watch Countryfile and finding out what they love about the show. They’re always keen to offer advice too!
“Country shows are not a new thing but the Countryfile live show is absolutely the top level of what you could hope for in a country show. Every season as a kid, we’d be off
to a country show, and to bring it all together in one place, is fantastic.
Over each day of the event Matt and his co-presenters Ellie, John, Adam, Tom and Anita, will be taking to the stage of the Countryfile Live theatre to share their memories and passion for one of the nation’s favourite programmes. Matt will be particularly focusing on the Farming in Action area. “It will allow guests to see the journey our food takes from field to fork. There will be even be an exhibition of farm machinery through the ages that will tell the story of farming, from the first steam-powered traction engines to the GPS-directed super-tractors used in today’s agriculture,” he says.
And of course aside from the live show, Countryfile continues to go from strength to strength with viewing figures of more than nine million. So what’s the secret of its success? “I hear this question a lot but I never tire of it. I love knowing that people really are enjoying the show! It’s easy to get lost in the huge viewing figures, which is why putting a face to those fans is so important and one of my favourite things about doing the live show.
“I think the secret of Countryfile’s success is that it tries to provide a perspective from every part of country life, and in a way that doesn’t alienate urban viewers. With the huge audience we have, we always aim to provide that balance between creating a show that appeals to everyone while not shying away from the trickier topics. It’s also a huge credit to the UK that so many people are happy to sit and watch an hour of serious countryside programming every week and that they don’t just need escapist TV.”
So when the live show is over how will Matt be relaxing? “My perfect day involves all the family having a summer’s day out on the family farm. An early start getting the sheep in with the dogs and a few non stressful jobs. Then a big family meal with everyone round the table and a good old piano and guitar sing song when it gets dark.” Sounds just perfect.
- Countryfile is on BBC 1 on Sunday evenings.
BBC Countryfile Live takes place at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, from 3-6 August. For further information and to book tickets: www.countryfilelive.com
- Wild Alaska Live is on 8pm on Sundays. Previous episodes are available for catch up on the BBC iPlayer.
- Words by Alison James