He’s been exploring, researching and filming animals across the globe for almost 20 years, but Steve Backshall’s wild streak may have been tamed. For the presenter – who captivated young and old with his Deadly 60 series, and did the same last month with the BBC’s Big Blue Live – reveals life’s taken an unexpected turn.
He sounds quietly excited when he says: “I’ve got a girlfriend who I care about very much, and who I’m looking forward to spending a much more ‘usual’ future with. I’m hoping to spend a lot less time on big expeditions out of the country, as I have been doing for the past 16 years.
“Life is always changing and evolving. These things happen when you least expect them to!”
Indeed Steve (42) enjoys spending more and more time here in the UK as each year passes. “We can easily overlook the extraordinary privilege we have living in this country,” he says. “It’s very beautiful and has fabulous wildlife. I’m proud to be British. All my friends and family are here, so this is where my future is.”
At this point our conversation is interrupted by birdsong and it comes as no real surprise when Steve explains that he’s outside. “There are some great birds here,” he tells me. “We’ve got a chaffinch, and there’s a nuthatch… my garden is a source of constant joy to me.”
So where did his adventurous spirit come from? “My love for travel came from my mum and dad,” Steve says. “They worked in the airline industry and were always taking my sister Jo and I to far-flung parts of the world. But we always travelled on a shoestring and never stayed in flashy hotels. We properly experienced different cultures and unusual food.
“Imagine arriving in the middle of India aged eight, and trying a curry that blew your head off – life was always very exotic!” While he had many holiday adventures as a child, Steve actually grew up in Surrey, on the edge of the Surrey heaths. “It was wonderful. There were vast swathes of land to run around, from dawn ’til dusk.
I discovered the wild world by getting stuck in.”
It was this adventurous spirit that helped Steve carve out a niche for himself. He was in his early 20s when he had his first idea for a wildlife documentary – so naturally he took a camera to Columbia and filmed it!
“I keep my eyes open all the time for new expedition ideas, and still spend a lot of my time trying to convince people that they will make good television,” he chuckles. “It’s a wonderful life, but you have to give it everything you’ve got.”
TV bosses were so impressed with his first film that Steve landed a string of jobs with National Geographic and the BBC, most notably with Michaela Strachan on children’s wildlife programme The Really Wild Show. “I’d been watching that show for years and working on it was an extraordinary experience,” Steve says. “I never thought TV would be the way I’d make my living, but once the opportunities were there I grasped them with both hands. So few people get given the chances I have.”
It’s hard to believe it was this time last year that he took up a very different opportunity – becoming a Strictly contestant. Does he feel his stint on one of the UK’s biggest shows thrust him into the public eye?
“Even now people recognise me from Strictly– but not to the extent that it’s made a noticeable difference to my personal life,” he says. He does, however, wish that people would ask before taking photographs. “The stock thing used to be getting an autograph, but now it’s all about taking a ‘selfie,’” he continues. “That’s fine in principle, but people have taken pictures of themselves with me with no regard for where I am or what I’m doing. Once I had to politely bat someone away in a public loo! It’s very difficult when you have to explain that normal rules and manners also apply to mobile phones,” he sighs, clearly unhappy at the thought of offending anyone.
He looks back at last year’s Strictly with fondness. “I got much further than I thought I would, especially considering how good some of the others, like Simon Webbe, were.”
Was it his personality that carried him through? “Well, I wasn’t getting any votes for my dancing!” he laughs.
So what’s next? He is just about to embark on Steve’s Wild World UK tour, a nationwide tour talking about real-life expeditions that have inspired his books The Falcon Chronicles.
Illustrated with photos and films, the journey will range from the Arctic to the Antarctic, the tundra to the top of the world’s highest peaks, and the depths of the rainforest to the bottom of the sea. Suitable for wildlife enthusiasts of all ages – apart from very young children – there will also be an extended Q&A session at the end of each show.
After that, who knows. But whatever happens, Steve says life is too short for regrets. “You learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t let anything hold you back. Life is full of risks, but the greatest risk perhaps is not going out and giving life your all, and experimenting and exploring as much as you can.”
But perhaps that will include more of his favourite British pastimes: surfing, rock climbing and birdwatching. And there’s just one thing missing now… “I really want to get a dog soon, a loveable mutt with one lopsided ear and a big grin. That will make life complete.”
- Big Blue Live is available onBBC iPlayer.
- Steve’s Wild World UK Tour runs from October 15 to November 15. For tickets contact your local theatre or visit www.stevebackshall.com
- Pic: Rex