Monday, 9 May 2016

INTERVIEW - Steve Backshall

HE has swum with great white, bull, great hammerhead, mako and tiger sharks, caught king cobras, black mambas and lanceheads, had a redback spider crawl across his hand and was bitten by a caiman whilst searching for anaconda in an Argentinian swamp. He even learned how to dance on BBC TV's Strictly Come Dancing.
Now naturalist, extreme mountaineer, adventurer and kids' TV favourite, Steve Backshall is gearing up for a new challenge - a tour in which he will be visiting towns across England imparting his considerable knowledge of nature, wildlife and his passion for the subjects.
Wild World, which will accompany the release of Shark Seas’- the fourth book in his Falcon Chronicles series of children’s novels, will feature a stop at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley.
And it's clear when we chat that Steve can't wait to be back on stage and entertain his legion of fans.
"I'm really excited to be back at Bromley," he says cheerfully. "I was there about five years ago on a previous tour and it's so close to home that it's nice to be on home turf for a change.
"We always have a really good time so I'm looking forward to it."
And an element of the show that he looks forward to particularly is the Q&A - which can yield all manner of questions.
"I never do a tour without a good amount of audience participation and so all my shows are fully interactive," he says.
"The audience gets a chance to grill me and ask any question they like which I love.
"They are always great and encompass a huge range of topics such as how did the giraffe get a really long neck and do polar bears get lonely.
"Some are really easy to answer and some are a bit tricky - like who would win in a fight between a polar bear and a great white?
"Others are completely off the wall and random. Once recently a young boy asked me what was evolution - that was the worst one because I made the terrible mistake of trying to explain it but 10 minutes in I realised I was failing badly!
"The thing is if you want to stump me it's pretty easy because the natural world is so amazing and has millions of different species so if you ask me something about a specific water flea for example I wouldn't have a clue," he laughs.
"But I like that because I get to go away and read up on it and learn something new."
Tough questions aside Wild World will be filled with loads of fantastic stories about his all too numerous to mention adventures to the world's wildest places and the creatures that inhabit them.
There will also be exclusive behind the scenes content and unseen footage from some of his TV shows such as Deadly 60, including some "very close calls". There might even be some chat about his books and children's novels.
Cheerful and chatty - and every bit as friendly as you would expect - Steve says he feels "exceptionally lucky" to have what he says is the best job in the world.
His passion for wildlife started at a young age when he would go out into the garden and get up close to the creatures in it.
"It wasn't anything hugely dramatic and exotic," he says. "I was just lucky be able to explore my back yard and be surrounded by heathland where I was able to build camps and rope swings and see animals such as snakes in the compost and deer.
"Every single part of it had me excited from an early age and I'm so lucky."
Since then of course he has graduated to slightly more extreme adventures and in nearly 20 years he has taken part in some dramatic and dangerous expeditions and come up close with some fiercesome creatures.
And he says there is still more he wants to do.
"I'm about to go white water kayaking which is something I've been wanting to do for about 20 years," he says. "That will be fun and exciting.
"However, the more you travel the more you see and you realise that in 1,000 lifetimes you still wouldn't see everything.
"The scariest things was when I went diving for crocodiles in Botswana and fell face first into a hippo," he chuckles.
"It was such a surprise because we didn't know the hippo was there - if we had known we wouldn't have done it. So that was the most frightening thing. But looking back the hippo was a young animal - had he been fully grown we probably wouldn't have made it out alive but lucky for me it was more intimidated by me than I was of it."
And then he tells me about some of his other incredible encounters such as swimming with great white sharks, trekking through the rainforest and extreme mountaineering.
"It's an amazing privilege," he adds. "But in most cases these animals I come across are much more frightened of me than I am of them.
"I know I'm safe because in most situations they would much rather give me a wide berth and move away.
"However there have been some heartstopping moments along the way but we put an enormous amount of work in to try and make sure these situations are few and far between.
"Besides life is a risk - being in London with all those cars is a risk as you could end your life at any second but you learn to find ways to make yourself safe and it's the same in the natural world."
And then he's back to chatting about the tour which starts in October.
"I love touring and normally I go all over the country but October is going to be a bit busy so we've decided to scale it down a bit."
Indeed he has a small matter of a wedding to organise - that of his own to Olympic rower Helen Glover who he will be cheering on at the Olympic Games in Rio this summer.
And if you think he's going on a "normal" honeymoon, think again.
"Helen has done a lot of travelling but she wants to go on an expedition and so I'm taking her to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico and go diving with sea lions. She's also going to learn to scuba dive and then we are going to the desert looking for snakes.
"The place where I went swimming with sharks is quite close to where we are going in Mexico and it was an option for the honeymoon but I didn't think Helen's father would be too impressed," he laughs.
And the answer to who would win in a fight between a polar bear and a great white? You will have to go and see him to find out!

Steve Backshall embarks on his nationwide Wild World theatre tour from October 19 to November 20. He will be at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on October 26. His new children's novel 'Shark Seas' will be published in October.

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