ANYONE with kids under the age of 10 will undoubtedly have heard of Steve Backshall.
He is a BAFTA-winning, animal-loving, book-writing, modern day adventurer - something of a boy’s own hero for children everywhere.
His infectious enthusiasm for whatever he is doing and his passion and extensive knowledge of his subject matter - primarily animals that are “deadly in their own world” as part of his Deadly 60 series for the BBC - is palpable both on screen and in the written word, and he is coming to Perth next week to spread a bit of his love for animals and promote his latest book.
The Blairie caught up with him for a chat about all things deadly and his first foray into fiction.
We have to ask - what is your favourite animal?
It’s the wolf - I am very much a dog person, my family always kept dogs and I firmly believe in the restorative power that dogs have in their relationships with humans. The first time I filmed a wolf in the wild it made such an impact. They are very difficult to film and we only saw them from a distance that time but they have intoxicating eyes, a very complex social structure and they really are the most extraordinary animals. It is impossible for any human being to hear a wolf howl and not feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up.
Are you scared of any animals or do you have a healthy respect for them?
A healthy respect, exactly. I have no irrational fears of animals at all, if I see a cockroach I don’t leap up onto the nearest chair screaming. But I am only human and if I get charged at by a rhino or a hippo then I get just as scared as the next man. What I learn every day is that animals are more scared of us than we are of them - they would rather move away from us than risk contact with us.
When have you been most scared in your life?
I am always most scared when I come back from a trip to a big city. I could have been filming venomous spiders in the rainforest but human beings are by far and away the most frightening animals on earth. They are to my mind, the most destructive species in the world, the only species that destroys the environment in which we live and I have seen so many situations when humans have been confrontational and demanding and aggressive where animals just aren’t.
You are going to talk about some of the animals that inspire you, can you give us any clues as to which animals they may be?
The second half of the show is very much about tigers; I did a big expedition in the Himalayas about three years ago. And the first half is more about everything from the tiniest spiders to the biggest whales - and lots of things that people won’t have seen before.
And which, if any, humans have inspired you/been role models/heroes (or heroines) to you?
My parents have been the greatest inspiration and role models for me on a day to day basis. When I was younger I read a lot and so people like Gerald Durrell, Jack London who wrote a book called the Call of the Wild, Willard Price, they were my heroes. Then as I got older it was Richard Dawkins, Darwin. My heroes have always been much more in print rather than on screen.
How’s the tour going?
It’s going great. One of the really exciting things for me is connecting with the people who watch the programmes and answering their questions about what it’s like. I get to see the passion young people have in their lives for animals and the environment.
You know if you believed everything you read in the Daily Mail you would think all kids do is just sit in front of the computer all day but actually there is so much going on with kids today, playing outside, interested in animals and the environment and I get to see that interest, which is the best bit. I get so much back from being on tour than I give.
My kids think you have a dream job - how did you get into presenting?
I was working as a writer and had an idea for a television programme so I bought a video camera and filmed myself catching spiders and snakes and sold it to National Geographic and became their “adventurer in residence”. I always wanted to be a writer, tv came much later, but it is a very happy way to spend my days.
You’ve been all over the world with Deadly 60 in particular, but also the Rough Guide series - do you have a favourite place?d
The Himalayas are my favourite place, they have the most dramatic scenery there and also perhaps the most surprising animals. I like not feeling as though we are in a sanitised world, that we are at the mercy of the elements and the Himalayas definitely has that. Of course, I have spent lots of time in Scotland. The last time I had a holiday, which was in 2010, I sea kayaked around Skye, cooking limpits on deserted beaches with fires made out of driftwood. The beaches are extraordinary up there, it is my idea of paradise.
And what made you decide to write fiction?
I always wanted to write and started in non-fiction - travel, wildlife - and my ninth book is my first fiction novel. It’s a very different dynamic, I really enjoyed it, it was just like having a movie playing in my head and needing to get it all out on to paper. I won’t stop writing non-fiction yet though.
You are a bit of an action man - what gives you more of a buzz - the adventuring side of things or the animals?
I don’t think the two should be separated. I believe that everyone should try to switch on to nature whatever they are doing. Everything can be enriched by noticing what’s going on around you at all times and wherever you are, whether that is the birds singing in the trees or whatever. It’s all about switching on. So yeah, I like both but I think because I am aware of the wildlife, everything, the adventure side of things included, is better, more enhanced an experience.
Tours like this must seem quite tame compared to what you are used to?
I find it far more frightening standing up in front of a group of people who could ask you anything than I find catching a king cobra!
It must be difficult with all the travelling but do you have any pets of your own?
I don’t have any pets at the moment but over the years I have kept just about everything. Some day I will settle down a bit but not in the immediate future; look at David Attenborough, he’s still doing what he does in his 80s so I don’t see that I would have to settle down. I certainly won’t ever lose my passion for wildlife.
What’s next after the tour and book - more Deadly 60? Have you reached 60 yet?!
Yes, we’ve passed 180, and there’ll be another deadly series next year. There’s also a couple of Lost Lands in the pipeline, so plenty more on the horizon.
A Wild life: An Audience with Steve Backshall is in Perth Concert Hall on Thursday, June 28.