Expedition With Steve Backshall is the presenter’s most ambitious TV series yet, following his adventures into areas of the globe never before visited by humans. He tells Georgia Humphreys about the challenges of making the series, and reveals how becoming a father has changed him.
Steve Backshall never used to think about his loved ones in moments of danger.
The naturalist, adventurer and hugely likeable TV personality has fronted many adrenaline-fuelled series over the years, such as BBC’s Steve Backshall’s Extreme Mountain Challenge, and Down The Mighty River With Steve Backshall.
When things got tough, he would be “grimly focused on the task at hand” and back home wouldn’t enter his mind at all – one of the reasons he believes he was capable of doing the jobs that he has.
But last year, his wife, Olympic gold medal-winning rower Helen Glover, gave birth to their son, Logan.
And that meant that filming his latest show, Expedition With Steve Backshall, for UKTV was totally different.
“For the first time in my whole life, when I got into those sticky situations, my first thought was, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got a baby back home and I cannot die here, because there’s so much that I want to see and want to do’,” confides Surrey-born Backshall, 46, also known for fronting children’s wildlife show Deadly 60.
“And those humanising moments, they definitely make you weaker, and they definitely make it harder.”
Here, we find out more from Backshall about his new series, the challenges he faced making it, and life as a dad.
ON THE INSPIRATION FOR EXPEDITION WITH STEVE BACKSHALL…
This series is 10 expeditions, to parts of the planet that people haven’t visited before, attempting real world-firsts. It can be discovering ancient human artefacts that haven’t been revealed for tens of thousands of years. It could be making the first ever white-water descent of a Himalayan river, or journeying into a jungle ravine or desert canyon that hasn’t been explored before. And, more than anything, I think it’s trying to prove that real old-fashioned exploration is still possible, even in this day and age.
ON CHALLENGING HIMSELF…
The hardest thing was the cumulative effect on me. Usually I do one of these expedition projects a year, maybe one every 18 months; we’ve done 10 in the space of 12 months. And I was super well-prepared for the very first one, but by the time we got seven in, eight in, I was exhausted, I was mentally drained, I was horribly missing home, missing my wife and my new baby. And physically as well – physically completely destroyed.
ON HIS SCARIEST MOMENT…
I think descending into a canyon in the desert in Oman, in the middle of summer, when it was pushing 50 degrees, and we had been going all day long.
We’d already dropped down ropes a fair bit, so climbing back up again was going to be next to impossible, and we all ran out of water. And we’re all looking at each other going, ‘Oh my god, this is just the absolute worst-case scenario’.
We had all gone in carrying as much water as we were physically capable of doing but in that heat you just suck it down, and if we hadn’t come to a pool … when you see it on television you’re not going to believe that we drunk the water in this pool. It was just brown sludge, full of insects, full of frogs. But we lapped it down like it was the finest champagne, because by then we were all right on the edge.
ON OVERCOMING DIFFICULT MOMENTS…
The thing that has always done it for us over the course of this last year has been that sense of the unexpected; paddling down a white water river exhausted, feeling like I could not take another stroke, and then you come round the corner and you see a view that is the most beautiful thing you think you’ve ever seen in your life, and you know that nobody has ever seen it before. That gives you a shot of adrenaline and enthusiasm that gives you the next hour of paddling for free.
ON FUTURE ADVENTURES WITH HIS SON…
There have been several places along the way that I have named after him and there is nothing I can imagine being more exciting than being able to take him to climb the mountain that has his name, or drop down into the desert pool that has his name. Or even, forget that, just pure and simple – taking him sea kayaking for the first time, wild camping on a beach for the first time, eating seaweed and mussels. I am so, so excited about a possible future that we have.
ON BEING SELF-CRITICAL…
I’m very lucky in that I started off in 1998 working for the National Geographic as their adventurer in residence. All of my early projects for the first five years of my career I did everything – I filmed them, I researched them, I presented them, and I edited them myself.
I got to see all the things that I do that are irritating, all of the unpleasant tics that I have, all the repetition that I have, and it was horrible. I hated it! But it gave me the chance to iron those things out, and now I’ve been doing it for 20 years, I hope that I won’t do those things anymore.
ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES…
I see these perfect, pristine places, that are the way it should be. I see the way that we are wrecking the planet, and it makes me horribly frustrated. But I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Parliament over the last year or so, lobbying various climate groups, and being part of various focus groups, and the overwhelming thing that I see now is young people who are engaged with the issues of the environment, speaking about it in ways that are more eloquent than I am – and this is what I’ve done for a living for 20-plus years!
There is a new wave of highly intelligent, very driven, very empowered young people who believe that they can change the world and make it a better place, and I think they’re right. And that gives me hope.
Expedition With Steve Backshall starts on Dave tomorrow. The tie-in book, Expedition by Steve Backshall, is published by BBC Books priced £20.