If you have a child under the age of 12, chances are you’ve heard of Steve Backshall. The British author, naturalist, expedition leader and television presenter stars in Deadly 60, one of the world’s most popular children’s programs.
Deadly 60 entertains and educates its young audience by introducing them to some of the world’s most fascinating – and dangerous – predators.
The focus on predators was a deliberate choice.
“When I was developing Deadly 60, it was with the absolute certainty that predators have a universal appeal. Everyone is fascinated by birds of prey, sharks, big cats, snakes and spiders,” he tells Weekender.
“Beyond that, we always made sure to make programs that felt inclusive, where the audience were coming with me every step of the way. And we had to make sure it was fun.”
Like the late Steve Irwin before him, Backshall is introducing the wonders of the natural world to a new generation. He gets up close and personal with the animals and, with a healthy dose of humour, encourages children to appreciate and respect wildlife in all its diversity.
As a presenter, he sits somewhere between Irwin and David Attenborough. He engages his target audience with an action-packed show and lots of laughs but is articulate and thorough in his delivery. Backshall knows what he’s talking about. Children watching the show are learning without realising it.
Backshall has been fascinated by wildlife, he tells Weekender, since he could crawl.
“My mum and dad very much encouraged my love of the outdoors and of nature, and were without doubt my greatest inspiration,” he explains.
“My fascination is where exploration and natural history come together. Nothing beats being out on an expedition, hundreds of miles away from civilisation, finding wildlife that in some cases may turn out to be new to science.”
As a child, he counted as his best friends the animals that lived around him at his family property – from the asthmatic donkey to the grass snakes in the manure heap. After graduating from Exeter University he studied martial arts in Japan and achieved his black belt.
Backshall has led an interesting life. He has written several books and, during his travels, drank blood with remote tribes, nearly got caught in fatal crossfire in riots in East Timor, came nose to nose with komodo dragons, and attempted to walk solo across Irian Jaya (and failed).
He has been squirted with ink by humboldt squid, flirted with by a tarantula, charged by elephants and stared out by thresher and great hammerhead sharks but maintains that wild animals pose no threat to people – in fact, quite the opposite.
“The one thing that gives me hope is that the younger generation are far more aware of the environment and conservation than my generation were,” he says.
“At my live shows I see thousands of kids who have a massive passion for wildlife and taking care of it.”
Backshall was more than happy, via Weekender, to answer questions from two of his young Australian fans.
Eight-year-old Cleo asked him what his first job was: “My first job was working for a local animal charity, cleaning out cages and walking the dogs.”
Has he ever been injured while filming? Yes. Backshall has been bitten by an anaconda and a crocodile.
And his favourite animal? The Wolf.
Haylee, 7, asked Backshall about the “funniest thing that’s happened on Deadly 60”.
“Probably the mountain gorilla with a horrible case of wind,” he replies with a laugh.
Backshall is bringing Deadly 60 Pole to Pole Live to Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on January 6. Demand for the first show was so high that a second show has been announced.
“We’ll be showing our finest animal encounters from the world’s wildest places, out-takes and bloopers, bits people haven’t seen before, plus of course lots of chances for the audience to ask me questions about animals,” he explains.
He will also be bringing his wife, Olympic rowing champion Helen Glover, with him. The couple were married in September and, true to form, will be seeking adventure at every turn.
“We’ve already been out diving with whale sharks and sea lions together on honeymoon, and are looking forward to more great adventures in Australia. It’s one of my favourite places on earth. And like me, my wife never sits still for a minute.”
The audience will be taken on a journey by Backshall as he shares his experiences travelling from the South Pole to the North Pole, and his gripping encounters with deadly creatures from all corners of the globe.
From the Arctic to the Antarctic, the tundra to the top of the world’s highest peaks, and from the depths of the rainforest to the bottom of the sea, the show is suitable for fans of the TV series as well as wildlife enthusiasts of all ages. Weekender will be giving readers the chance to win tickets to the January 6 show in the coming weeks.
Backshall is launching a new expedition series on television soon, where he attempts to descend a whitewater river in New Guinea. He describes the experience as “hardcore”.