Steve Backshall

Steve Backshall

Steve Backshall has become one of the biggest names in factual TV, with the hunky host of the BAFTA winning nature show Deadly 60 becoming a regular sight when it comes to exploring the natural world.

Tonight sees him diving into another sticky situation, with his new show ‘Swimming With Monsters’ seeing him get up close and personal with some of the most fearsome creatures of the water and we grabbed some time with him to talk about the show, the role TV can play in conservation and the incredible success of Deadly 60.


So, to start off with, what can we expect from ‘Swimming With Monsters’?

Each one is a mission with one particular creature in mind and we’re off to find a real first, something new and interesting about their behaviours or their biology, and then to swim with them. So the four animals were the green anaconda, which is the biggest snake in the world, the hippo, the great white shark and the Humboldt squid.

As far as I know, no one’s ever scuba dived with hippos, no one’s ever filmed a green anaconda underwater and the other two were pretty full on as well.

Was trying to get firsts something that drew you to this project?

Absolutely. The thing that got me into the idea was that I was out in Venezuela early last year filming anacondas and I was having really struggling to find any. We were then driving down the road and I suddenly saw this massive snake track across the road that went into a pond and I thought that we’d never find it in there.

But I happened to have my swimming goggles on so I shoved those on and just jumped in and actually the visibility was pretty good and it had this fantastically spooky atmosphere. I thought that I could come back with some proper time and equipment, this would be unbelievable.

You’re talking about a snake that lives so much of it’s in or under the water and yet that’s something that no one’s ever seen. I had that in mind any way, I was determined to come back and do exactly that, but then the production company came to me with the rest of the idea and I just leapt at it.

Steve Backshall with a green anaconda

Over the years, you’re shows have been more about these slightly less cuddly animals. Are they in particular a passion of yours?

It always had been, ever since I was young. I think most schoolboys are most excited by scorpions, spiders and snakes, and I never really grew up. I’ve always had the same fascinations. I think that we as human beings are the most fascinated by those creatures that we consider dangerous.

Now that I’ve been doing this all my life and learnt so much more about them, one of my key maxims is to try and show people how exciting and interesting these animals are, but not dangerous to us as humans.

More a case of the deadliest creature being the one behind the cameraman.

That could not be truer, especially if you’ve met my cameraman.

He’s still going strong at the minute, but someday David Attenborough will have to retire. Do you think he can ever be replaced?

No, definitely not, there’s no chance. He’s come from a completely different era of television though. When he started off, there only was him, there was no one else doing those type of shows. He was critically important to the development of the genre and that will never happen again.

From here on in there are hundreds of channels doing wildlife programmes and dozens of presenters who are all aiming to fill some element of his role. He will never be replaced by a single person.

Steve Backshall in Botswana

Do you think that shows like this are important for more pressing concerns like conservation and the future of the natural world?

It couldn’t be more essential. We are at a critical point in time, many biologists are saying that we are on the brink of one of the great extinction events of the Earth’s history and it’s being caused by human beings. The best way of getting around all of the problems that are affecting our wild animals is through awareness. Particularly through getting people to love animals.

I think if you go out with too hard a conservation message, then you convince people that it’s all doom and gloom and nothing can be done. That will just have people switching off or have them coming away from your show feeling like there’s no way they can help. Whereas if you set out to make programmes that show the wild world in all its wonder, you get people excited and interested that will make them go and find out more in a positive frame of mind. I honestly feel there’s so much the media, particularly television, can do to affect the world and at the moment anything that can be done has to be a good thing.

Deadly 60 did a fantastic job of getting people interested in nature at a young age, do you think that having people be interested from childhood helps?

The results have shown that that is true and the great thing is that those types of shows are going out all across the world. It’s not just in the UK, it’s in China, Malaysia and Vietnam! Programs are going out there that talk about shark finning and tiger poaching are going out to where these are real issues and I think there is a great potential to change people’s perceptions of the world.

Steve Backshall swimming with sharks

Deadly 60’s been incredibly popular, with the show winning two BAFTAs back in 2011 and being nominated again this year. What’s that been like?

It’s been a real trip. The first time I think we realised how big it was was when we did a live show and did a tour around the UK and I think the people organising had prepared for a couple of hundred people to turn up and watch me talk. The biggest day of the tour, we had fifteen thousand. Being confronted with all these expectant, enthusiastic faces was mind blowing and we realised that we had to change tack and view things on a rather different level to what we had before. It’s just continued to snowball; now we’re in 157 countries and the feedback we get is phenomenal.

Finishing of, what’s next for you then in 2013?

I’ve got so much on and so many big things that I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. I will be swimming with crocodiles and sperm whales, going to the Arctic circle and doing so many things that are all very, very exciting to me.


Swimming With Monsters starts tonight on Discovery.

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