Michaela Strachan: Born to present children's TV

A new book, a stint on 'Springwatch', and now she gets to meet Kunal Dutta... again

Michaela Strachan and I have history. It started with heartfelt letters (she replied only with signed postcards); then desperate pleas to be her co-presenter (she declined, insisting it could leave her out of a job). And, finally, the meeting. I was 10. She was 24. It was in the Granada TV studios in Manchester – and I had won a singing contest on the Wide Awake Club, the children's show that propelled Michaela to fame.

So, when I get to interview her about her new book, Michaela Strachan's Really Wild Adventures, due out this year, and her stint as the glamorous face of Springwatch, we have a lot to catch up on. But, to my chagrin, she has no recollection of our first star-crossed meeting 23 years ago. At all. "God. Were you really on it?" she asks, bursting into laughter. "That's hilarious. What did you sing?"

"Kylie Minogue," I mutter. "'It's never too late'."

But it is, of course, far too late. Speaking from her home in Cape Town where she lives with her partner and six-year-old son, it is painfully clear that I'm nothing but another childhood fan. She has an army of them. Her impact on my generation left an impression so deep that the band Scouting for Girls wrote an ode to her in 2007 with the lyrics "Michaela Strachan you broke my heart when I was 12". She was relatively unfazed. "The band was more worried about it than I was. All I could think was, did I really mean this much to people?"

From the outset, Strachan seemed made for children's television. She landed her first presenting job on the Wide Awake Club, aged just 19, and quickly became a fixture across the range of children's programming at TV-AM. Flanked by Timmy Mallett's manic eccentricity and Tommy Boyd's schoolteacher demeanour, Strachan could feign unimaginable levels of enthusiasm for just about anything.

Now 46, she despairs at the state of children's TV today. "CBeebies is great, within limits," she says. "Then you get to the likes of Boomerang and, my God, it just morphs into one crappy cartoon after another."

It is a perspective shaped by her son, Ollie, whom she fears is becoming a cartoon addict. "As a parent, you soon realise that to get your child away from the TV you have to create a diversion. But if I am working or looking at emails, he'll just quietly slip away. And an hour later I'll find he's still watching cartoons."

Strachan professes "tremendous sympathy" for young people today. "Kids have so much choice that they don't know where to focus their attention. So much of their entertainment involves sitting around and staring at screens. It's become faceless. The way this manifests itself is that they find it difficult to talk to somebody face to face or share their emotions. When they're dumping boyfriends and girlfriends, they can just do it in a text. And that's really changing them."

For the worse, it seems. "Ours was the Thatcher generation. Ultimately, we were all trying to succeed. There was a work ethic instilled in us. Our parents grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War. They were used to struggle and hardship.

"What you see now is the 'why? generation'. Everything is questioned, rather than obeyed. That's not wrong; it's just made it more difficult."

She has had to endure difficulties of her own. In 2010, her Countryfile co-presenter Miriam O'Reilly sued the BBC for age discrimination. Strachan was among four female presenters who were let go in a shake-up.

But she's more at ease with it all than her peers. "When programmes are not securing ratings, the easiest thing to do is change your presenters. Sometimes, it's nothing more than that. I say, 'thank you Countryfile, you gave me 10 great years...' It's a bit naive to be bitter. But fair play to Miriam. She felt passionately about it; she took them on and she won."

And Michaela is back in the limelight, becoming the face of Springwatch, replacing Kate Humble and reuniting with Chris Packham, with whom she presented The Really Wild Show nearly 20 years ago. The programme, which ends this week, has been well received, with Strachan comfortably taking the reins from Humble.

And, for someone who has had years of being the unassailable object of teenage affection, she is not blasé at all. She even gives me reason not to despair at the time I have waited for our interview. Before it ends, she asks a question: "Is there still a VHS of that show somewhere?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all