Steve Backshall: The adventurer on swimming with great whites, holding a gorilla by the hand, and his failed relationships

 

I yearn for the golden era of exploration I'd have given anything to have been around when we were truly opening up parts of the planet for the first time. For me, reading what [the British explorer] Alfred Russel Wallace wrote about travelling through the Malay archipelago in the 19th century, when he was discovering new species every single day, it felt like he was having the sort of adventures that, if you'd read about them in King Solomon's Mines, you wouldn't have believed them.

I feel ill at ease in big cities There's nowhere I feel more intimidated than wandering about in town on a Saturday night after chucking-out time, with hammered people rolling round the street. I feel much more at home in the Arctic or up a big mountain. I love that sense of wilderness, of being on my own.

Humans are so much more frightening than animals Animals would rather get away from you than risk conflict in almost every situation. My hairiest experiences have been with humans: when I was working in East Timor in the mid-1990s, writing a guide to the area, I got caught up in cross-fire when a peaceful demonstration was put down with bullets by the military. People were lying in the gutter everywhere; the front of the building I was cowering in was blown away. It was a terrifying experience.

Being hunted by a polar bear was a chilling moment, mind They're one of the few animals on Earth that, given the chance, will stalk, kill and eat a human being. I was on my own [filming], well inside the Arctic Circle up among the pack ice, and a long way from the main boat, when I spotted one. I thought he'd swim on past me, but when he got within 30 metres, he started to approach, keeping icebergs between me and him so I couldn't see him, before ducking underneath one and popping up four metres away. But I was in a modern sea kayak, so I got away.

People think it's lunacy to swim with sharks without a cage [Backshall accompanied a group of great whites while filming Swimming with Monsters.] But it's not suicide, as I know how these animals are likely to act and I do a full risk assessment with every encounter.

Watching mountain gorillas moved me to tears It happened the first time we filmed in Uganda, where we were allowed to spend an hour with them. When the time was up and I stepped away, this tiny baby gorilla, which would have fitted in my hands, fixed its gaze on me from about 20 metres away, then walked with purpose right up to me and sat down practically in my lap, taking me by the hand. I burst into tears.

I've sacrificed a normal life I come from a very close family and I'd always assumed I'd be married with kids by the time I was in my mid-twenties. But I turned 40 last year, I'm single and I have no kids, as I've not been able to hold down a relationship in years. How could I? Last year I was away for nearly 11 months, totally out of contact, so that part of my life has had to take a back seat. I do regret it, though, as I'm at the age when I'm wondering where [a family] is going to come from.

Existential angst sets in after a big trip away One moment you're diving with sea lions, then you're back home dealing with a collapsed drain. So while I look forward to coming home, once back I do sometimes have moments of feeling numb.

Backshall, 40, is an adventurer and TV presenter best known for his children's natural-history series 'Deadly 60'. The new series, 'Deadly on a Mission', which sees him travel Pole to Pole in search of deadly wildlife, starts on BBC1 at 5.30pm tonight

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: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin