« Desert Island Discs

Steve Backshall, Explorer

2020-08-02 | 🔗
Steve Backshall is an explorer, naturalist and broadcaster. His BAFTA-winning programmes bring viewers of every generation closer to nature – from the children's series Deadly 60, featuring close encounters with the most dangerous and venomous creatures on earth, to Blue Planet Live and Springwatch. His interest in the natural world began at a young age, after his parents decided to swap their terraced house for a smallholding with goats, ducks and geese. His big break as a broadcaster arrived when National Geographic offered him the post of Adventurer in Residence and he’s been taking on the most arduous challenges and toughest environments on earth ever since. He ran a marathon in the Sahara and has swum cage-free with great white sharks. His adventures have also brought him many near-death moments. He broke his back while rock climbing and recently almost drowned while kayaking in Bhutan. Steve is married to the Olympic champion rower Helen Glover, and they have a two year old son and twins born earlier this year. DISC ONE: Beautiful War by Kings of Leon DISC TWO: The Wind by Cat Stevens DISC THREE: Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead DISC FOUR: Even After All by Finley Quaye DISC FIVE: I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by Ash Cutler and Rachael Hawnt DISC SIX: Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley DISC SEVEN: 6 Words by Wretch 32 DISC EIGHT: This Life by Vampire Weekend BOOK CHOICE: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez LUXURY ITEM: A guitar CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by Ash Cutler and Rachael Hawnt Presenter: Lauren Laverne Producer: Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Bbc sounds music radio, podcasts, hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island and for rights reasons, the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy thing my cast away this week is the naturalist, broadcaster and also Steve factual, his back after waiting for
guns bring viewers if every generation close to nature from kid series deadly sixty via the spectacular blue planet life to the pledges of spring watch, though, if you ve only seen the latter, you might be surprised to discover what this naturalist action hero gets up to when he's not keeping an eye out for budgets or feeling you in on bird life in the children's is big break arrived when national geographic offered him the post of adventurer in residence
and he's been taking on the most grueling challenges and toughest environments on earth. Ever since he ran a marathon in the sahara has swung cage free with great whites, anaconda in crocodiles and earned a red bury by completing the israeli special forces selection course at the negative desert boot camp. Despite many near death moments, he broke his back, while rock climbing and almost drowned while kayaking in bhutan. His appetite for adventure is keen as ever, though, finding it is increasingly tricky. He says it's one of the things that sets us apart as a species, our desire to understand to push back new frontiers. There is an assumption that all of that was done years ago that there is no more
operation to be done. But there is you just need to look a lot harder nowadays, Steve actual welcomed, desert island discs. Well, thank you very much. What an amazing introduction so much steve of what you do is about discovery that idea of being first. What is that feeling like this? think quite unique to the moment where you walk into a cave and your torch illuminates darkness that has never before light, not in in millions of years, especially if it turns out to be beautiful, that sense of being the first of placing the first ever footprint honour on a mountain top or alongside a jungle river is something that I have been lucky enough to do many times in my career, and it is just the most extraordinary experience. I think it's one of the thing that has made us so successful as a species that desire to explore that desire to find out new things about Well to see it is something that requires an explanation. You must.
casting your torchlight round a cave, I know there was a particular trip to borneo not long ago, when you made an amazing discovery and in a cave system there, yeah borneo, very special place me somewhat. First expeditions in the early nineties, ninetys were there and its, hobbled jungle island is one that is it being deforested at a frightening rate and last year we did it in The mission there into an area of mountains about the size of belgium, which remains pristine, perfect rainforest and in these glorious limestone mountains in the interior of this jungle. After a couple of weeks of hacking in through the forest, we found caves, which were unmapped,
and emblazoned on the walls were handprints which had been left there by our ancestors at least forty thousand years ago, when we here in europe, were still living, surrounded by short, face, cave bears and mastodons, and it you know- and it just absolutely blew our minds, but I think the thing that more than anything stood out was the fact that they placed those handprints in exactly the same place that we would do now. They place them in the spots where he got the most aesthetic beauty that we would appreciate as modern humans, and there was a timelessness about that place with all the great changes that are sweeping through our civilization. Now there is something uniquely human that remains, on changed all the way back from pre history. So, let's tend to your music choices, Steve, I'm! Assuming that it's easy for you to imagine life as a castaway than it is for most of the guests who come on the programme today. How did he decides on
Today's selection was so hard. I could quite easily have given you a hundred different tracks, but will I try to do is think of really special particular payments back through my life and and the songs that really sum them up. All the songs I was playing at those moments and and go for those, and that's definitely true of my first track while tell us about it, then I think we'd love to hear it. I couldn't possibly do this without doing at least one kings of leon song, because they are awesome, but in the expedition that I was just talking about in borneo, we were in these caves and we just discovered these forty thousand year old works of art, which was a discovery of quite genuine import, and we all came back that evening. We put up our hammocks in the jungle and we were shaking with excitement. And I can remember off the wheat sat round the butterfly chatting. I got into my hammock, and I mean I put my headphones in and I listened to this song and I just punch the air kingsley on and beautiful.
bye make a scene of what we can of leon and beautiful war, so steve back
so you recently being closer to home, presenting spring watch from their during lockdown, and we saw a splendid heronry not far from where you live on the thames has what some scientists, recalling the anthropology, made a difference to what's been happening in the natural world around you owe it made a colossal difference on my river. I call it my river. Obviously it's mine appreciate it belongs to the queen. During look down all of a sudden, we went from being one of the busiest navigation in the country to being totally silent and my portion of it
ams was transformed into what appeared to be a wildlife refuge every single night we were treated with these velvet calm waters and the wonderful sunsets all of the nesting birds, particularly those that nest down at at water level, have had unparalleled success, and it did feel like a like a time when nature was given a chance to to surge forward and also, I certainly received an awful lot of feedback that it was a time when we began to appreciate nature, as as a nation have I hope as a population across the world. More than we ever have them before people with savouring the bird song in the back garden, my
Sincere hope is that we can hang on to those connections, because I've spent my entire life living outside working with nature working with animals. I know how much it can give us in terms of of well being is a potential panacea, so many of our ills and people have been discovering that they been broody feeling through lockdown, and I hope that we don't lose it now now. I know stephen at a very quiet. Looked down yourself, you're, a damn twins who were born in january and your eldest sons almost too, I think, are they of an age where you can start to introduce them to the natural world. It has been a a wild whaling lockdown for me. That's for sure you know. So many of my friends have been talking about the fact that during lockdown, they've they've read all these books in a in their magnum opus, whereas I've basically been changing nappies but logan, my oldest, who is too very sing. He really has switched on tonight.
and wildlife and seeing that the joy on his face when he gets to feed the signals that have nested on the edge of our garden and gets to see the ducklings coming in only river and gets to feed them He gave his favorite phrase in the world is dragonfly larva, dragonfly larva, because we we went out and we caught a bunch. We put them into a tank and we saw them sort of like growing, be seen them emerging alongside the river and he has massively connected with nature it's time to go to the music steve. What are we going to hear next?
and why have you chosen this one? So my second disc is all about family, I'm very lucky in the I grew up on the edge of woodlands and the and the surrey heath, and my parents are both massively into the outdoors and they very much lead the way for myself and my sister and I have incredibly fond memories of sitting around the bonfire with my my parents, particularly my dad playing the guitar and singing songs and he's a big hefty rugby playing guy. He has massive fingers and he was terrible at playing the guitar, but he has a surprisingly soft and kind of beautiful voice for him. He just wouldn't imagine you'd hear that voice coming out at my dad and he used to seeing lots of out old, foggy song, say things like peaceful mary, Ralph, mattel, John denver and cats stevens soon to win. Do in my suit,
where ireland, where nothing only god really know I've said son but never never never wanted. War once when the wind, some thereby cat stephen, but also by your dad, Steve factual. So, let's go back to the beginning, then that sense of adventure, thus being with you since an early age. Did it come from your parents, it dude yeah my mom and dad have always been great travellers. They ve always been incurred
we adventurous people, my dad worked for british airways for forty three years. My mum also worked for them and that gave us the ability to travel. So, despite the fact that we weren't exactly loaded, we got to go on safari in africa and south america and india as youngsters and to see an awful lot of the world's most exotic side. But once we got to these places yet we didn't go and stay in fancy hotels. We either kept our oil. We found ourselves cheap, lodging and actually really really lived, the places that we went to, and that was really really, I think, transformational and certainly had a massive role to play in how I've ended up living my life, but also they were adventurous in their life choices as well. So when I was about four, my mom and dad pulled into a small farm near by where we lived cause, they were led by some manure for the roses and came away having swapped their two up two down,
for a twelve year lease on this small holding farm. It was a massive massive gamble for them, but it transformed our childhood into something very, very special. You were living on this small holding, so I am assuming surrounded by a set amount Nature, how many animals we were filled with mostly rescue animals? It was more like it. as sort of self sufficiency, and I liked like the good life kind of idea. Okay, but we had a. We had an asthmatic donkey called bonnie rebels who could never get all the way through bray without collapsing. In his asthmatic coughs, we had to psychotic guard dog geese called victoria,
albert, there was a little duckling called twit who had follow my mom around, including sitting in the washing up bowl while she did the washing up and the amazing experience of having goats and my mum actually helping with a breech birth. While my dad sat with the self sufficiency manual next to her open at the page, a breech birth and my mum elbow deep inside this goat trying to get us to have a successful kid and us charging around outside, like this, was totally normal. While my mum must have been having a fit think, we'd better have break the music Steve it's time for disc number. Three. What are we going to hear? I was in my early twenties and I tried to walk across new guinea, the western half the indonesian half on my own, I
ailed catastrophically. It was a travesty of an expedition from start to finish, I was frightened. I was lonely. I made endless bad decisions when I fell to walk across the island. I tried to what the length of its longest river- and I failed at that too, and my one bit accompany was my workmen and the cosette that I had inside it, which was the greatest album evermore aid the bends by radiohead and I could choose any single some from the oven, but I've done for this one, fake plastic,
trees, radiohead and faint plastic trees, so steep actual you'd already caught the travel bug growing up. But what were you all plans at that age
as a young man will, I think, at the time I was mostly focused on writing. I thought the writing was going to be my future. I'd I'd studied english at university. I found writing quite easy and it seemed like a relatively natural way for me to go, but I wasn't really connecting with my big love, which was wildlife, and so my ex thought was: how can I start to steer this towards what I really really want to be doing, which is going out and working with wild animals and learning more about them in their environment? And that's when I came up with an idea for a series which I went out and I made myself and sold to national geographic, and then they took me on is the the greatest job title I have ever had. sure in residence Ain its preposterous, I can remember having business called printed with steep actual national geographic adventurer residents written on them in a pretty much is going up and giving them to everybody
I met industry, but I had some amazing times they they gave me a tremendous amount of leeway to do whatever expeditions. I wanted to do that had so much trust in me, and it was setting the beginning of my career as a broadcaster in learning what it was to tell a story in television form, because it's not the same as doing on paper, and it was a great learning experience. We will take a second for some music. This is your fourth disk today, vivier chosen it. I spend a lot of time on my own spent I'm in my head and I become quite good at finding ways of of manipulating my own mood. So I know that if I feel a little bit down than I can take myself out for bike right in the driving rainbow,
get up early to see a sunrise or use music. I find music incredibly powerful as a way of turning my mood. The way that I would like it to go, particularly if I'm feeling lonely or sad or down, I can listen to certain tracks and I can make that just go away and- and this is the track that you know for decades now- I've used for that exact purpose. This is finley quake and even after all, even than all the murder. Even safari no, I love it. you know, I love you so
then became even after all, so Steve Baxter, one of your big tv. hits is deadly sixty and that's been shown in more than a hundred and fifty countries its aimed at children. Why do you think it's been so successful when I came up with the original idea that lead to deadly? I was very, very calculating about what I wanted it to achieve, and that was a universality of appeal. I wanted it to be watched by young people who have no idea that they even like wildlife, and do that. I use the stuff that everybody is interested in love or hate it. You start talking about sharks and snakes, in spite isn't scorpions and the most venomous this in the most poisonous that the most toxic. This and people pay attention and the idea was always to kind of snag into. As
many people as possible and switch them onto wildlife, not the trick of the series has always been that it's not about animals being dangerous to us as human beings ball from its all about how animals are deadly in their world. So, yes, we can draw them in with both shocks and tiger shocked, but we end up talking about dragonfly and castro's and it worked clicked and licence it's gone to whenever a hundred fifty countries around the world and its been going to thirteen years now. It's taken us to ordinary thirty, maybe forty countries and is still growing strong
No, it's probably easier to name a dangerous animal that you haven't encountered on camera than to run through the entire list. Here to date, we simply haven't got time, but I mean just at an outline crocodiles, polar bears, venomous, snakes, shocks and often, while also dangling from a rope or white water rafting, in a bid to find the animal in question we always physically brave. Were you the kid doing the biggest wheelings and climbing the tallest raises? Go yeah, I guess, or probably was. I think that, though, after a little while, once you start working with animals eat you kind of realise that there are certain limits and there are certain rules and that experience confidence ah much much more potent than bravado sir.
Anyone, you you're working with things like like shocks and crocodiles. You just have to make the right course, because in certain situations they can be absolutely safe and in certain situations than not on its knowing how to tell the difference, but you hop must be pumping when you're in the middle of that moment, when your face to face with such powerful animals. What does it feel like? I think the hot pumping is a really important distinction to make, because, if your hearts pumping than you probably shouldn't be in that situation, you need to be calm in its be relaxed. It's an old cliche. The animals consents fear. Will they absolutely can if you're working with big shakspeare, crocodiles, big cats, you have to have confidence, you have to have com and, if not, then
You really must not be in that place. Encounter situation the time your next disk stay. What are we gonna here and why? The most perfect day of my life here, I'm massive cliche was my wedding day and it came three weeks after my wife Helen one gold at the rear olympics she's cornish. So we got married on a cliff top above prussia cove. Looking down and sent Michael's mount. There was no stress, because here she just one the olympics, so she went for it was area was nothing that could stress her out and we had everybody that we loved in one big tent on a perfect blue sky day. A castro hovered over our heads as we set our vows and then a bow
powerful five o in the morning as the sun was just coming up in the light, was illuminated the sky behind some michael's mount. We sat round a bonfire and my dear friends, rachel and ash took up a guitar and started singing and sung this song it mean to you when I one million jobs, no more than a real aha, its trunk next year, five hundred miles some by your friends, Steve factual, rachel, haunt and ash cutler, and
he said your wife Helen still in the afterglow of her experience it the olympics and tell us about the metals that you on, that she is the first female british road to defend her title. She won gold at london, twelve with her wonderful partner, the standing and then they want again in rio in the air, the women's pair earlier this year steeply. So you on tv with your expedition series and that so you go and ten different experts. Since around the globe into uncharted territory, it must have taken a huge amount of preparation. It was over twenty use. Some of the ecb,
actions were ones that I had in my little black book that I've been preparing since the ninety. Ninety, since I got started on on expeditions, I was able to work with my partner and crime Wendy doc, who was also the person I got deadly sixty started with and became the first female head of the BBC natural history in it, and then we set up this project together to do ten expeditions, all of them world versed in the course of a year. It was massive. It coincided with me becoming a father for the first time I was away for months. Opponent often without any communication with back home. It was a revelation re, spectacular and very very emotionally, and it was one party he'll episode that I know you'll, never forget you were kayaking down rapids in bhutan and you almost didn't make it out. Tell me about that day. We were making first ascent of a river in himalayas in bhutan, and we came to the
if one day we ve been forced into a tight gorge with rock caused the several hundred metres high on both sides, and normally we would recognize each rapid before we ran it. But at this particular one we just couldn't you couldn't see what was ahead and we took the unprecedented step of just going for running it and that just was retrospectively a really bad cool. I dropped down into this kind of gullets of churning white water at the bottom of a small water for all, and I I just got it wrong. I didn't put enough but foreign momentum in and it struck me back in and then I was in big trouble. I was held in the rapid for about four and a half minutes, and this is glacial meltwater. It's gonna know much about freezing
and the big difference to this in any other close calls. I've had in the past is just the amount of time that it took in a four and a half. Minutes is enough time to think and enough time to process what's happening to you and realize I haven't gone of strength to get out of this myself. This wave has got me it's holding me. It's not gonna spit me out and then to think what that meant. You know I was drowning. This was how it was gonna end enough time to process the I wouldn't get to see logan grow up that I was never missy Helen again when it sounds melodramatic saying it now, but it certainly wasn't at the time in that dog gully in the middle of the hammer. And then my my shining light south montgomery. My did a friend and our safety guy cuz, somehow go back upstream against the rapids, go to a safety line out and threw it to me and drag me out by sitting bruised license by, and it's a really rare thing in our ought. We may say day and night
Oh you're, a lifesaver somewhat gives you a cup of tea or chocolate hobnob, but to say and really mean it? That's something pretty special and I know that everything else that happens in the hole the rest of my life is thanks to sow and thereon very few weeks goodbye. I dont send a message to say thank cell incredibly emotional on camera afterwards. But, interestingly, you described that day as the best day of my life, even though it was almost the last there's something very liberating about getting a sense of being close to death, because it kind of gives you such a greater appreciation of of all. You have to leave for the sense of gratitude of of friendship of
just how much I owed to these. People who are who are part of my team was was massive, was overwhelming, and yet I I will always see that as being one of those big turning points in my life when, when everything's changed and what happened afterwards, it changed how I had a much greater appreciation of of what I had what I had to lose and what was really important and increasingly that his fatherhood, that is having the opportunity to see my babies grow up, and I think I've always up until that moment. Really in a bit of a search you know being looking for trying to figure out what life's, what about what life spore nights with thundered around the planet, desperately doing least crazy things in an attempt to find out what I was here for and then found it in something as simple as is becoming a dad and such an emotional moment time: santiago, music, Steve! This is disk number
fix. What are we gonna here and why in mind and the night after my my close school in bhutan. Am I down or my eye with a ball of scotch, and I listened to some of my favorite, but most poignant chains, and this one is for me, the most melancholy the me Jeff Buckley and the last good bye, steve, factual, you ve travel the world with so many experts in the
seed of wildlife and of exploration of an extremely inhospitable places. What have you learned? You're, not time abates human inducements, where one of your former castaways. Jury simpson famously said that when you think you're done your only fifty percent of the way and he would know, I think that what I ve learned is that we have depths that we comply when we have to the can drag us out of the most cataclysmic situations. The human body is an extraordinary thing the human mind is even more potent a tool, and if he can learn how to train it, then you can genuinely conquer fear. You can conquer stress, you can achieve things that you may not actually be physically capable of, and I guess I've actually experienced that myself. You know I don't consider myself to
be a particularly hard core endure and sadly, but there have been times when I push myself so far beyond what I thought I was capable of doing or achieving, and it's all down to The little grey cells time for some more is it. This is your seventh today. What are we going to hear? You wouldn't know it, but I am actually particular when it comes to Helen a bit of an old romantic and when we started dating was probably the most sickening less romantic human being on the planet. I would like to warn leave. You listen is now that they may need to get sick bag out before I tell this story, but we will come up to our first period time that we can be spending apart, so she was going out to ruin the world championships. I was heading back out to new guinea to redo with considered more success, the expedition. I failed that in the ninety nine
these two are going to be apart for about six weeks, and I knew I wouldn't have much communication with back home. So I left her a treasure trail around the house so that she would find every other day a little message, a little poem, maybe a card, a box of chocolates or something that would just remind her that I was there and one of those things was an ipod with some headphones. And just one song on it, and it was this wretch three to six. What's causing knows by humanity. So clear. The numbers are still closed. The girl found shreds last rises, men living
lab free time, since six words wretch We two and six words Steve factual, I'm about to cast you away, then, to a solitary life on your desert island. What sort of island are you hoping for one with her a nice beach with a good source of fresh water lotta cocoanuts. Now, obviously, your survival skills are pretty good. What do you think? The biggest challenge that you will be facing is on the island. Anyone That's listen to this will know it's. It's gonna be missing Helen and missing the twins and logan Nothing else I think I'll go to deal with that. That is gotta, be turkey. What
learn about yourself. When you are isolated, you have to be disciplined. You have to have a plan. You have to check yourself regularly. If not, then you can, you know end up talking to a volleyball called wilson and a a little bit believe. The people that deal with things best are the ones that make sure that they ve they thought it's free beforehand. You once wrote that might defining characteristic is over enthusiasm, but of course, as you know, some challenges in a thereby acceptance. one a coming to terms with the way that something is even though we find that very hard? How do you deal with those kinds of problems, usually with more enthusiasm? It's both my biggest curse and my biggest blessing. I think anyway, Its name me for a long time will take the mickey. I me relentlessly for the fact that every single thing I do is the best ever is not
expectations. That is how I genuinely feel at that moment in time and the ability to kind of reset myself and find something it positive and in every sunrise and every sunset as some big things for me the time your last today Steve. What are we going to hear and why have you chosen it? So this comes from the first night that Helen and I spent in our first house. Together, it was completely bare of furniture. There was nothing nor even at a sofa. We were going to be sleeping on camp mattresses that night, but myself and Helen and our boy logan pawns in music and he was chuckling away. His eyes were just lit up and it was the most content I have ever been in my life jiving. Along to this
life by vampire weekend. The thing is as natural as the gallup. All the dreams then draw this life by vampire weekend. So steep actual, it's time to embark upon your island adventure, I'm going to give you the books to take with you. You will have the complete works of shakespeare.
Bible which are the, but would you like to take? I wanna go with a hundred years of solitude by gabriele, garcia Marquez, because it has so much magic, so much mystery, and it's probably the book that I can re read most over and over again and still find new wondering you can also choose a luxury item. What would make life on your island more bearable for you, sir? I've always been a little bit disappointed that I never learned how to play a musical instrument. So I'm going to take a guitar. I will probably be just as bad as my dad say when that happens, and when I'm rubbish I can smash it up, use it for fire, wouldn't use the strings to catch fish ever practical. I mean perfect, it's yours. Finally, if you could only save one of these eight desks, which would it be no doubt for the magical moment, it has to be my friends reach and ash sing
five hundred miles steve backshall. Thank you so much for letting us here. Your desert, island discs he's been such a pleasure hello. I really hope you enjoy that interview with steve, factual, I'm rather hoping he manages to learn to play the guitar instead of ending up using it for firewood with cost many explorers in naturalists away to our island, including the climate issue. Simpson, you can find his programme in Iraq and, if you search through BBC sounds next time, my guest, be Maria Balshaw, the director of the tate art, museums and galleries. I do hope. You'll join us.
from the one relays behind the amount imagine your living a very different life on the other side the world. Your fear, I cannot do anything. He lives Let in the shadows stay home, bring to make forth, and then someone take your child disappears The night was a little girl and you can't stay silent any longer and you'll do whatever it takes, travel thousands of miles across the globe to find your missing daughter. This is my try. I look after this choice. Ideas destroy every bad, join me soon, mitchell for this gripping new bbc radio for podcast series subscribed to girl taken on BBC sounds.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-06.