Steve Backshall - a life outdoors

TV presenter, naturalist, writer and public speaker Steve Backshall on couch potatoes, cave men and the outdoors

Steve Backshall is one of TV's best-known wildlife presenters, naturalists, writers and public speakers. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about couch potatoes, cave men and his best and worst outdoor experiences.

1) What, for you, are the benefits of being outside?

The psychological benefits are well proven. There’s the vitamin D, the endorphins, the serotonin, and reduced obesity. For me it’s metaphysical. We are an outdoor animal. In the last few decades we have had more of a sedentary lifestyle, although we haven’t changed much psychologically and physically. Getting outside certainly is therapy. It gives you a spring in your step.

My time during Strictly was the longest time I’ve ever spent without getting outside. I needed the outdoors like a drug. It was a deeply, deeply painful thing to be without.

2) What are your favourite things about being outside?

I like that every day is different. You’ll get different weather… a different bird flying over….

3)What do you like about GB?

Despite travelling the world, I am coming to love my home patch more and more. I live near a river in Bucks. I love the simple things like seeing birds rearing their youngsters. These are things to really treasure.

4) Any favourite areas of GB?

I adore the west coast of Scotland, as well as Cornwall and Pembrokeshire.

5) What’s the best experience you’ve ever had outside?

A sea kayaking trip around the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. It was winter but we had calm, velvet waters and blue, blue skies. We saw whales and seals who would play around our boat. It was an utter joy.

6) And the worst experience you’ve ever had outside?

Sleeping up a tree for two days trying to film harpy eagles. I had to stay in a harness the whole time – but I got a really bad bout of traveller’s diarrhoea!

7) What are your favourite outdoor pursuits?

I love mountain biking, sea kayaking, and mountaineering.

8) What’s your favourite terrain to get out in?

Mountains. I love the views, the sense of achievement, the challenge, the wildlife.

9) What tips do you have to encourage people outside?

You don’t have to go big. You can just go to your local park. You can ride the train to Snowdon just to have that view outside.

"Map reading is a skill that’s dying out. Everyone should be able to read with a map and compass. It can and will save lives."

Steve on what he never goes outside without

10) Why do you think some of us are couch potatoes?

It’s linked to certain elements of biology. Throughout six million years of evolution we’ve been outside. The challenges were real and we still have these engrained. When there were times of plenty, and times of rest, we took advantage, but our modern brains have not learned to switch these signals off.

11) What inspired you initially to get out and do it?

My mum and dad. They were obsessed by the outdoors and animals. My sister and I had a wonderful childhood and opportunities. No question, the outdoors has always been a big part of my life.

12) What do you/ don’t you eat?

I’m very careful where my food comes from. I make sure it’s from a sustainable source which doesn’t damage the environment. I don’t have fizzy drinks, crisps or sweets, though if I’m on a big adventure such as a race or expedition I’ll have some chocolate for energy. It’s all about balance and moderation.

13) Who are your heroes?

I have huge admiration for naturalist Chris Packham who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife.

Also the naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace who was born in 1823. I’d love to have met him.

14) What wise words do you live by?

Something I’ve taken from my mum which is: “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

15) Is there anything you don’t get outside without?

I’m always with a penknife, map and compass. I’m an OS map user in a big way. It’s almost a daily thing. I’m enormously proud of OS. Its level of cover in this country is extraordinary. I think it’s something that, hand on heart, Brits do better than anyone else.

Map reading is a skill that’s dying out. Everyone should be able to read with a map and compass. It can and will save lives.

16) Tell us something not many people know about you.

I have a black belt in Judo.

17) What do you like to do in your spare time?

Much the same as I do on camera. I go sea kayaking, climbing and bird watching. I’m lucky to have a job which lets me do the things I love.

18) Any guilty pleasures?

Ooh I love a good curry now and again.

19) What’s next for you?

I’m doing a live tour of the UK in the Autumn. I’ll be talking all about my outdoor adventures.

20) What is your GetOutside pledge?

To take up rowing.


View all #GetOutside Guides