Interview by Graham Chalmers
It may be that point of the year when the line-up for BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing starts getting revealed but ex-contestant Steve Backshall doesn’t seem that nostalgic about his spell on the dancefloor, if his answer to my opening question is anything to go by.
Would you rather wrestle a crocodile or do another series of Strictly, I ask the popular wildlife presenter and naturalist, who’s just back from a mountaineering expedition in the Swiss Alps.
There’s a short laugh then a typically precise reply: “I’d very much prefer the crocodile option. Wildlife has always been my passion since I was three or four years old.”
The musclebound Steve is on record for having made some good friends on last year’s series of the hugely successful BBC entertainment show, including fellow contestants Judy Murray and Mark Wright.
And the Surrey-born 42-year-old was quite a hit with audiences and judges, too. He and his dance partner Ola Jordan battled all the way to the ninth week, aided by Steve’s likably positive personality and the occasional bare-chested shimmy from this famous adventurer.
Smiling, he tells me, is his normal reaction.
“It’s very much my personality. It’s how I react to everything.”
It’s just as well. He’s lucky to be alive after a climbing accident in 2008, the details of which are almost too horrific to go into.
At least he will be on safer ground on his new UK-wide speaking tour which is set to arrive at Harrogate’s Royal Hall in October.
As well as his exploits round the globe filmed for hit TV shows such as The Really Wild Show and The Lost Land of the. . .he’s also the author of 13 books, fiction as well as non-fiction.
Ostensibly, Steve will be in Harrogate to talk about his trilogy of fun fiction novels for teenagers, The Falcon Chronicles. But there will be more.
Action-packed as the books are, their settings and themes are heavily environmental and close to his heart.
“Going on the road gives me a chance to speak directly to audiences about something I passionately believe in.
“It’s very important to me that people are excited by the natural world. It’s the same people who will have to help protect it.”
I ask Steve about fellow naturalist and adventurer, the late Steve Irwin. Did he know him? Did his death make him doubt his own daring lifestyle?
“I didn’t know Steve Irwin, personally, but the remarkable thing about his death (Irwin died in 2006 after an encounter with a stingray while filming in the Great Barrier Reef) was that it wasn’t just a one in a million accident, it was one in a billion.
“I’ve studied all the books and the chances of being stung in the heart like that are incredibly small. It could not happen again. It was the ultimate freak accident.
“Steve was a great advocate of wildlife conservation and he would be sad if his death put off anyone from getting involved with the natural world, as would his family.
“Even in this modern era, nothing switches me on more than being on my own in the wilderness. It’s the most important thing in the world.”
I’m not sure if he’s married but I try suggesting that all this dangerous gallivanting about must worry his ‘better half’, whoever that is?
He tells me he isn’t married but does live with his partner, the Olympic champion rower Helen Glover.
She does get worried, he confides, before adding in his definitive manner that he’s looking forward the time when she retires from the sport she so excels at.
“I’m sure when Helen finally stops rowing she will join me on my expeditions.”
Ultimate adventurer or ultimate romantic?
Steve Backshall’s Wild World takes place on Thursday, October 22 at the Royal Hall in Harrogate where there will be copies of his books The Falcon Chronicles and Mountain on sale.