You grew up dancing and singing and wanted to be a performer, but when did you really know you wanted to work in travel?
I was very lucky as a child and my family took me on amazing holidays to places like Kenya, The Seychelles, Mauritius. From early on I loved travel. Then I went through a few years being a home-body! I was very happy to be in London. As soon as I started travelling for filming the bug took hold. It wasn’t so much steering my career towards travel, more that my career steered me to travel. And I’m certainly not complaining about that.
You presented Michaela’s Wild Challenge and did some pretty scary things! What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Springwatch and Autumnwatch are pretty challenging programmes to present – partly because it’s reactionary. My biggest challenge though was presenting a series for National Geographic Wild Safari Live. We did four hours live a day for a week from the Kruger National Park, two hours in the morning and two in the evening. I learnt very quickly to always have a ranger on standby to interview. On the more quirky side, I have had many crazy challenges for Michaela’s Wild Challenge. One in particular was to get my teeth cleaned under water by a fish! Now having a wrasse in your mouth cleaning your teeth is pretty quirky in my books!
From the outside your job looks perfect as you get to travel a great deal and take part in amazing wildlife adventures, but what is the biggest myth about your job/industry?
It is the perfect job!! But… there are sacrifices. One is that you’re away from home a lot. That can be great when you’re young, free and single but not so good when you’ve got a partner and children. It’s a constant juggle and compromise. I’ve been flying constantly for 20 odd years and it’s only just dawned on me how tiring it is. If only productions sent you business class it wouldn’t be so bad but we’re always in economy or ‘goat class’ as we call it.
You’ve witnessed animal births, followed the Big Five, been in pantomimes and have just had a book published. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Every year I have different highlights. Having my first book published was a big highlight this year. Making it into a children’s show will be next year’s highlight. It’s so nice to be so creative.
This year I’m also filming a series about African penguins. They are in serious decline and not many people seem to realise. Every year they collect the late born chicks who would probably not make it, they rehabilitate them then release them six to eight weeks later to bolster the numbers. I’m going to be a volunteer. Although it is a fab thing to do, feeding penguins is no easy task. I’ve just done my training and am covered with penguin bites and they hurt!
You were discovered in 7 Brides and went on to The Wide Awake Club, which kick started your career in wildlife presenting. What advice would you give to people looking to embark on this career/try a career change?
It was actually OWL TV which started my wildlife presenting career. The Wide Awake Club started my children’s presenting career. I’m often asked for advice about how to get into the presenting world and I find it very difficult to know how to answer. I’ve been presenting for 25 years. There were only three channels when I started, which is hard to believe now.
It wasn’t really planned except for the theatre bit. I wouldn’t have a clue how to start out now! It so competitive these days and budgets just get smaller and smaller.
You live with your long-term partner, your son Oliver, three stepchildren and of course, little Toto. How do you manage all these long haul escapades and keep your family life going?
It’s not easy. My step kids are twins of 22 and a stepdaughter of 24 so they are very independent although they are still all in further education. They really help out when I’m away and so Ollie who is seven has a whole community of people to rely on. Nick my partner is also freelance so it is a constant juggle. As for Toto the Jack Russel, he probably misses me the most when I’m away as I’m the main dog walker!
As a wildlife presenter, how does your concern for nature affect the way you travel?
I think anyone who works in the travel industry has a bit of a guilty conscience about flying. I swapped my Land Cruiser for a Fiat 500 recently! Boy do I notice it when I fill up with fuel. We still have the 4×4 as we obviously need it sometimes. But I splashed out and bought a second car so I’m not using the diesel guzzler all the time.
You travel a lot with Chris Packham, among others. What is the best and worst experience you’ve had with a travel buddy?
Actually I travel on my own most of the time. I usually fly from a different airport. If you can call my son a travel buddy, he once projectile vomited on a flight to New Zealand which was rather embarrassing.
What is the best piece of local advice you’ve ever been given?
Use local travel agents or a book like The Lonely Planet guide. I find the Internet scary when researching a holiday. There’s so much choice it takes days! Do a bit of research then find a local tour operator to do the rest.
For the full interview, visit My Destination.