My Greatest Journey: An Interview with Chris Packham
Those who remember his outlandish dress and spiky blond hair from The Really Wild Show in the 1980s will be surprised to hear that today, naturalist and television presenter Chris Packham is astoundingly grounded, unlike his travel plans. Cecilia Dinwoodie catches up with the celeb…
Getting into TV was an accident
Growing up I lived on the edge of the city [Southampton], so I could just hop over the fence and be away exploring the countryside. I guess that’s what sparked my interest in wildlife, and I went on to study zoology at university. I was never tremendously employable other than the fact that I was an animal obsessive. I wanted to do a PhD, but instead got a job working as a camera assistant at the BBC. The rest is history.
Of course, there have been sticky situations…
Like finding myself way too close to animals. But the trickiest situations always end up being with humans! With animals it’s easy to understand afterwards what you’ve done wrong, but people are more unpredictable.
I love animals, but humans have their uses too
When you’re travelling off the beaten track always take the locals’ advice. That’s the most important thing, because they will know more than you. You can buy the guide and read the history – I read everything from Stone Age to present day – and that gives a bit of context, but a local person will always know more about it than you do. And on that account, the best thing to do is find one and learn from them.
I don’t really do ‘chill out’ holidays
The idea of lying on a beach reading a book...? What’s that about? Who’s got time for that? Not me.
I don’t ever imagine having the time to go somewhere twice
So I just want to soak up everything out of the experience – absolutely everything. Whether I’m travelling for work or for pleasure my approach is the same: I always go 100 miles an hour, 100% of the time.
Get a flavour of local life
When you go anywhere, try to find the day-to-day context of that place. The place where people go to leave a mark – and that won’t be in a smart coffee bar. I always go to churches, cemeteries and markets as those are the places that have been used for a long time by that community, and they give you an insight into what local people do and how they think. And I always eat on the street, not in a posh restaurant – street food is what other people eat, so eat what they eat.
I’m not the world’s greatest travelling companion
I have to have a purpose for going anywhere. When I plan an expedition it’s to see or do a specific thing, and I’ll be wholly committed to that objective. I went to Sri Lanka to see sperm whales. It’s such a lovely part of the world, but getting a picture of sperm whales, that was my vocation, so the whole thing revolved around that. Luckily my partner and step-daughter understand my obsession.
I like exploring environments that are contrasting
Places where it can be quite vibrant but quite run-down at the same time. I like old ruins. I like sitting down and trying to reconstruct the world as it was from the evidence that was left. So I’m a sucker for archaeological sites. In Guatemala, there’s a place called Tikal, which is a jungle temple complex, and that’s amazing. You sit there and you try and imagine the world as it was. That’s pretty good.
I’ve had loads of special moments, but one really stands out
Swimming with sperm whales in Sri Lanka this year was amazing. The water was bath warm, blue and flat – the visibility was astonishing. We get into the water, me and my step-daughter, we swim out, and we’re a metre away from the whales. When we got back in the boat, I nearly burst. It was amazing! I just thought, ‘God, how are we going to top that?’
I’m happiest walking my dogs...
Either on holiday in France or at home in England. I love the area that I live in, in the south of England. I love the environment there. It’s the place I feel most at home, the place I feel most connected to. It can be very, very beautiful, and I think that’s enhanced by my appreciation for the environment. When I’m travelling I miss the woods. I still live in the area where I grew up, and that’s what started it all – exploring those woods…
Chris Packham returns to our TV screens this month (October) to present the BBC’s annual Autumnwatch series.
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