Sheffield’s Ian Soutar talks to a man on the wild side

Rock steady Steve Backshall hangs loose
Rock steady Steve Backshall hangs loose

THERE’S An Evening with Steve Backshall at the Lyceum Theatre on Friday when the popular television adventurer talks about his expeditions, encounters with wild wonders and the mysteries of the natural world.

For someone who has encountered poisonous spiders, crocodile bites and swum with sharks it’s surprising to hear him say: “I have done a couple of tours before and it’s really exciting and slightly intimidating to stand up in front of a thousand people.”

But then he goes out of the way to make the show unpredictable. “An essential part of it is getting the audience to ask questions about wildlife and science,” he says.

It’s important to never know when you are going to get a massive curve ball thrown at you rather than saying the same thing all the time.

“I cannot bear working to a script and I like to be surprised on my TV programmes. I think people can tell it’s real when me or one of the crew gets surprised, shocked or scared by something we come across.”

So what do we get in his Wild Life show? “There will be slides and films and I talk about things people won’t have seen before or put a different slant on things they have and bring an extra element to it.”

The explorer and naturalist whose TV show is called Deadly 60 has earned a reputation as being a fearless adventurer.

He suggests that it’s just that with his upbringing on a farm with parents who encouraged him to be outside as much as possible and took him to exotic places from a young age meant he kept his natural instincts.

“There’s a unique fear of predators which goes back to our primal past when they could do us harm,” he says.

“I can go into a class of three and four-year-olds with a tarantula and they will all jump up in excitement.

“If I come back in a few years when they are older half of them will run away. They have learned fear from their parents, teachers and friends. It’s sad. They have less fear of a big truck hitting them at 50mph.

“I have a friend who’s a 6ft 4ins rugby player and he rang me one morning and said he couldn’t leave his bedroom because there was a spider. It’s an irrational fear. There are 35-50,000 species of spiders around the world and only about 60 of them can do you any harm and not any in this country. Spiders are insignificant as a factor in man’s mortality.”

Backshall is in the admirable position of being able to decide where he would like to go next for his programmes. “But the longer I do it the more I realise there is to do. The thing I most want to do and have been trying to persuade the BBC to let me for 13 years is to go to the Antartic to film leopard seals.

“It’s the journey there that’s the problem. You need essentially to charter a boat from South America or New Zealand and then there’s only a window to get in and out and how you dive beneath the ice.”

Notice the issue is logistics rather than the fact that these are lethal creatures.

But he thinks he will be able to incorporate it in his next 60-part series which will send him round the world.