Steve Backshall

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Steve Backshall
SteveBackshall with rattlesnake.jpg
Steve Backshall handling snake in Florida.
Born Stephen James Backshall
(1973-04-21) 21 April 1973 (age 41)
Bagshot, Surrey, England
Alma mater University of Exeter,
Open University
Occupation Naturalist, writer, public speaker, television presenter
Television Deadly 60
Awards BAFTA Awards
2011 Children's Television Presenter
2011 Factual Series Deadly 60
Steve Backshall with Great white shark.

Stephen James "Steve" Backshall (born 21 April 1973) is a BAFTA-winning English naturalist, writer and television presenter, best known for BBC TV's Deadly 60. His other BBC work includes being part of the expedition teams in Lost Land of the Tiger, Lost Land of the Volcano and Lost Land of the Jaguar, and he has worked for the National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel. He has published three novels for children and several non-fiction works.

Steve Backshall with sperm whale

Early life[edit]

Backshall was brought up on a smallholding, surrounded by rescue animals. His parents both worked for British Airways[1] and regularly travelled to exotic places from when Backshall was an infant.[2] He backpacked solo around Asia, India and Africa at a young age and studied English and Theatre Studies at the University of Exeter, then went on to study biology at the Open University.[citation needed] After university, Backshall lived in Japan for a year, studying martial arts; he gained a black belt in judo and a brown belt in karate.[citation needed]


Rough Guides[edit]

Backshall's first job upon returning to the UK from Japan was as author on the Rough Guides to Indonesia and South East Asia.


In 1997 Backshall attempted to walk solo across the western half of New Guinea, then known as Irian Jaya; he was in the rainforest for three months, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He then had an idea for a series, bought a video camera, and went to the jungles of Colombia, where he made a pilot which he sold to the National Geographic Channel, which employed him in 1998 as its 'Adventurer in Residence'.[citation needed] Backshall spent five years as a presenter and producer with National Geographic, before moving to the BBC's The Really Wild Show in 2003.[3] After four years the show was axed, and Backshall began on the BBC Natural History Unit's expedition team, making series such as Lost Land of the Jaguar.

In 2008 Deadly 60 was commissioned, followed by the Live n Deadly offshoot, the aim of which was to inspire children to get outside and interested in wildlife and adventure; as many as 35,000 people applied for tickets for each day to see Backshall answer questions on wildlife, and the biggest single crowd was 14,000 people.[citation needed] In the "Deadly" programmes Backshall travelled around the world in search of predators that are, "Not just deadly to me, but deadly in their own world". He dived outside of the cage with great white, bull, great hammerhead, mako and tiger sharks, caught king cobras, black mambas and lanceheads, had a redback spider crawl across his hand and was bitten on screen by a caiman whilst searching for anaconda in an Argentinian swamp.[4] The programmes are transmitted on Nat Geo Wild, Animal Planet and BBC to 157 countries worldwide. The fourth season of the series, Deadly Pole to Pole was filmed from 2013–2014. Backshall and his team travelled from the Arctic circle to Antarctica, journeying south through the Americas. Highlights included being hunted by a polar bear whilst kayaking in Svalbard, filming feeding sharks and eagles using timeslice technology, exploring flooded caves and the insides of a glacier, and catching dozens of species of snake and crocodile. Backshall was bitten by a shark live on camera, but saved by a chainmail shark suit. The show's finale was diving underneath Antarctic icebergs alongside predatory leopard seal.[5]

In Supergiants on the BBC, Backshall sought to explain why certain species grow very large. The footage included diving with Nile crocodiles in Botswana and sperm whales in the Caribbean, and avoiding 2-ton elephant seals in California.[6]

In Discovery TV's Swimming with Monsters Backshall swam with large animals, including anaconda, hippopotamus, Humboldt Squid, and great white sharks without the safety of a cage.[citation needed]

"Lost Land of the Tiger" for BBC One saw the expedition team travel to Bhutan and confirmed the occurrence of Bengal tigers, above the tree-line in the Himalayas, higher than had ever been filmed before.[7][8] They also made the first ever descent of the grade V whitewater river the Drangme Chu.[citation needed]

In "Lost Land of the Volcano", Backshall led the first western expedition ever to enter extinct Mount Bosavi in Papua New Guinea,[citation needed] where they discovered new species of cuscus,[citation needed] frogs[citation needed] and a giant rat, one of the biggest on earth.[9] They also uncovered miles of passage in Mageni cave system in New Britain.[citation needed] In 2007 the BBC expedition team headed to Guyana for "Lost Land of the Jaguar", during which Backshall took part in the first expedition ever to successfully climb Mount Upuigma.[10] On the summit they discovered an endemic species of frog and mouse, and also footprints of an unidentified mammal. In Venom Hunter for Discovery TV, Backshall travelled South America aiming to find out as much as possible about venom, including taking part in the bullet ant ritual, where he was stung hundreds of times by the world's most painful stinging insect.[11] He also filmed Extreme Caving for BBC One with Kate Humble and Secret Wilderness Japan for BBC Two. During this time, Backshall also presented Nature Reports for the BBC's The One Show.[12] On-air adventures in 2006 included Sky One's Inside the King Cobra and the BBC's Expedition Borneo, where the team went in search of new species. Backshall was the first person ever to explore the caves below a mighty sinkhole in the Mulu mountains of Borneo, and also to make the first ascent of the North Face of Mount Kuli.[13]

Between 28 May and 15 June 2007, Backshall co-presented Springwatch Trackers with Kirsten O'Brien. Transmitted live on BBC Two from the Springwatch farm in Devon, teams of boys and girls were set a series of Tracker challenges. In 2013, Backshall voiced a series on BBC Four called "Nature's Microworlds".

For National Geographic International, Backshall presented the expedition series Game For It and the environmental series EarthPulse. For Bootcamp, he completed the Israeli special forces selection course, running 60 miles overnight to gain their red beret. UK television viewers saw him travelling up Australia's east coast from Tasmania to Cape Tribulation for his first series of The Really Wild Show. In the next series, Backshall then went on to travel around Central America, the Galapagos, and then Southern Africa for the last ever series in 2006. Backshall competed with fellow naturalist Nick Baker in a series of wildlife challenges, with long-standing host Michaela Strachan.

On 25 August 2014, it was revealed that Backshall would be a contestant on the upcoming twelfth series of Strictly Come Dancing airing from September 2014 on BBC One. He was partnered with former champion Ola Jordan. The couple left the series in week nine after dancing a jive to "Little Bitty Pretty One" by Frankie Lymon.


Backshall began working as a writer for publisher Rough Guides, and is an author on their Indonesia guide.[14] He continues to contribute to British newspapers. Venom: Poisonous Creatures in the Natural World was published in 2007, and is a scientific analysis of venoms and poisons with an in-depth look at animals that use natural toxins.[15] Deadly 60 is the book of series one, and is a diary style breakdown of each animal and how they were found and filmed.[16] Wildlife Adventurer's Guide was published in 2009. It is aimed at young naturalists, and provides a guide to having adventures in the UK.[17]

In 2011 Looking for Adventure was published, which was the story of his many expeditions in New Guinea, including much about his childhood and how he got into television. Predators, also in Orion Publishing breaks down predatory animals into their main features, and is highly illustrated.[18] In 2012, Backshall also released Deadly Diaries with Orion publishers, a diary-style book of Series 3 of Deadly 60. His "Deadly Detectives" is a 'how to' book, teaching the skills of tracking animals by their signs, scat and prints.[19]

In May 2012 Backshall published the first of a series of fiction novels entitled The Falcon Chronicles. The first novel, Tiger Wars, is about the adventures of a young boy and girl on the run from a shadowy gang of assassins, set against the background of the war on tiger poaching. In 2013 it reached the selection longlist for the Branford Boase award for debut novels for children.[20] The second in the series, Ghosts of the Forest, was released in 2013 and is set in the forests of Borneo and Indochina, with the same main characters battling illegal loggers. Backshall stated, "First and foremost I hope that the reader will be entertained," but added "I hope that some of the readers – and if it's a very small percentage that's fine – will come away and want to learn more and will want to go out and find out for themselves what they can do."[citation needed] The third book, The Wilds of the Wolf, was released in spring 2014,[21] and features the same main characters travelling to the Yamal peninsula in Siberia, tracking wolves in the snow, and battling against the big oil and gas companies that are destroying the fragile Arctic environment.[22] Backshall stated "I was a big reader when I was a kid ... Fiction was a massive, massive part of my formative years, far more so than television ever was, and I always hoped that my future would lie with writing. When I was given the opportunity I absolutely leapt at it. It's an idea that I've had in mind for a long time, of these two youngsters on the run who become almost wildlife vigilantes, and it's one that I've had tremendous fun writing." [22]

Backshall on the first ascent of Upuigma

Rock climbing and other sports[edit]

Backshall is a rock climber and mountaineer, does adventure races, fell runs and endurance sports. In 2014, Backshall summitted the highly technical granite Mount Asgard in Arctic Baffin Island, in one single 27 hour summit push. Ice and alpine climbing are described as being among his great passions, and he has climbed such peaks as Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 8201m, and Cholatse in the Himalayan Khumbu. he qualified as an advanced Himalayan Expedition leader from India's Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. Backshall led the first ascent of Upuigma-tepui in Venezuela, and also the first ascent of the North face of Mount Kuli in Borneo. In 2005, Backshall ran the Marathon des Sables 243 km across the Sahara desert[23] to raise money for the Wolftrust[24] Backshall has a black belt in judo, attained after a year living in Japan studying the martial art.[25] He is an experienced BCU Four star sea and whitewater kayaker, and paddled the Devizes to Westminster canoe race which involves kayaking 125 miles down the river Thames in 24 hours,[26] Backshall has competed in numerous triathlons, adventure races and fell running events. His best finishes include winning the 'Extreme' and 'Last Man Standing' events at UK Tough Guy, and finishing 9th overall at Tough Guy and also has a best place of 4th in the Welsh 1000m peak marathon.[27]

In July 2008, while attempting to climb a cliff face which was wet from an earlier rainfall, Backshall fell 10 metres (33 ft) onto rocks in the Wye Valley in the Forest of Dean. The impact sent his heel bone through the bottom of his foot, dislocated his ankle, and fractured two vertebrae in his back. Backshall had twelve operations following the accident, and several years of rehab in order to get back to fitness. [28]


In 2011, Backshall won two BAFTAs; best Children's Television Presenter, and Best Factual series.[29] In 2009 and 2013, Backshall was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Children's Television Presenter, and his series Deadly 60 was nominated for Best Children's series. Additionally, Backshall was nominated for Best Factual series for Lost Land of the Jaguar,[30] as well as being nominated for an Emmy in the US for Expedition Borneo. Lost Land of the Volcano won the 2012 Wildscreen award for best popular broadcast. [31] Long running CBBC series Blue Peter awarded him their highest honour of a Gold Badge. [32] In 2012 Backshall was awarded an honorary PhD from the University of Exeter.[33]


Backshall with hippopotamus in South Africa


  1. ^ Corner, Lena (7 September 2014). "TV wildlife presenter Steve Backshall is about to face his biggest fear ... Strictly Come Dancing". Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  2. ^ McGrath, Nick (26 May 2012). "Steve Backshall: The wild man from Surrey". Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  3. ^ "Swimming With Monsters Steve Backshall Biography". 
  4. ^ Davies, Ella (11 November 2010). "BBC – Earth News – Caiman attacks wildlife presenter filming in Argentina". BBC News. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  5. ^ "Deadly Pole to Pole". BBC. 
  6. ^ "Supergiant Animals". BBC. 
  7. ^ Walker, Matt (20 September 2010). "BBC – Earth News – Lost tiger population discovered in Bhutan mountains". BBC News. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Walker, Matt (6 September 2009). "Giant rat found in 'lost volcano'". 
  10. ^ "Conquering a virgin", The Times, 11 November 2007
  11. ^ "Bullet ant ritual - awesome!". YouTube. 
  12. ^ Jo Sarsby Management: Steve Backshall
  13. ^ "BBC expedition stories". 
  14. ^ Rough-Guide Indonesia
  15. ^ New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84537-734-2
  16. ^ Backshall's Deadly 60
  17. ^ New Holland Publishers Wildlife Adventure's Guide
  18. ^ "Orion Children's Books to publish action-packed Steve Backshall books". Orion Books. 15 February 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ Allen, Katie (16 January 2013). "Mayo and Backshall on Branford Boase longlist". 
  21. ^ [2]
  22. ^ a b Stapley, Jon (17 July 2013). "Steve Backshall: 'The big predators would run down Usain Bolt without even thinking about it. Your only chance is to stand your ground'". 
  23. ^ "Marathon des Sables Introduction". 16 April 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  24. ^ Wolftrust
  25. ^ Backshall
  26. ^ Electricwebsites – Essex, UK – 0203 0159099. "Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon". Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  27. ^ [3][dead link]
  28. ^ "Daily Mail Backshall Breaks 25ft Fall". Mail Online. 
  29. ^ "2011 British Academy Children's Awards Winners – Children's – Awards – The BAFTA site". 24 November 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  30. ^ BAFTA Nominations
  31. ^ "Calendar - Watershed". 
  32. ^ [4]
  33. ^ Debbie Robinson. "Steve Backshall - Honorary Graduates - University of Exeter". 
  34. ^ "About Us / The Trust's Presidents". Retrieved 3 October 2014. 

External links[edit]