Dave Woodhall talks to TV presenter Michaela Strachan ahead of her forthcoming date in Birmingham.
On a horrible afternoon when the snow’s bucketing down, your phone isn’t working properly and the pen you’re using is falling apart in your hand you can start feeling a bit sorry for yourself. The perfect antidote to such negativity is to spend time talking to Michaela Strachan, most recently seen presenting BBC2’s Winterwatch – about to commence a theatre tour – and yes, she is as friendly as she appears on TV.
DW: At least with a programme called Winterwatch the current conditions were appropriate for filming:
MS: “Not really. We were up near Inverness and there was no snow, in fact we were praying for it because it’s such a beautiful place and snow would have made the perfect scenery. Then I come back to England and it’s much colder, snow everywhere. In fact I’m the only one who’s managed to get out – the rest of the crew are trying to get back to Bristol and the airport’s closed. It’s a lot colder here than it was up there”
You’re doing the Really Wild Adventure Show at Birmingham Town Hall next month. Tell us about that.
“It’s been inspired by my book Really Wild Adventure, which is a collection of poems I’ve written. It goes from A through to Z, using an animal for each letter. The idea for the show came from the Stick Man, a children’s book that was adapted for the theatre. I’ve noticed that there’s a real culture of children’s books being turned into stage shows, such as the Gruffalo and the Tiger Who Came to Tea, simple and effective productions. I spoke to Machali (Bogdanov, the show’s director) and he saw the idea of how it would work. It’s a one-woman show and there’ll lots of interaction, puppets, music, plenty of fun for everyone.”
Michaela’s career has included a stint as a recording artist who had a couple of minor hits in the eighties; is there any chance of emulating that other noted wildlife expert Ozzy Osbourne, who has also trod the boards of the Town Hall?
“I don’t think so. I also did some children’s songs on a couple of albums and my son loved my version of Sylvester and Tweety Pie’s I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat when he was younger – to get a copy I had to buy one on Amazon, what about that? My partner, Nick, also has it on his iPlayer so when he’s off running it’ll come up on random play. But that’s it now, there’s no singing in the show.”
You’ve gone from children’s TV to general shows and you regularly move between the two without any problem. Not many presenters can do that.
“I think it’s because I simply enjoy entertaining kids. I’ve done 17 pantos, I love children’s theatre and so it’s a lot easier.”
After having done so many wildlife programmes you obviously have a deep concern for the environment. How do you perceive the importance that this plays in the world?
“That’s a big question. I feel that a lot of people are disconnected from wildlife and the environment; they’re surrounded by concrete and technology. Equally as many people are more connected and concerned with the earth, probably more so than ever before, but we need to have everyone realising that we all have a stake in the future. They have to get interested and care about their environment. It’s been said that people can’t afford to be more environmentally-conscious but it actually saves money in the long run, if you can get fof the National Grid and use solar power, if you re-cycle more, then you’ll be better off.”
There was a piece on Winterwatch about a herd of reindeer that have been reintroduced to the Highlands and there’s an on-going debate around bringing back wolves to the area after a gap of more than 300 years. Is it a good idea to put animals into areas where they’ve been extinct for centuries?
“It would be stupid to bring them back if the environment wasn’t right, but other than that it’s okay. It is of course very complicated to reintroduce a species and sometimes we can be intolerant, for example when we show African farmers killing leopards people will say that’s cruel but they won’t object to animals being killed on British farms to protect livestock. It’s a real NIMBYish attitude.”
You recently did an interview with the Daily Mail which you later weren’t pleased about, where they quoted you as saying that the anorexia you suffered in your youth was a ‘middle-class’ affliction.
“Yes, I was angry because it wasn’t what I said and of course it’s not a middle-class thing at all. But they did another story where I cleared that one up and since then I’ve had people who have suffered from anorexia themselves telling me how what I said has helped them.”
You live now with your partner and family in South Africa, and you seem spectacularly happy there. You’ve outlasted many of your contemporaries from when you started on TV. It would appear to the outsider that you have the perfect work/life balance. Is that true?
“It’s nowhere near perfect. It’s not ideal that I leave my son at home for three weeks at a time or more, so I have to work hard at being a mum to make up – in fact my friends say I do a lot more with him than most mums do. I’ve worked hard all through my career and I’m now in the position where I’m able to do what I’m doing.”
Michaela Strachan’s Really Wild Adventures is at Birmingham Town Hall on Sunday 17th February.
Tickets are £12, from www.thsh.co.uk or by calling 0121 780 3333.