Steve Backshall: My love for swimming with sharks
Swimming with sharks holds a great deal of fear for most of us, but for famed naturalist, explorer, TV presenter and writer Steve Backshall its all in a day’s work – though that’s not to say the 50-year-old hasn’t found himself in some scary situations.
And it seems people very much enjoy hearing stories about his many adventures as, following a sold-out tour last year, there has been huge demand for extra appearances. It has now been announced that Steve will be bringing his Ocean live show back to venues across the country, including Cambridge, later this year for 23 more performances.
“What we’re doing is I’m bringing the ocean’s aquatic environments, marine creatures to life on stage,” explains Steve, who is married to Olympic gold medal-winning rower Helen Glover, “by using a giant screen with lots of amazing footage from my encounters with sharks and whales and dolphins over the years.
“But also by using on-stage science experiments, by using stunts and tricks, outtakes and bloopers – and also some life-size scale ocean giants that we’ll be bringing out on stage, which I think really helps because it’s very, very difficult to get a sense of how big these animals really are. Being able to replicate that on stage is a big part of the show.”
Steve says the show will differ from last year’s, although he is still finalising the details. “It will be different, I’ve not really started developing it yet to figure out quite how much different it will be,” he says, “but I’m definitely going to develop it, try and take it forward.
“I mean essentially it has the same themes, it’s very much based around the most iconic animals in our oceans and how they function and what makes them special, and then also I’ll be talking a bit about the challenges that they face and that the broader environments in the oceans face as well.”
The ocean and the animals that call it home have been of particular interest to Steve “right from when I was very young”. He recalls: “I can remember swimming with my first shark completely by accident. I was probably about 10 years of age and it being this absolute revelation for me that just kind of sparked something very primal in me that I can still almost sense now, despite the fact that it was 40-odd years ago…
“Now I find that the majority of my work is done diving. My last couple of series have been on whales, dolphins, sharks, and I’m presently doing another big series on coral reefs, so I find increasingly that most of my work tends to be underwater.”
Can Steve, who graduated from Exeter University with a degree in English and theatre studies, remember a time where he really feared for his life during an animal encounter? “I think wild animals are far more rarely dangerous to us than we might assume,” he replies, “and certainly not when it comes to things like sharks.
“I’ve dived out of the cage alongside great white sharks in blue water and never felt in any real danger... I would say probably that changes if you get into murky or cloudy water. “I’ve had one particular dive with bull sharks in a harbour in quite low visibility with lots and lots of bull sharks around, and that puts you on edge.
“You certainly have to have your wits about you and have eyes in the back of your head, and more importantly be very, very good at working as a unit, as a team, to be able to watch each other’s backs in that situation.”
In the future, Steve, who has just finished a new television series where he took a group of 12-year-olds diving with sharks in the Bahamas (“It’s one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on”), says he would love to do a dinosaurs tour, but for now animal and nature lovers can see him on stage talking about sea creatures when his Ocean tour comes to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Sunday, October 15.