Steve Backshall interview at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Steve Backshall was in discussion with Dom Faulkner at the Times Forum on October 2nd 2015

"My daughter simply adores you. She would have done anything to meet you!" The lady in question  (a recently published novelist) had drifted in my direction in the well appointed writers' room at Cheltenham Festival. I was feeling more than a little flattered and then she pointed at the Steve Backshall book in my hand.

"Is there any chance I could get your autograph?"

"Ahh so it's Steve you would be after then - not me?" Needless to say the conversation rather died. 

I was at the festival to interview Steve about his latest book Mountain - a life on the rocks. Steve is a frequent guest on our TV screens and aside from Deadly 60 and many child orientated wildlife programmes he has been a regular on some of the recent BBC epics of the last few years.  Recently Big Blue Live, Lost land of the Jaguar and Lost land of the Tiger amongst many others. He is less well known by the public for his considerable climbing abilities, something he is very self-deprecating about in his book. That said his stories will leave you feeling exhausted. I've rarely met someone with such a lust for life and sheer enthusiasm for all that he does.

In front of a packed audience of some 500 guests (not bad for the opening night of the festival) I began by asking Steve if there was a conflict between his passion for wildlife and for climbing. He explained how they actually complement each other perfectly. Climbing has taken him to some of the world's most remote locations and once there he has seen some amazing things. We watched a short video clip from Mt Upuigma in Venezuela. This previously unexplored tepuis in Venezuela was only accessible with big wall climbing techniques. Once at the top they were treading on virgin territory and discovered several new species. It was clearly this kind of expedition that really made Steve come alive. Less so a Himalayan giant like Cho Oyu - a mountain I know well. Steve was frustrated by the waiting game that is Himalayan climbing and furthermore was witness to the massacre of Tibetans on the Nangpa-La by Chinese troops when there in 2006. 

Steve was similarly enthused by Bhutan and the search initially for tigers and latterly snow leopards, some of the most elusive creatures for the wildlife camera. He showed some gripping footage of being out at night alone while trying to spot them feeding on a carcass. (See the attached clip of kayaking in Bhutan for a real taste of this pristine wilderness.) 

We closed by talking about a moving chapter in Steve's book entitled The Fall. Ironically for someone that has travelled the world, Steve fell at Wintour's Leap in the Wye Valley while out for a day's rock climbing. The resulting injury to his foot and ankle has plagued him for several years and he has endured no less that 12 operations. He has now had the bone fused which has restored his mobility, albeit in a compromised fashion. One thing is for sure, he has not let the injury affect his pace of work and lust for travel one iota. 

Goodness knows what kind of Victorian explorer he might have made but he would have been at the vanguard for sure. It was a privilege to meet him at last. 


See below for Steve's Mt Asgard expedition to Mt Asgard on Baffin Island.