I’ll always get as close as I can, it’s how you learn the most says Ipswich Corn Exchange bound filmmaker Gordon Buchanan
- Credit: Archant
Acclaimed presenter and nature cameraman Gordon Buchanan tells entertainment writer Wayne Savage about his adventures and how we all have a part to play in preserving the world’s wildlife for future generations.
Gordon Buchanan is particularly nervous about elephants. He’s got cause to be, having been chased by them a couple of times. And by tigers, and bears and people...
“It’s not pleasant because you know you could have an encounter with a tiger and walk away from it, but if you went head to head with an elephant... I’ll always go for the option of getting as close as possible because that’s what’s going to reveal most about their lives,” says the presenter and cameraman.
He’s become a household name on the BBC having shot and presented a long list of popular nature programmes including Snow Wolf Family and Me, Super Cute Furry Animals, Winterwatch, The Lost Land series, The Polar Bear Family And Me, Wild Burma and the award-winning The Bear Family And Me.
“It’s nice to be in a situation where you can observe wild animals doing what they do. You certainly don’t want to interact with them in a way that could lead to you having to run in the opposite direction,” he laughs.
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Latest show Lost Adventures is an insight into Buchanan’s experiences with some of the world’s most fearsome and majestic animals. He also delves into his years of globe-trotting adventures, illustrated with his own film footage and photography; sharing his encounters with weird, wild and wonderful wildlife.
“You think ‘here’s a situation where I might very well lose my life’. I didn’t ever think of myself as being cavalier but when you’re young you generally are; you’re less aware of your own mortality. Now I think there’s no great hurry here, just think everything out before you do it - especially if you’re working with wild animals.”
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Twenty-five years of leading expeditions around the globe to places as diverse as South America, Asia, Africa, Papa New Guinea, Russia and Alaska comes in handy. As time goes on he feels what he does is getting safer every time he touches down in some new clime.
“That experience is hopefully going to keep me out of trouble,” says the Royal Television Award winner, who as presenter and cameraman has contributed to award-winning BBC, Discovery and National Geographic wildlife series and documentaries.
While each animal is different, getting accustomed to their behaviour is key. Wolf packs in America’s Yellowstone Park wouldn’t let you get within two miles of them. Those in the Arctic however...
“The most amazing thing I’ve done, the most enjoyable, was the wolf series last year on the BBC to spend time with a pack of wild wolves. I’d never been that far north before. It was astoundingly beautiful, extraordinary. The wolves there had absolutely no fear of human beings, because there are no human beings there.
“Ordinarily with my job you can spend weeks, months; trying to get an animal used to your presence so to be dropped off in the middle of the Arctic Tundra and have a wolf walk straight up to you wondering what the heck you are, literally sniffing your boots..”
The show is an opportunity to meet those who tune in to watch his shows. He’s never thought of his job as a one-sided thing; it’s about sharing his experiences with people as passionate about wildlife as he is.
“It’s very exciting to meet people. My job can be very solitary at times,” he laughs. “I like being by myself at times, I like having that one-to-one with a wild animal but it’s lovely to be in the company of people and share stories.”
At the very heart of what he does is borne out of a respect for the animal, a love of them, a desire to share their stories without crossing any lines that would have an adverse impact on their life.
Buchanan is passionate about raising awareness about the world’s endangered species and habitats. He finds it reassuring to see so many families and young people at his shows.
“Seeing young people engaged in wildlife, taking an interest in it, caring deeply about it; that’s what gives me hope for the future - that actually we’re much more aware these days than we ever have been. Everyone sees it as our individual responsibility to try to do something to help nature and wildlife.”
He’s keen to point out this is very much a celebration of the natural world and the wild animals that are out there, full of humorous stories, behind the scenes images, clips of his favourite moments and the chance to ask him absolutely anything about his adventures.
“There’s a good, strong conservation message. That wasn’t intentional but you can’t celebrate wild animals and places without raising the question of what can we do to help protect them and remind people it’s down to all of us to do what we can to make sure these things have a future.
Hailing from the Isle of Mull, in western Scotland, Buchanan would watch every wildlife documentary on TV. He admits he never considered the men or women filming these far flung places. Growing up where he did, exploring wild places was just part of his childhood - be it up hills, down on the shore or out on a boat.
“I loved being outside... The unpredictabililty of what you’re going to see. I wasn’t an amateur naturalist armed with binoculars, a little almanac or wildlife journal - it was just being out there and experiencing it.”
He started as a field assistant when he was 17. Which basically meant doing all the jobs his boss didn’t want to do, he laughs; including a little bit of filming and taking photos, a lot of carrying heavy things long distances.
“Back then we had a ménage of different animals we’d acquired or had been given to us... I spent a year-and-a-half in Sierra Leone, more than two years in Brazil – it wasn’t just about parachuting in and heading home, it was about moving almost lock stock and barrel to places. I was part zoo keeper, part chef, part negotiator. Over the years I’ve crammed a lot in, but I suppose it’s like anyone in their early 40s - ‘gosh where did the time go’ but I think I’ve used it widely.”
The show will focus on his Lost Land expedition series, which Buchanan feels have been the most revealing. He’s surprised by how funny audiences are finding it.
“I didn’t set out to make people laugh,” he laughs. “It just seems there are a lot of things that maybe I take for granted in my job that people find quite amusing. I’ve been doing the job for 25 years now so that’s just my life and I’ve stopped seeing it as being strange or unusual.”
From that very first day, it was all about getting out there, filming the natural world and sharing the images he brought back. Now it’s about sharing his experiences. He sees it as his duty to the natural world, to viewers to try to tell the story of these places and species as truthfully as he can.
“I’m incredibly lucky to do the job I do and what I want to do is give people that experience and show them what it’s really like to spend time with a black bear, a wolf or to go into an extinct volcano in the middle of Papa New Guinea. It’s a privilege to be able to do these things in the first place and a privilege to have people come out and want to know more about it.”
Gordon Buchanan Lost Adventures visits Ipswich Corn Exchange on March 23.