Michaela looks forward to really wild Minsmere
11:16 26 May 2014
With 25 years of presenting wildlife shows under her belt, you might think this on-the-job training had earned Michaela Strachan the right to consider herself something of an expert.
Beginning in 1989 with the children’s wildlife show Owl TV and coming to the present with Autumn, Winter and Springwatch – and including programmes such as The Really Wild Show, the Elephant Diaries and Zoo Babies – her knowledge has grown with her career.
But the 48-year-old readily admits – especially when people stop her in the street and ask her bird-related questions – that she is not an expert and learns new things with each show.
“I started off as a general children’s presenter and, in fact, I don’t have a wildlife background,” she said, speaking to the EDP from her home in South Africa.
“My knowledge has grown with the programmes I have done, which is why I like to be described as a wildlife enthusiast rather than a wildlife specialist.
“I think I play the part on the Springwatch team of a very interested viewer who knows quite a lot but sometimes thinks ‘gosh, I didn’t know that’ and is not ashamed to admit it.”
It is this down-to-earth manner, along with an infectious enthusiasm, which makes her popular with adults and children alike – and has netted her an impressive stream of work since she began her entertainment career as an eager 20-year-old.
She first burst on to our screens, having toured with the stage musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in the popular Saturday morning show The Wide Awake Club with Timmy Mallett in 1986.
However, along with children’s television and her wildlife work, Michaela also enjoys the challenge of doing different things.
Most recently this has included presenting two series of Great British Ghosts, which aired on Yesterday and also appearing on ITV’s Splash, where celebrities are taught to dive by Olympic medalist Tom Daley.
“I love doing things that are completely off-piste for me, such as Great British Ghosts. I am fascinated by ghosts and the more I do the more interested I am.
“The same with Splash, which I did at the beginning of the year, I think I’m probably more a bit more showbiz than an awful lot of wildlife presenters and I really enjoy the light entertainment side.”
But her passion is wildlife and she is looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the RSPB’s Minsmere Reserve in Suffolk when BBC Springwatch, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, returns to East Anglia.
“The last time I was there was 15 years ago and my memory is not that good so I can’t wax lyrical about it yet. However, from what I’ve heard, it seems like a great place to host Springwatch this year,” she said.
“It has got so many different habitats and some of them are very different to what we have had the last few years at Ynys-hirin in Wales – in particular a lagoon and a beach.
“It also gives us lots of different birds and also different habits, not just habitats. We will have a lot to watch with the ground nesting birds on what they call the Scrape, which is by the lagoon, and the interaction between the chicks and the predators. It’s amazing any of them survive because they are so exposed and to be able to put a camera there and learn more about them will be brilliant.”
She will once again co-host with Chris Packham and Martin Hughes Games and, while presenting live television is not for the faint-hearted, Michaela takes it all in her stride.
“Part of me loves it when something happens in the day, although if it’s something dramatic, such as the chicks being eaten by the weasel last time, our whole running order gets thrown up in the air and lands again,” she said.
“It’s a very intense working day because it’s reactive. None of the scripts are written days in advance, in fact, there are no scripts. There is a running order, which we get given in the morning, and then we have a meeting to discuss it and sometimes it changes as a result. The researchers give us notes on what is in that programme and then Chris, myself and Martin go away and decide who is doing what. I write my own script, Chris tends to do it in his head and Martin writes bits as well.
“Then we do a technical rehearsal because it’s a very technical show. It’s all very well us getting our words right but if the technology doesn’t work you won’t see anything. Later still, we then do a dress rehearsal to run it for time. Then you get last-minute changes before the live show.
“It is one of those things that if you were very anxious, it wouldn’t be for you. You have to remain so calm. I often think ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ and it could be your lose your place and think ‘I haven’t got a clue where I am’ but what is so bad about that?”
While Michaela clearly loves making the programme – and says spring is her favourite time of year – it does mean being away from her family back in South Africa, where she has lived for 12 years.
“When I was asked to do Springwatch, my partner and I did have to sit down and think about it. Every year I miss my son Ollie’s birthday but I say to him we’re just moving it,” said Michaela, who is also stepmum to her partner’s three children.
“Because he has been brought up with mum going away – and also dad, who is a freelance cameraman – it’s his life. Although he misses us, he gets the other one. It’s not easy, and I think it is a compromise but I think it’s one most working mothers have to make.”
While there have not been many quiet periods in her career, at one point when her son was smaller she did have time off but, even then, managed to pen a book, entitled Michaela Strachan’s Really Wild Adventures, which she has turned into a one-woman show touring zoos and wildlife parks in the school holidays.
She added: “I come from a singing and dancing background and I love performing still. I’ve done 18 pantomimes – although not for about 12 years and I miss it. That’s why I really enjoy doing my show. It’s 35-40 minutes long, it’s poems and music and allows me to bring that performance side out.”
For now though, her thoughts are focused on Springwatch and the exciting stories she will get to tell - together with the new things she, and viewers, might also learn along the way.
The latest series of Springwatch begins tonight and runs until June 12 on BBC2 and online.