When the email subject flashed up in the corner of my screen #meetsteveb, I had a little flutter… could it be??? Could it possibly be???? Yes it could! The boys had won a competition to meet the king of kids TV – the super cool, super adventurous… drum roll please…. Steve Backshall!
Watch our fab video of the Steve Backshall day
How did we win the Steve Backshall competition?
It was back in January when we were shopping for warm clothes for our Highland mountain-top wedding in Mountain Warehouse. The boys were deep into the Deadly 60 series and when we spotted Steve B clothing, they dumped all of the ski clothes I told them to hold and picked up animal-themed t-shirts instead. We convinced Kit a fleece would be more useful but Soren was resolute – it was the tiger top or nothing (except probably a tantrum!). As if to prove his dedication to winning, he didn’t even seem to regret his choice when I made him strip off his ski-suit on the top of an icy Stac Pollaidh in gale force winds, to stand and smile in his tiger tee! He saved his tag and reminded me to send in the picture when we got home.
Fast forward a few months and we got the email – the boys were winners!
We were invited to go to the Living Rainforest in Newbury to join 3 other winners for a private tour of the centre with Steve Backshall. I was expecting something fairly formal – a tour and then a Q&A with Steve, but it was a really friendly, relaxed morning in which Steve spent the whole time with us – chatting to the kids and parents about whatever they / we were interested in. The kids were all given Mountain Warehouse goodies – a bag, water bottle and new Steve Backshall outfits, which they immediately put on, and then before the doors opened to the public, we set off on our expedition through the rainforest!
Lucia, one of the Living Rainforest’s guides, walked us around the two large greenhouses and introduced us to the animals and plants that we met along the way. I didn’t envy her job – the official site describes Steve as ‘one of TV’s best-known wildlife presenters, naturalists, writers, public speakers and adventurer’ – which I imagine is a bit off-putting for anyone who has to lead a wildlife tour, but she did a fantastic job, engaging all the kids and answering all sorts of questions. Steve interjected with his own knowledge and personal experience, talking to us about armadillos, water dragons, toucans, snakes etc, they made a good double-act.
Meeting the animals at the Living Rainforest
As a surprise treat, the kids were invited to feed the toucan and the monkeys. Steve had talked about how the toucan’s beak looked large and vicious but was amazingly dainty when it came to picking up berries etc, so it was great to witness first-hand the bird gently pluck half a grape out of Kit’s hand.
Steve took the boys to feed the Goeldi’s monkeys, showing them how to hold the little wriggly bugs in their palm so the monkeys could grab them. There were three monkeys and the Soren (and the press photographer) was in his element watching them come bounding forward to grab their treat. It was an incredible opportunity and I was very jealous watching from outside the cage!
What was Steve Backshall like?
He was really normal – a genuinely friendly chap who is passionate about wildlife and nature. It was easy to forget he was famous until he was invited by Lucia to contribute. Watching him launch into his spiel about whichever animal we were with, face and body animated, making direct eye contact and rarely stumbling on his words, was weirdly like watching him on television; I kept forgetting to actually listen as I was so fascinated by the way he could switch between normal, part of our tour-group, Steve and the famous TV personality, Steve Backshall. When the press photographer would ask him to pose for a shot, that twinkly grin would instantly appear and wouldn’t drop until the camera was put down – I decided his jaw muscles must be as strong as the rest of his body. He is incredibly muscley – his arms were huge!
What was the Living Rainforest like?
The Living Rainforest was lovely; small enough to feel like a local attraction, rather than some soul-less big commercial operation, but with plenty of animals for the kids to see. They have blue dart frogs, emerald green boas, Goeldi’s monkeys, sloths, marmosets and a host of plants. It’s run by the charity The Trust for Sustainable Living and their aim is to help visitors explore how plants, animals, human needs, economies and cultures are all linked. Where possible, animals are allowed to live as they would in the wild and so although many of them have to be kept contained in tanks / cages, everything was very spacious. Lots of the creatures roam free, so little birds were scurrying about and the Asiatic Water Dragon was just perched on a branch as we walked around. The sloth was hidden away – eventually spotted tucked on top of a little hut sleeping. If you enter the world as a captive animal or are rescued and can’t go back to the wild, this is probably the loveliest place to live your life. It’s also great value – if you buy a ticket you can visit any time for a year.