Travel and wildlife television presenter
“I once had my teeth cleaned underwater by a fish. We were in the Red Sea and one of the dive masters had trained a wrasse to go into his mouth and clean his teeth. It took me a couple of tries to get the confidence up to open my mouth wide enough for the fish to get in, but I eventually succeeded!”
Strangely this doesn’t surprise me. Anyone who has seen UK television presenter Michaela Strachan’s antics on programs like The Really Wild Show and Michaela’s Wild Challenge will be well-used to the kind of scenes described above. Stepping up to the challenge has always been her forte. She has helped deliver newborn animals, rehabilitate orangutans in Borneo and even taken part in a celebrity edition of Total Wipeout.
“Live telly is always challenging,” she admits. “My biggest challenge was presenting a series for National Geographic, called Safari Live. We worked four hours live a day for a week in Kruger National Park. It was supposed to be like a live safari; we had one presenter driving around in a jeep looking for animals, another in the bush doing more controlled pieces on things like snakes and bush survival. And I was the anchor presenter trying to hold the show together from the lodge.
“It was a great idea but desperately underfunded so was really hairy. We often lost the live link to the jeep, which I meant I was left to fill in. I learnt very quickly to always have a ranger on standby to interview!”
Although she didn’t know it, Michaela started training for her job at a young age. She wanted to be a theatre performer and grew up singing and dancing, as well as holidaying with her family to places like Kenya and the Seychelles; experiences which have no doubt aided her career as a presenter ever since.
“It is the perfect job,” she gushes. “One of my most memorable travel experiences was visiting Antarctica. It’s such an amazing place with stunning scenery and loads of wildlife. It really is the last wilderness on Earth. I just love the fact that no one lives there apart from researchers. No one is from Antarctica and no one owns it. It was a real privilege to be paid to go there.”
It all sounds a bit too good to be true, and I wonder if there are any downsides to her job. “There are sacrifices. You’re away from home a lot, which can be great when you’re young, free and single, but not so good when you’ve got a partner and children. It’s a constant juggle and compromise.”
Not only does Michaela sacrifice her family life for her job, but her diet too. “I’m afraid my carbon footprint with flying is rather high, but my conscience is eased a little knowing I’m a vegetarian. The amount of greenhouse gas produced by cattle is enormous, so at least I’m doing my bit by not eating meat.”
And it’s not just global warming that concerns Michaela. Since beginning her career she has worked with orphaned elephants in Kenya, endangered turtles and is part of World Vision’s Alternative Gifts charity, which provides life-changing gifts to communities in developing countries. Next on her radar is a new series in which she will work as a volunteer at the seabird conservation institute of SANCCOB in Cape Town, in an effort to raise awareness of the plight of African penguins.
“The birds are in serious decline and not many people seem to realise. Every year SANCCOB collect the late-born chicks, who probably would not have made it, and then rehabilitate them before releasing them six to eight weeks later to bolster the numbers.” Michaela will learn how to feed the penguins, which is no easy task. “I’ve just done my training and am covered with penguin bites, and believe me, they hurt! But helping get these penguins back in the wild will definitely be a highlight.”
I’m curious as to how that dancing and singing young girl became this much-loved television presenter with, by her own admission, the ‘perfect job’.
“I sort of fell into my career,” she recollects. “There were only three channels when I started. We didn’t have mobile phones, computers or email. It was a very different industry when I started.
“I wouldn’t have a clue how to start out now! It’s so competitive these days and budgets just get smaller and smaller. It’s an interesting time for television. Who knows where it will go next, but I reckon my grandchildren won’t be watching telly in the same way we do today.”
Michaela’s talents don’t stop with presenting. She published her first book this year – Michaela Strachan’s Really Wild Adventures – which is a compilation of poems based on her animal adventures, and she’s using it as the basis for a one-woman show that will tour around the UK this year.
I’m beginning to wonder if there’s anything this inspirational lady can’t do, but my ego is soon soothed when she speaks of a recent travelling trauma.
“I was lucky enough to be upgraded to first class on a flight the other day. In the middle of the night, one of my complimentary chocolates fell onto the cream-coloured duvet. It was hot and I was moving around a lot in my sleep, and the chocolate melted and smeared all over the bedding and my tracksuit pants. You can imagine what it looked like! Funnily enough, I haven’t been upgraded since!”
It’s not all glamour then.
Popular TV presenter Michaela Strachan will star in a new children's show Michaela Strachan's Really Wild Adventures adapted from her own book of animal verse touring theatres throughout the UK from Feb 15. See www.michaelastrachan.co.uk for details.
I once had my teeth cleaned underwater by a fish.
"People don't take trips - trips take people" - John Steinbeck