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In conversation with Gordon Buchanan

Gordon Buchanan MBE , Scottish filmmaker, wildlife cameraman and presenter.

Photo courtesy of Gordon Buchanan / Jo Sarsby management Ltd.

After 31 years filming wildlife in remote areas of the planet, Gordon Buchanan has a reputation for relishing tough assignments. He has taken part in challenging expeditions and adventures around the globe including South America, Asia, Africa, Papua New Guinea, Russia and Alaska, always with a view to raising awareness of the fragility of the world’s endangered species and habitats. In early 2022, Gordon went on tour around the UK to sold-out audiences with his latest show ‘30 Years In The Wild’ sharing with theatre-goers his life and path into presenting. After the success of the first leg of the tour, Gordon returned to theatres this Spring for another tour.

Gordon was born in Dunbartonshire , Scotland in 1972 and moved to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull at an early age. Gordon developed a love for the outdoors from an early age and loved exploring around the local area. His career began while he was working in a local restaurant kitchen owned by the wife of survival cameraman Nick Gordon. He invited the then 17 year old to come and work with him as his camera assistant on an assignment in Sierra Leone and as they say , the rest is now history.

His latest show ‘Snow Dogs’ was broadcast on BBC Two last Christmas. Gordon has presented the Family & Me series since it began in 2016 with Elephant Family & Me and has since presented Cheetah Family, Snow Cats and Me, Gorilla Family & Me, Snow Wolf Family & Me, Reindeer Family & Me as well as The Polar Bear Family & Me and The Bear Family & Me for which he received a Royal Television Society award for his presenting work.

Gordon’s other recent productions include Equator from the Air, Life in Polar Bear Town and the highly acclaimed Tribes, Predators and Me series, all on BBC Two and Life in the Snow and Super Cute Animals all for BBC One. Notable among his recent TV credits are Wild Burma, The Dark: Nature’s Nighttime World, Land of the Lost Wolves, Lost Land of the Tiger, Lost Land of the Volcano and Lost Land of the Jaguar. Into the Wild was another popular series where Gordon takes celebrities such as Alastair Campbell, Dermot O’Leary and Sara Cox amongst others up and close with Britain’s beautiful wildlife.

Gordon was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the late Queen Elizabeth’s 2020 New Years honours list for his services to conservation and wildlife film-making.

Gordon now lives near Glasgow with his wife Wendy and two children Lola and Harris. I caught up with Gordon via Zoom just before the last night of his tour.

Good afternoon Gordon , your one man tour “30 Years In The Wild” ends tonight. How has the transition from cameraman to presenter and then to a live tour been ?

Well I suppose that if you asked me or told me that I would be doing a one man tour twenty years ago , that would be my sort of idea of hell, being in front of the camera was something that I didn’t set my sights on at all. But when I started doing it and I think seeing how it was such a useful communication tool. It’s also been a way I suppose of  more accurately conveying experiences and problems different animals are are facing if there’s somebody on camera. I wasn’t a big fan of presenter lead wildlife programmes before I did it. I’m always mindful that I don’t want to get in the way of the animals , more I want to enhance the experience and convey what it’s like to be out with wolves or elephants or gorilla’s .

Having watched your tour , you seem so comfortable on stage. How has the tour been for you ?

Yes it’s funny , when we were doing the publicity for the tour and speaking to various journalists and radio presenters and they asked what can people expect when they come along on the night , well I think it’s just me standing there talking. I have pictures and videos but I think most of the audience are really engaged with nature and wildlife programs so I always equate it to a wedding , I’m not doing the best man’s speech , it’s like doing the groom’s speech, because there’s no pressure. People have come along to listen to what I have to say , so I really like doing the live stage . It feels quite indulgent but it’s a chance to look back over the past thirty years and kind of join all the dots , because the time in many ways seems to have gone past very quickly. There was all these things , from my mum moving us to Mull , then meeting Nick Gordon when I did , leaving school when I did. It was all these things that have taken me on such a straight line in life , all these decisions that I have taken that have ended up with me standing on a stage in front of people I suppose.

So would you like to do a 60 Years In The Wild Tour ?

That’d be my ambition. If I could keep going for another 30 years. That would be amazing. I think there’s still so many animals that I’d love to film in places that I like to go and animals that I’d like to film again. So I think yes , if I could still be doing this job in 30 years time, that would be more than good enough for me.

Is there anywhere you would like to return to , to film again ?

I filmed the wolves in Ellesmere Island that was just such an extraordinary place. I’d love to go back there. It’s one of the few places in the world where there’s nobody living there. There’s no indigenous communities, no local people, and yeah, it’s kind of nice just to be in such a wild place and and be able to spend time in very close proximity to such an amazing animal. So that’s definitely a career high, being in the Arctic with the wolves and yeah, I think that’s the one place I’d love to love to go back to.

Do you ever get distracted while on location ?

There’s been occasions where i have had to sleep in hide, I think the the longest I’ve done is 3 days in a hide up a a tree. And obviously you have. to sleep at some point. I am always looking for the next shot , it might be just the way that the lights of lands on a branch or just the way that the clouds move. So I’m never really sort of tune out, I always think there’s a shot to be taken. The only occasion that I’ve ever tuned out was in a hide when I had full 4G. You know, you find yourself checking a text or email. I then think I could be missing a shot , so I just switch my phone off. It’s a terrible distraction.

For now Glasgow is home , if you could , where would you move to ?

All of my family are spread all over West Coast of Scotland, so Glasgow is a great place to live. You know, I’ve never been asked that question. And I think because I get to go to so many places , in one year I get to travel a lot. I think that my ideal perfect place would be if I could go off grid in a little cabin on the shoreline somewhere on the west coast of Scotland. Not to move there full time, but a little cabin, looking out to some islands with some woodland at the at the back, that would be perfect. No bells and. Whistles. That would suit me down to the ground.

So what does a day off look like ?

If it’s just me on my own. I’ve got a little clinker built boat. A little 15 foot wooden boat out on Loch Lomond and that’s where I take myself away. If I’ve got nothing work related to do, I’ll just go out and and Bob about , that’s sort of my happy place. So yeah, when the kids were younger and there was sort of more intensive parenting going on I had less time, but then as I get older I’ve got more time to spend out my boat. I think my wife hasn’t got a clue , she says what do you do out there? And I said I will make a sandwich and spend the day out there just bobbing alone the shoreline. Glasgow is a great city to live in, but at times when it’s quite I like to get out of get out of town and I can be out in my boat within 40 minutes of getting in the car.

When you think of the future of , what can we do to improve our environment and our relationship with wildlife . Is education at school part of the answer ?

Get get your kids interested while they’re young and they still have that fascination by the natural world. I’ve done lots of talks with primary school age kids. And they’re so engaged and I think that Natural History as a subject should be part of school life. Getting kids on a trips to local nature reserves. Of course if Natural History is on the curriculum kids should be informed about nature because ultimately just knowing about the problems that the world faces is going to be more important than doing arithmetic. And I think kids, naturally are born with this fascination with the natural world., I think it’s just making sure that it’s carried on through their lives and that the people are aware of the impact that we have.  

You know for people of our age, we weren’t aware of the the the problems that were coming down the line when we were younger .So we lived through a very high consumption era, I suppose from post war through the 1950s, it was all about filling your homes full of all of these amazing gadgets. And so we realise now that actually it doesn’t make for a happier society, but also you know, it’s using up natural resources.

Wildonline in conversation with Gordon Buchanan

Special thanks to Robyn Thorpe @ Jo Sarsby  management ltd

And Gordon Buchanan MBE

Photo credits Jo Sarsby management ltd

©️ 2023

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