Ask any 90s kid who Michaela Strachan is and it’s almost a given they’ll remember avidly witnessing her wrestle snakes in the jungle, battle bats in the darkest of caves and get up close to big cats in Africa on the Really Wild Show. 15 years later she’s come a long way from the show that made her famous and with a series of successful television programmes, a BAFTA, a book and a live show under her belt, it’s safe to say Michaela Strachan has made it. Top of our list of experts to interview for film and TV, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like making a career standing in front of the camera, read on.
Ding-dong! Avon calling. Is it true you were once an Avon lady?
Yes! I became an Avon lady when I was at college. I was about 16. I did a musical theatre course at Arts Educational in London and got the train every day from Hinchley Wood to Waterloo. I used to drop my Avon catalogues in on the way to the station and a couple of days later I’d pick up the orders and drop the deliveries on the way back! It was a nice little earner and of course you got loads of samples!
Did you learn any valuable skills?
I think every job you do teaches you something. I had a lot of part-time jobs when I was at school and college, from working in a kennels to filing at an insurance company, delivering leaflets and working in the Wimpy! All those jobs were character building.
Have you learnt most of your skills ‘on the job’?
I’ve certainly learnt about wildlife ‘on the job’. I studied to be in the theatre and fell into wildlife presenting. I started presenting a Saturday morning children’s show called The Wide Awake Club. I then got asked to do a children’s wildlife series, OWL TV, and then did 15 years on the BBC’s Really Wild Show. I had a love for animals but very little knowledge so, yes, I learnt on the job. The Wide Awake Club was live so it really was like being dropped in at the deep end. There are some skills you can’t learn from books or teachers. Some just have to be learnt from experience – and mistakes!
They say never work with children and animals but you’ve based you whole career around them!
And I’ve loved every minute! Both children and wildlife can be unpredictable but it adds to the fun. These days I don’t film that much with children and I really miss it. Children’s telly is a lot more fun than adult telly. You tend to laugh a lot more!
How did you first get into presenting?
I was in a musical in London called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and I auditioned for The Wide Awake Club. I sang The Chicken Song for my audition – it’s from Spitting Image and was off the wall but it got me the job! The Wide Awake Club was a two-hour magazine show and was on most Saturday mornings, so as a presenter it got you established very quickly. For four years I did The Hitman and Her with Pete Waterman. We descended on nightclubs and filmed bands and did competitions and lots of dancing!
What is it about wildlife programmes you love so much?
Well, I love wildlife and I love travel, so to be paid to do both has been amazing. I love being outdoors and learning new things about wildlife, environments, conservation projects. I also love meeting people who have dedicated their lives to saving wildlife. I feel very privileged to do what I do. It’s been an amazing adventure.
What has been your worst experience filming with animals?
Midges in Scotland I’m afraid! We were filming by a loch in the summer and the midges made our life miserable. They got into your eyes, ears, mouth! I love all wildlife except mosquitoes and midges. I know they have their place in the ecosystem, I just wish my blood wasn’t part of their food chain!
And the one you treasure?
There are so many. Filming The Really Wild Show for 15 years – it was a really good series and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I got to travel all over the world, finding out about so many animals and conservation projects. I also treasure my filming time in Borneo with orphaned orangutans for the BBC series Orangutan Diaries and with orphaned elephants in Kenya for Elephant Diaries. Both were really special experiences.
Bafta winner and award-winning gurner. Those are two special awards!
It’s always an amazing experience to win an award. The BAFTA was for a children’s series called Michaela’s Wild Challenge for Channel 5. I got it for best children’s presenter. I recently got an RTS award for best factual presenter for Springwatch. Both awards mean a lot to me.
And the gurning award?
Haha!! I didn’t enter! Usually the production company enters you into the categories.
You’ve had a varied career to date – from musical theatre to wildlife to cookery! Do you like a challenge?
I did four years on a series called Michaela’s Wild Challenge, so I definitely do! Sometimes it’s great to step out of your comfort zone. I recently did two series of a programme called Great British Ghosts. I loved it. I knew very little about the paranormal and I found it fascinating. Last year I was a contestant on the high diving celebrity show Splash! That was without doubt a challenge and took me well out of my comfort zone!
It seems that you love learning – if you could learn a new skill, what would it be?
I wish I could learn a new language. I’ve never been good at them. I did a six-week course to learn Xhosa, the South African clicky language. I can remember how to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ – ‘Molo kungani?’ – but that’s about as far as it goes. I have a great memory for scripts but sadly not for languages.
Who has inspired you the most?
My mother. She is a constant inspiration.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Massages. I love massages and try to fit them in regularly. Every time I fly from Heathrow Terminal 5 I have a massage before I get on the plane. You just can’t have enough massages!
Have you got any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I’ve had a busy summer doing shows based on my book, Michaela Strachan’s Really Wild Adventures. It’s all poems I’ve written about adventures I’ve had while filming. It’s done to music and is very interactive and educational. Most of the poems are slightly wacky: Never Try to Outspit a Spitting Cobra, Polar Bear Dentistry! I love it. I trained for the theatre and it’s great that I have an avenue for my more artistic side! But it will soon be time for Autumnwatch, which starts in November. This year we’re based at WWT Caerlaverock Wetlands Centre near Dumfries.
Finish this sentence: ‘My name is Michaela Strachan and…
I hope I have inspired people to love and care about wildlife.’
If Michaela has inspired you to follow in her footsteps, why not take a look at the TV presenting courses listed on our site? Who knows where you might end up…