Lifesaving Teamwork: A Q&A with Adventurer Steve Backshall
Would you literally put your life in the hands of your team? An expert on teamwork and motivation, with a flare for adventure and bringing awareness to current environmental issues, Steve Backshall has been passionate about the wild world ever since he could crawl.
Described as an old-fashioned action hero, some of Steve’s leisure pursuits include mountaineering, kayaking, scuba diving, martial arts and endurance running. Paired with his unsurpassed knowledge of wildlife, he is an incredibly compelling and motivational speaker with some of the most incredible stories and lessons to share.
We were lucky enough to go along to the screening of his new TV show, Expedition, which follows Steve and his team of experts (not to mention the incredible film crew), as they explore some of the world’s untouched territories. Naturally we had so many questions that we wanted to ask him, we had to narrow it down to these few!
You have been on some of the most incredible adventures in some of the worlds most isolated locations, where did your love of the outdoors stem from, and how did this lead to working in television?
My love of the outdoors is something I consider to be innate. Some people get a kick out of Ferraris or Beach bars, I get it from mountains and blue skies! I was always certain I would work in the outdoors (as a kid I wanted to be a ranger in an African game reserve) but the TV thing came much, much later. It was more a way of facilitating my passions than a deep love of being on the telly!
Environmental impact plays a big part in what you do. What do you feel are the biggest problems we are facing, and was this evident in your recent explorations?
Big question, and one I could talk about for hours. Habitat loss was the most evident on this particular project, and all the more difficult because we spent most of our time in such utterly pristine, perfect places. It gave us an even more heightened sense of what it was we had to lose…
I first came up with the idea for Expedition in 1998, after a (failed) attempt to walk solo across New Guinea. It had proved to me that our world is far from tamed, that there are wild and wondrous corners of our planet that very few people even know exist.
Your new TV Series Expedition sees you travelling to 10 untouched locations. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration behind creating this series, and the importance that teamwork played while you were filming?
Teamwork is my pet subject! In normal life, working as a team can make you more efficient, perhaps make a dull task more enjoyable. On expeditions, a good team is the difference between success and failure, and even life and death. On Expeditions we place our lives in each other’s hands daily in the most literal sense. How I construct a team, select the members, compose the dynamic… all these considerations are everything.
We were lucky enough to see the screening of the first episode when you came across many road bumps. For those who weren’t there, how did you maintain focus and motivation to overcome the adversity you faced?
I have a thousands tips and tricks for maintaining morale and focus. A clear mind is essential for focus. I spent some time living in a Buddhist monastery many years ago, and learned the simple tricks of mindfulness, of using breathing as a powerful tool. At the time it seemed pathetically obvious and easy to me, yet it has saved my life again and again. Clean living allows for you to gain more tangible benefits from the natural stimulants of testosterone and adrenaline, both of which are easy to turn on and off if you know how. Cutting out distractions, cleaning your mind like you’d clear clutter from your desk. And morale? That’s about finding the spoonful of sugar in every tot of medicine. It’s about savouring a sunrise, resetting the clock, refuelling the psyche.
This varies from one mission to the next. On a 36hour summit push, then it’s enough to say; “I’ll just make it to that next ridgeline/ midnight/ end of the hour, and then I’ll take a rest/ chocolate bar/ leg massage.” on longer exploits, it’s about breaking it down into manageable chunks, about being realistic with your own psychology. Goal setting, identifying where mental challenges are going to come from, and coming up with a strategy for dealing with them BEFORE they happen, rather than whilst in the midst of a crisis!
If there was one message that your audience could take away from your speech, what would it be?
One message? If I had to identify one characteristic in me that makes everything else possible, it is positivity. Enthusiasm. That optimism means I am always looking to find the positives in everything that happens to me, always willing to shrug at mistakes, because I know that ultimately ALL of my most valuable learning and growing opportunities have come from my cock ups! And more than anything because being positive is empowering. It all sounds so cliched, but it works for me!
You recently returned from the Deadly 60 Live Tour in Australia, what was this like and what do you feel the importance is in getting kids involved with animals and nature?
My Australia tours are probably the favourite part of my year. I’ve talked to some massive crowds out there; including I think nine sell out shows at the Sydney Opera House (I cried first time I turned up there!) Getting kids involved in nature is critical for two reasons. For them, it is important because the outdoors, wildlife and adventure offers so much from a physical and emotional perspective that is lacking for way too many young people. Fresh air, exercise, camaraderie, challenge.. they’re a panacea for so many ills that plague our society. For everyone else it’s important because a young person who believes they can change the world is a firebrand, a unique and unstoppable force for good. And God knows, our planet needs a bit of that right now.
Finally, Steve, what’s next for you?
Big question! This has been the most ludicrous year of my life. Just to write the 140,000-word book of Expedition could be a full-time job! To do ten expeditions, the Oz tour, three other TV series, finish my masters, build a house and have my first baby… it’s been way too much, and frankly left me a little fried! I’m trying to figure out what that next step in life should be; how I can be most effective and achieve most in making our planet a better place. To that end I’m spending a lot of time up in parliament (shadowing Caroline Lucas green MP, and next week Michael Gove), lobbying for environmental organisations and learning how politics works. I’m also trying to fundraise for my first feature film. But right now, all I really want is a few months to learn how to be a dad!!!!
Thank you so much for sharing these insights with us Steve! You have so much on the go, we look forward to seeing how far you go in the political sphere, and we can’t wait to watch the remaining 9 episodes of Expedition.
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