Natural history celebrities don’t come to Blackpool at all frequently. They are more likely to appear at Martin Mere, which is the other side of the Ribble near Southport, than they are at Marton Mere (which is in Marton…). But Steve Backshall is a bit different, with a crossover star quality and a fanatical following among children as a result of his hit show Deadly 60. He had already graced the Tower Ballroom as a Strictly contestant in 2014, and this Sunday he brought his national lecture tour to a virtual sellout at The Grand.
Taking my seat in the Upper Circle it was clear most of the 800 or so in attendance were children and their parents. Delivering what is effectively a grand scale lecture to this age group is not without its challenges. It is fair to say though that Steve kept most of his young fans entertained throughout the two halves of his show, the first of which majored on sharks with the latter covering adaptation and evolution. Each session ended with a question and answer opportunity and many more people wanted to get involved than the timeframe could accommodate. It was made clear though that Steve was going to be available after the show for as long as it took to enable anyone who wanted to interact with him to do so.
There was clearly a focus on danger and excitement in the show, from shark attacks to big cat kills. A lot of this focused on footage of Steve himself, including an infamous incident where he stood on a Cayman which understandably bit him, and a polar bear that was stalking him as potential prey initially before eventually playing it cool and swimming past the front of his kayak. There was however also a fair amount of attention given to less conventionally exciting wildlife, particularly spiders where as with sharks the host was keen to challenge some deeply held and damaging prejudices.
Like any good family entertainment these days there was material aimed at the adults as well as children, notably allegedly testicle eating fish and some of the differences between male and female Sperm Whales beyond the obvious. The kids were the main focus though, and clearly Backshall has found a way of making nature education come alive for them. Even obscure species of shark were correctly identified by youngsters in the audience when asked, and they were no slouches on other flora and fauna too.
It was refreshing that the event didn’t pull its punches on key environmental issues, even though this could be a little dry and accessible for the youngest audience members. The first half concluded with an exhortation to act on shark fin soup and the dangers of longline fishing, whilst the second wound up with a reminder that we are not as smart as we like to think we are and need to treat all other lifeforms with appropriate respect. When asked for his views on Sea World Steve said he couldn’t do it in soundbites and referred the audience to a piece he wrote for the Huffington Post (in short, he has time for some zoos but no time for Sea World).
In summary it was a very enjoyable afternoon with a serious message. Hopefully the buoyant attendance will encourage The Grand to bring Steve back at some point in the future. In the meantime you can find out more about his work at stevebacksahall.com.
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