TV was an odd medium for me, because I didn’t really watch it. To be absolutely honest with you, I still don’t. But there’s something that attracted me about the way you can tell stories and meet people. I’d always loved telling stories, I always loved writing. I didn’t want to find out stuff for an exam, but I loved reading books; finding out things – and I loved talking to people. It seemed that making television programmes would allow me to do all those things.
A great team is the most exciting environment to be in. Television is a tough industry – it’s not fun, it’s not glamorous, it’s not well paid, it’s none of the things that people assume that it is, but at the same time, it’s fantastic if you get a good team of people together. I loved the process of putting a programme together. I worked my way up from production assistant and learned how to edit and how to direct. I did everything, really.
I have no shame in saying, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” I believe that you should only author a programme that you’re really interested in – you don’t have to be an expert. In fact, it can positively help that I don’t know anything about the subject, because I know that if I’m talking to an expert, if I get it, everyone else is going to get it. I love being the conduit or translator between an academic and our world, and I love it when a scientist feels confident enough not to think about peer pressure and engage me. If they can engage me, they can engage a 12-year-old, who could become the next brilliant scientist in that field.
I want to stay in my little cabin in France, or go and stay with a family in Mongolia, and I don’t want to pollute the water, but I also don’t want to look like a piece of wrinkled cardboard at the end of two weeks’ camping. My beauty range has been running a couple of years. I thought: could we come up with a product that is completely inert when it goes into our water system, with packaging that’s as minimal as possible, both recycled and recyclable? I take it with me, I use it every day; I use it in the shower at home, because biodegradable isn’t just for camping, it’s for life.
I love writing and I love words. I really enjoy writing books but I found that I am easily distracted. When I was writing my first book, Humble by Nature, my dogs were never so well-walked, the house was never so clean, the chickens were cleaned out 16 times a week and I suddenly became really passionate about gardening. I discovered that the only way I can really write is to take myself out of real life: go and live somewhere else, be completely selfish and only think about the book. That’s what I did with Friend for Life: I would get up at about six in the morning, take the dogs for a two-hour walk, write for six hours, walk for another two hours, write for another six hours and go to bed. That became my writing pattern.
One day, in another life, I’d like to come back and turn the education system on its head. When I was at school, it didn’t really feel like I was ever really learning anything – other than just learning how to get away with it. Learning how to pass exams. School should be a constant wonderful journey of discovery. It shouldn’t be about failure, it shouldn’t be about being brilliant, it should just be about the excitement of finding stuff out. Education would be so much more exciting if people could do it outside. You put a transept down on a piece of grass and get someone to count the insects, and suddenly they’re counting. That’s maths, that’s brilliant. It’s also science, it’s also nature, it’s getting kids outside and getting their nails dirty.
If we don’t totally fuck up, we are a generation that has more knowledge and understanding of the wider world than any other before us. We live in a frustrating but exciting world. We are more aware of the damage that we are doing to the world, and the people in it, and everything that we share it with. And yet, we’re carrying on.
I’m hoping that we’ll all wake up out of this sort of torpor of short-term thinking and go: “Oh my God, it’s our responsibility.” It feels like we might just be on the cusp of a revolution where people will stand up and yell, “We can’t let this happen to our children, we can’t let this happen to our village, our country, our world.” We need to really look at ourselves and ask: how can we fix this? I really believe that our little revolution will start in a micro way; it will start around kitchen tables, it will start with small community things, and then those things will grow into a bigger movement.
Mother Nature is an extraordinary force. I see it time and time again. If you give nature an inch, it will grab it, and it will come back and it will be resilient and it will turn your life on its head. One thing that I’ve learned about being in contact with the land and with the seasons and nature, which I love, is that you can’t fight it.
“Do something that scares you a little bit every day.” It’s a phrase that I live by; it’s attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt – a remarkable woman. I’m paraphrasing it here, but basically that’s such a good way to live. It pushes you out of your skin just a little bit and enables you to discover things – about yourself or somebody else or about a place. You’ve got to be responsible for your own destiny; you cannot rely on others. I know that sounds cynical. Support is wonderful – people giving you a boost – but ultimately the only person that’s going to get you out of bed in the morning is yourself.