How to become a wildlife tv presenter

Ben Garrod on how to become a face of natural history television.

Ben Garrod

How did you start out as a wildlife presenter?

By accident! Several friends work within the BBC Natural History Unit and when an email came round looking for guests for Springwatch that had ‘unusual’ associations with the natural world, I was asked to go on with a few of my skeletons. It started from there.

What is your typical working day?

There isn't one, though they are long and interesting. So far, I’ve spent days dissolving skulls in acid, wrangling emus, teaching owls to hunt and just about everything in between. There’s lots of travel and lots of variety.

What are the most important assets for developing a career in this field?

The three Ps – persistence, passion and personality. You have to put yourself out there – meeting people and emailing them for opportunities. Passion is crucial - you need to connect with viewers. Having a fully-rounded (and nice) personality is pretty important, too, as you work with a huge range of people, and a good sense of humour is a must.

What skills and experience are most valuable when starting out?

Patience! A good memory helps, too. People often assume we’re reading from an autocue but we’re not. Sometimes I’ll receive a script just a few minutes before filming so need to memorize specific lines and phrases. 

In terms of experience, the more the better. My background is mainly in conservation fieldwork with apes and monkeys and in academia, but any experience allows you to bring a more fully-formed ‘you’ to the screen.

How important are qualifications (for instance, a degree)?

It depends on what type of presenter you want to be. There are many presenters that are at the level of professors and others that have never been to university. Each has their niche within the presenting ecosystem. 

What is the best thing about what you do?

Inspiring people (young and old) to fall in love with the natural world. And of course being able to travel to amazing places, meet great people and animals and be given your own 3D printed skull are all perks.

What is your most valuable piece of advice?

Be yourself. That along with passion and determination will get you a long way. Once you start presenting, then I’d say don’t take things personally. Viewers will show no inhibition in saying exactly what’s wrong with you, so you must develop a thick skin.

What inspired you to become a wildlife presenter?

David Attenborough has always been a great inspiration. He can make the blue whale and Peripatus velvet worm as fascinating and wonderful as each other. He leads the show, yet still allows the animals to be the stars. I have also taken great inspiration from teachers across the years. There’s nothing more inspiring to a child than a teacher that fills them with a sense of wonder and curiosity. 

Any more tips?

Be sociable. There are lots of presenters on Twitter and Facebook and some amazing people who blog about the natural world. Follow them and speak to them. Also, attend events wherever possible; the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol is a great event and there are also some great courses out there, such as the Wild Eye courses run in Norfolk.

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