Interview: Kate HumbleBy Emma
Presenter Kate Humble is the frequent face of TV travel. Best known for her role in Countryfile and Animal Park, Emma Godden spoke to Kate about the stand-out moments from her career so far, as well as her top tips for aspiring globetrotters
You’re one of the most recognisable travellers on television. Where did it all begin?
The travelling began when I was seventeen. I did my first journey on my own without my parents. I went InterRailing. I had £100 and no international passport, because I’d never really been abroad before. That was the slightly ignominious start to my travelling life!
You’ve worked with lots of big names in TV travel, from Ben Fogle to David Attenborough. Who has been your favourite to work with and why?
David Attenborough is my hero – frankly I would have done a programme about toenails if it had him in it.
Do you prefer filming TV series at home in the UK, or in more exotic locations?
It completely depends. There is obviously something wonderful about going somewhere that you haven’t been to before. That can be in our own country, or it can be abroad.
The downside of filming is that filming is exactly what you’re doing. I do get to go to some really remarkable places, but I hardly see anything because we work all hours of the day.
My very first job for the Natural History Unit was in the Cayman Islands and involved going 300m down in a submarine to film a very rarely seen shark called the six gill shark. In my real life, I would never have had the opportunity to do that. I didn’t see anything of the Cayman Islands, but frankly I didn’t care, because I did see the shark. That was a highlight of my life that I’m not sure I’ll ever beat.
You’ve spent the past year filming your new series 23 Degrees, in which you track the extremes of the earth’s weather in one orbit. What is the most extreme weather you’ve encountered?
We went to a place called Yellowknife, which is in the Northwest Territories in the Canadian Arctic.
Yellowknife is famous for being extremely cold, because it is right in the middle of the continent; it’s at least a thousand miles to the sea in any direction. It was minus 40°C – I’ve never experienced cold quite like that. The thing that really woke us up was that we went straight from Yellowknife to Argentina, where it was plus 35°C, so we had a 75°C temperature difference in a matter of hours.
In 2006 you established the charitable organisation Stuff Your Rucksack. What are the aims of this group?
Stuff Your Rucksack came about as the result of doing a lot of travelling and very often coming across small charities and initiatives, such as tiny little village schools, or a locally run orphanages that do really great work at a very local level. Very often these places need the sort of things that many of us would either throw out, or have under our beds or at the back of a wardrobe, such as old children’s toys and clothes, books in English, maps – the kind of things travellers could easily pack in their bags.
I came up with Stuff Your Rucksack as a way of connecting these small charities with travellers who want to go and experience the developing world, but also feel that they can do something useful while they’re away. It’s basically a message board, connecting travellers with charities.
The feedback we’ve had from people who have done stuff your rucksack often say it has been the highlight of their trip, because it’s given them a really authentic and unique experience in the country that they’re visiting. www.stuffyourrucksack.com
You once filmed a series called Humble Holidays. What is your top tip for students travelling on the cheap?
My top tip would be to do everything that the locals do. If you go to anywhere and you want to know where to eat or how to travel, take a leaf out of the locals’ book. They know the country far better than you. I have found that some of my best travel experiences have been going on public transport – it may be really squashed, and it may be really uncomfortable, but you’ll have great experiences and stories aplenty to tell when you get home.
What has been your most memorable series to film so far, of everything you’ve ever done?
Probably the Frankincense Trail which we made in 2008. It followed the route that frankincense was carried through the Middle East. I had one of the most unexpected and extraordinary reactions in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Our local guide took me to the top of a very old building at the heart of the city souk. He took me up there just as the sun was going down and the call to prayer was starting.
There’s about 26 mosques around Jeddah, and in almost all of them, the Imam was calling the Call to Prayer. It was just before Mecca so the streets below us had been really busy, and all the people were melting away to the mosques. This incredible sound started in one corner of the city and echoed all the way round. It made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I cried actually. It was just a really beautiful experience. I’m not a Muslim, I’m not religious in any way, but that was an experience that made me think ‘I live in an amazing world’.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what three things would you take with you?
A scuba kit, a bird field guide and a pair of binoculars.
What is your top tip for someone thinking of going on a gap year?
Don’t follow the crowd, follow your heart.