This week, we were thrilled to be able to interview the inspirational wildlife TV presenter, Michaela Strachan. When she’s not filming in the UK, Michaela lives in Cape Town, South Africa with her cameraman partner Nick, and their son Oliver, and dog Toto.
You live in the coastal suburb of Hout Bay in South Africa, how does family life in SA compare to Surrey, where you grew up?
We have a very outdoor lifestyle here compared to Surrey! Obviously the weather is a huge factor. I was obsessed with dancing as a child, an indoor activity, my son Ollie, who is 8, is obsessed with cricket and soccer, an outdoor activity. We do spend a lot of time outdoors compared to when I was a child. I live in a very beautiful part of Cape Town so I am very lucky.
Crime is a reality in S.Africa, it certainly wasn’t a big thing in leafy Surrey when I was a child, although we were burgled! We live in a security Estate in Hout Bay. We actually have a fantastic sense of community in the estate. Oddly I don’t think we had a sense of community in Hinchley Wood where I lived.
I think I became grown up and independent at quite a young age compared to kids in Cape Town. I think it has a lot to do with public transport. We had a great system in Surrey and lived very near to a train station so could independently get around. Kids in Cape Town generally are ferried by their parents until they can drive at 18. There are positives and negatives to that. It’s great to have independence at a young age but I do think that we all have to be adults for such a long time, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to stay innocent and reliant for a bit longer!!
I feel that I had an amazing and privileged life as a child. I think Ollie has an equally amazing and privileged life but in a very different way.
One big difference I’ve noticed now between Cape Town kids and British kids, is that if you have an outdoor lifestyle, it’s a lot easier to keep kids away from screens. I think it’s becoming a huge problem in the UK with kids disconnecting from each other and reality because screen time is such a huge draw. Of course technology is a reality of our time, but it has to be monitored.
You’ve been on our televisions since the 80s, was it always your dream to work in media, and have you always had a love for wildlife?
I trained for musical theatre and went to The Arts Educational College. My dream was to be in the theatre in musicals! I fell into presenting. My 1st series was The Wide Awake Club in 1986, which was a children’s saturday morning magazine show. From that I fell into children’s wildlife programmes. I presented the ‘Really Wild Show’, a children’s wildlife programme for the BBC for 15 years and so am now known as a wildlife presenter. The more I have learnt about wildlife, the more passionate I have become and I feel extremely fortunate to have had such a fulfilling career. I have been lucky enough to film all over the world, experience amazing wildlife, meet inspirational people and hopefully inspire people to also become passionate about the natural world.
Do you have a favourite family recipe?
Not really a family recipe, although my mum’s chocolate cake is legendary, made with evaporated milk! But my favourite meal to cook is stir fry. We have quite a healthy veggie patch and there’s nothing better than picking whatever is ready to harvest, cabbage, spinach, spring onions, leeks, broccoli, and stir frying it with cashew nuts, sweet and sour sauce and noodles. It’s extremely satisfying.
What wisdom would you like to pass on to your son?
Oh, there is so much! Be confident in life, try not to be selfish, be the best you can be, be honest, live for the moment, be kind, respect the natural world and enjoy life.
As the well known saying goes: ‘accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change things you can and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Life can be hectic for the working mum; what do you do to unwind and relax?
A massage never goes a miss! I love the theatre and live music. Yoga. Walking in the mountains, spending time in my veggie garden. Chilling with my son Ollie. Going on a picnic. I used to be terrible at relaxing but I’m getting much better at it these days!
What’s been your most treasured experience working with animals?
There are so many. Filming Orangutan Diary has been one. Filming orphaned orangutans in Borneo was an incredible experience. Diving with sharks has always rated as a top experience. Going to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda has been a highlight. Working as a volunteer for SANCCOB in South Africa helping to rehabilitate African penguin chicks. Having the opportunity to film orphaned baby elephants in Kenya.
What’s the one baby product you couldn’t have lived without?
The African baby carrier. It’s a material baby back pack made in South Africa. African women all carry their babies on their backs, wrapped with a towel or blanket. Most European women don’t have the body shape to do it successfully. The African Baby carrier is a cloth back pack that enables you to carry your baby on your back, like a supported piggy back. It was a life saver for me. I travelled a lot with Ollie when he was a baby and it made travelling so much easier. It was also great for going on walks. We even took him up Table Mountain in it when he was about 4. He was a real hip boy and it rescued my back!
You support important charities World Vision and Alternative Gifts. Tell us a bit about these two causes and why these two charities are so important to you?
I actually support many charities! I sponsor a child through World Vision in Kenya. I sponsor a child through Home From Home in Cape Town and in fact take her and her family out every birthday and Xmas. I support SANCCOB, the sea bird rescue centre in Cape Town who rescue and rehabilitate sea birds, especially African Penguins. I support Animals Asia who rescue bears from the bear bile industry, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust who rescue and rehabilitate elephants in Kenya, The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation who rescue orangutans in Borneo, Secret World, a British wildlife rescue centre, The Wild Network who are campaigning to reconnect children with wildlife and the outdoors. I tend to support charities that I have had a personal experience with, usually because I’ve filmed with them and know and respect their work.
What’s in the pipeline for you next?
How would you sum yourself up in one sentence?
I think my friends would say I’m honest, sometimes too honest, cheerful, positive, and loyal. I hope that’s what they would say!!