Chris Packham is rubbing his eyes from late night World Cup viewing when I meet him, but his enthusiasm is infectious. Once he gets going, it’s clear that what we see on TV is only the tip of the iceberg of his passion and commitment to the cause of nature and wildlife that’s been burning in him since childhood.
Chris isn’t your average telly gun for hire, and we’re not likely to see him presenting The One Show any time soon. As he puts it, “If I could never appear on telly again, I’d just find another way of getting my message out. I don’t get out of bed to be on TV, I get out of bed to learn something.”
And that’s the vibe he wants youngsters to share with his new show ‘Wildlife Jack’, which finds him narrating the animated stories of Jack and his adventures, with real life footage of wildlife.
Why is the connection between children and wildlife important? Chris doesn't hesitate...
“The engagement is important as it seals a lifelong affinity for it. You need that because you are when no longer a child who’s fascinated by newts, working in a bank, a shop, driving a bus or in the Army, you’re still a voting decision maker, you’re a stakeholder on planet Earth, and you will at some point be in a position to make a decision that will benefit that wildlife, indirectly benefitting yourself.
"These programmes are great for instigating an interest, but they’re not a means of satisfying it, there’ll always be a thirst. The real reward is getting it yourself.
“I’d rather spend 10 minutes with a wood louse on the palm of my hand than 10 minutes watching a tiger on TV because I can feel it, touch it. From a kid’s point of view, that’s far more what it’s all about.”
Chris, evangelically enthused AND politically savvy, makes for a convincing combination.
“There’s no doubt that time in the country is beneficial to us,” he says. “ It’s scientifically proven, the colour green increases healing rates. As well as quality of life in terms of enjoying it, being there, we can empathise and understand that if we trash all of that, we trash ourselves.
“It’s an interesting time, because people are so much more aware, which is why fracking isn’t allowed to go on uncontested in a way it would have done 10, 15 years ago.
“What we don’t have is the ability to elect and place decision-makers who are sufficiently educated to make decisions that affect planet Earth.
“Instead, bubbling beneath, we have generations of people with a far more sophisticated knowledge of sustainability, biodiversity, and so within a short space of time, those people will be there. We just have to bide our time, and understand the reasons for our frustration at the moment.”
He grins conspiratorially. “If you have a bias because you’ve engaged, all the better, then we’ll get your pound in the pot and you’ll be on side when some difficult decisions have to be made.”
What does success look like to Chris, who’s been on wildlife watch for four decades now?
“Finding someone else who’s going to take the baton,” he reflects, hence his involvement with 'Wildlife Jack'. “Someone else will be doing my job in 50 years, hopefully a legion of young Jacks and Jackies.”
If there are a few people in this world born to do a job, Chris Packham is clearly among them. It’s as though the TV gig to which many would aspire is just another means through which he operates which, in this day of selfie-dom, is a breath of fresh air. What’s the best bit, I wonder?
“The best part of my job, the selfish bit, is that I learn something new every day,” he weighs up. “I admit was out of date about farming and I had a great conversation with a farmer yesterday, so I felt better.
“TV’s always a struggle because I get so distracted by what I’m doing. They have to chivvy me. When we’re doing live programmes, I’ll be constantly stopping them and telling them I’ve found something more interesting.”
So is Chris Packham animal lover, wildlife activist or political firebrand? “All of the above,” he admits. “It’s great meeting all the animals, but I want more.”
And the eyes, still red from late night World Cup duties, gleam again with fresh purpose.
'Wildlife Jack' is available on DVD and download from Disney Junior - more information here. Watch the taster episode below...