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In good Nick for an adventure

PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 April 2014

Photo by Matt Austin

Photo by Matt Austin

MATT AUSTIN

He’s a familiar face on our screens as the TV naturalist par excellence but now he’s drawing his family in with him for his latest adventure, discovers Alexis Bowater

Nick Baker, a man happiest among his family and his animals
Photo by Matt AustinNick Baker, a man happiest among his family and his animals Photo by Matt Austin

It was a stunning summer’s day sometime in the nineties the first, and last, time I gargled a whole magnum of champagne with TV presenter Nick Baker.

We were holed up in a titchy Dartmoor pub. He’d been dancing through dusty meadows chasing butterflies. I’d escaped from a sunless newspaper newsroom. We had both landed TV jobs on the same day. The celebrations went on a bit.

In the slightly less fizz-fuelled intervening years I’ve watched him with pride and respect hone his craft as one of this country’s finest naturalists and lepidopterists.

Lucky for Dartmoor folk he lives with his bewitching wife and daughter tucked into one of the moor’s dearest of villages, Chagford. There he indulges not only his passion for nature but his hobbies too. For Nick’s a bit of a creative after dark – playing, and singing, with his well-respected band, performing at Chagstock, accomplished in so many more ways than just TV presenting.

A fascinating creepy crawly is never far away with Nick
Photo by Matt AustinA fascinating creepy crawly is never far away with Nick Photo by Matt Austin

For that one-dimensional medium belies his multi-faceted skill set. He’s a singer, a writer, a comedian who is friends with and works with Harry Hill, a passionate environmentalist, a kind friend and a family man.

This last quality is where his newest, ground-breaking world exclusive project morphs into his world of conservation. For Nick is blessed not only with his own encyclopaedic knowledge of science, nature and global conservation, but he is surrounded by a family who are too. And now, together, they’re leading holidays for other conservation-minded clans.

“Ceri is really good with people, very good at making everybody feel welcome, very aware of people whereas I have a tendency to see a frog or a preying mantis and I will just disappear into that world. Obviously people come with me but there are limits to how long people will be held mesmerised by a poisoned dart frog. I could spend all day looking at a poisoned dart frog.

“Ceri will be there to say: ‘That’s enough Nick, some people are getting bored, they’ve wandered off now’. Where I might not have noticed. We work well as a team like that.”

Nick’s ten favourite things about Devon

1. The wildlife: you don’t have to venture very far to have some amazing wildlife experiences

2. Dartmoor: there is no place he would rather be. Walking, wildlife, stunning scenery, pubs, what more could a man ask for?

3. The people: let’s face it, people who chose to live in Devon are on the whole pretty great ;-)

4. The beer! Some of the best ales in the world are brewed in Devon.

5. The dry stone walls! Works of art.

6. The music: Devon offers a host of great venues with a diversity of bands & holds some brilliant festivals such as Beautiful Days and Chagstock.

7. The cycling: Devon’s cycle routes are expanding all the time and offer some great rides for all ages and abilities.

8. The night sky: living on Dartmoor you get to see the stars far away from the glare of the city lights.

9. History, myths and legends: you could never get bored of hearing the stories of Devon’s past.

10. The coastline and beaches: Devon being lucky enough to have two coastlines, both north and south, offering different experiences. You want surf, you head north, rockpooling south, each one a winner!

And within that ying/yang lies the alchemy of their relationship.

I am interviewing him in his study. Behind him perfectly aligned books allude to his carefully organised thinking process. I have long thought that Nick’s biggest problem is that he is too handsome: distracted, people overlook his formidable brain. Newspaper articles gushing over his ‘matinée idol good looks’ detract from the hard fact that this man is a bona fide boffin. He should be surrounded by microscopes and weird eyepieces, peering closely at things under glass in dusty libraries and poking them occasionally while excitedly making copious notes on parchment with a quill.

“He reminds me of the character in the film Flubber,” says Ceri. “He just forgets and gets so involved with what he is doing that he is away with the fairies.”

Ceri and Elvie, his seven-year-old daughter, are a formidable, charming support team. The former is an amateur camerawoman and editor, the latter a born communicator who has, in the parlance of the TV talent hunter ‘got it’ in spades. She’s a natural - no wonder.

"He just forgets and gets so involved with what he is doing that he is away with the fairies "

Between them, and Nick’s Springwatch, Winterwatch, the book writing and the myriad marvellous television appearances this year, they are squeezing in this groundbreaking project to lead conservation-based family holidays to Costa Rica and Belize.

Later, I phone Ceri to get a flavour of what it was like last time they were there, how she got on, and how Nick is on his latest adventure. There are good natured grumbles that he is away, again. She misses him, Elvie misses him, the snakes need feeding and she’s having to forage for brambles for the stick insects. What’s it like living with this TV star? I ask.

“Do you want the honest answer or the printable answer?” she guffaws. “The house is full of snakeskins and jars of things and when he goes away I have the pleasure of looking after them all. I went to the freezer the other day to take out some turkey and it was a bag of mice!”

Costa Rica was, she says, magical, sharing memories of trees overflowing with scarlet macaws, riding horses on beaches, canoeing with crocodiles at sunset.

A rainforest jaunt with this crew will definitely be an education you won’t forget. But what of the fans, I ask, dazzle-eyed by his fame and face? She laughs again and her down-to-earth, unsharable Pythonesque reply reminds me of the famous moment from Life of Brian when his mother tells the adoring crowds: “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”

There’s magic in this little family, individually. But together the whole is much, much greater than the sum of its parts. What luck for the world of conservation, and us, to be able to share that.

For more information on the Baker family conservation holidays please visit:

reefandrainforest.co.uk

Top ten things you don’t know about Nick by Ceri and Elvie (and a few more for luck.)

1. He is terrified of flying.

2. He can be a bit of a diva at times, is the ‘Imelda Marcos’ of outdoor footwear and loves his gadgets.

3. He is a ‘Necro twitcher’ (he collects dead things, bones, skulls, wings etc.).

4. He nearly became a professional cyclist before deciding on his current career path.

5. He likes to rant A LOT!

6. He is learning to play the banjo (unfortunately).

7. He would love to be a cowboy and live in the wild west (though is allergic to horses, including zebras and one species of giraffe).

8. He’s actually not a bad artist, he is currently working with Ceri to create a series of children’s illustrated educational rhyming books.

9. He’s really annoying and doesn’t know as much as Steve Backshall (says Elvie).

10. He’s shorter than you think ;-)

11. He was once married to a Miami Dolphins cheerleader!

12. He always leaves the milk on the sideboard and doesn’t like Marmite.

13. He was once ‘Hunk of the Month’ in Gay Times!

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