Gordon Buchanan is bringing his show 30 Years in the Wild to Perth Festival of Arts on May 25. Gayle Ritchie catches up with the acclaimed wildlife filmmaker.
Filming and snapping the weird, wild and wonderful is all in a day’s work for Gordon Buchanan.
The popular wildlife filmmaker can’t wait to share some of his stories with fans when he brings his show 30 Years in the Wild to Perth Festival of Arts on May 25.
Born in West Dunbartonshire, Gordon was brought up in Mull, where a childhood spent outdoors in nature inspired him to pursue his passion for photography and making films.
His work includes the nature documentaries Reindeer Family and Me, Tribes, Predators and Me, The Polar Bear Family and M and Life in the Snow.
Highs and lows
Gordon, 50, who in 2020 was awarded an MBE for his services to conservation and wildlife filmmaking, says his new show will be a journey through the highs and lows of his 30-year career.
“The challenge when I was putting it all together was what to leave in and what to leave out,” he says.
“Over the last three decades, and most of my life, I’ve been doing this job – to me it’s not an ordinary job. I appreciate it’s amazing. It wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if I got a phone call this afternoon saying ‘can you go to Antarctica next month?’ So you never know what’s round the corner.
“The talk highlights the highs and the lows of 30 years working on wildlife documentaries and what it’s like to be surrounded by these animals and having close encounters.”
Gordon has been doing his shows across the UK since February and has found many who come to see him, especially younger people, are interested in his career path – “how I got from A to Z”.
“It wasn’t a very conventional route,” he says. “I talk about how I went from being at school, bored solid with terrible grades, to becoming an international globetrotter. It’s not always been plain sailing though – there’ve been ups and downs and lumps and bumps along the way.”
So what are some of the highlights of his remarkable journey? Gordon says while he found all the Animal Families and Me programmes enthralling, his favourite project of all time was when he was working in the Arctic filming wolves.
“It’s such an incredible part of the world, stunningly beautiful, and the weather’s so extreme you can’t imagine anything being able to live there. And yet these wolves are able to do that. Six months of the year they’re in darkness and yet they’re able to adapt.”
Like most of us, Gordon was affected by Covid-19, which put a stop to his travels in the short term.
“The last two years have seen me doing a lot more gardening and DIY than filming,” he says, “which, to be honest, suited me down to the ground as the one thing I was short of was time at home.”
Isle of Mull
Gordon, who lives in the west end of Glasgow, credits the island of Mull where he grew up for putting him on his career path. Many of his relatives still live there, so he visits every few months.
“I’m so grateful for everything Mull gave me. It inspired me to get outdoors and be adventurous. I wouldn’t be doing this job if it wasn’t for Mull. The things I did as a little kid are still things I’m doing now.”
His latest adventure – in March – took him to the Yukon on a dog-sledding expedition where he learned to “mush” for a programme due out between Christmas and New Year.
“It was spring when I went to the Yukon, and it was still -26C,” he says. “It was looking very festive in March. That was amazing and I’m really looking forward to people seeing that.”
Fan of the cold
If anyone is a fan of the cold, Gordon is; despite having spent most of his career working in hot countries, he finds himself drawn to the colder climes time and time again.
“I’ve spent probably most of my career working in the tropics, rainforests and South East Asia, the Amazon and Brazil and Africa but my spiritual home I think is in cold climates,” he reflects.
“I absolutely love the Arctic. There’s a long tradition of people from Scotland going north rather than flying south. The remoteness of those northern wilds of the planet I really love. The sense of emptiness. All the animals there are super special. Life is so difficult for them. It’s a challenge for humans, who aren’t really meant to be there. You’ve got to be on your toes and so resourceful and very aware of everything around you.”
When Gordon started his career, he admits he “wasn’t thinking about the planet at all”.
“There were issues with things like poachers killing elephants for ivory and deforestation, but there wasn’t that global emergency that there is today over biodiversity and wildlife and climate change. But we know the effects now – there’s not a living species that isn’t affected by climate change. My career’s given me the opportunity to be witness to this developing emergency.”
I’m so grateful for everything Mull gave me. It inspired me to get outdoors and be adventurous.”
While fans will no doubt enjoy Gordon’s two hour show, he says he loves the Q&A at the end.
“That’s probably my favourite bit. I like being taken by surprise. Quite often someone will ask me the oddest question which I relish. The weirder the question, the better.” Noted, Gordon.
Ultimately, the show gives Gordon the opportunity to reflect on the last 30 years of his career.
“I haven’t really done that – I’m usually always looking forward. I don’t tend to look back. So it feels a real privilege to be able to gas away and I’m really looking forward to coming to Perth.”
- Gordon Buchanan: 30 Years in the Wild, is at Perth Theatre on May 25 from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. The event forms part of Perth Festival of Arts. perthfestival.co.uk