Parenting is tougher than swimming with a shark, says Steve Backshall
Parenting? It’s tougher than swimming with a great white shark: Adventurer Steve Backshall on the bittersweet joy of becoming a father for the first time after losing one of his twins
- Steve Backshall’s wife Helen Glover had difficult pregnancy and lost one twin
- Just after she gave birth to Logan in July the adventurer jetted off to start filming
- Steve is producing year-long round-the-world jaunt to unforgiving terrains
- But he says being a father is harder, and would love to be a full-time dad in future
Helen Glover already has a few gold medals. The highest-ranked female rower in the world, she’s a two-time Olympic champion, a triple world champion, quintuple World Cup champion and triple European champion.
Phew! It sounds like she deserves another gold medal, though – for being a rather epic wife.
Why? Because when her husband, the wildlife show presenter and adventurer Steve Backshall, sat down to talk to her about how his work would impact on the arrival of their first child, she didn’t throw a screaming fit.
Most women in her position would, he admits. Most famous for his BBC children’s series Deadly 60, which brings him face-to-face with venomous snakes and scorpions galore, Steve, 45, is fast becoming a more mainstream household name when it comes to adventuring and natural history broadcasting.
Some 12 years ago – long before he met Helen in 2014 – Steve set about trying to secure funding for a year-long round-the-world jaunt which would see him visit some of the most unforgiving terrains on the planet.
Steve Backshall’s wife Helen Glover, pictured with their son Logan, had a difficult pregnancy – one that saw the couple lose one of the twins she was carrying
The adventurer, pictured, says parenting is more difficult than swimming with a great white shark – and admits that he has been reduced to a nervous wreck in the face of a crying baby
The audacious project finally got the go-ahead last year (it will be broadcast on the BBC and UKTV next year), just as Helen discovered she was pregnant, and with a difficult pregnancy too – one that saw the couple lose one of the twins she was carrying.
Logan, the surviving twin and their ‘miracle baby’, as his proud father puts it, was due in July, bang in the middle of the year that would see Steve hotfooting it from the Arctic to the jungles of Belize, via Oman and the Himalayas. All of which would rather spectacularly rule him out of nappy duty back home.
‘The timing couldn’t have been worse,’ Steve admits during a rare trip back to the UK.
‘I had been trying to get the go-ahead for this for 12 years, so it couldn’t have happened at a more difficult time. Helen and I sat down and had a frank and honest conversation about it and thank goodness she was completely behind me.
‘As an athlete herself, she understood that this has been my whole life’s work, working towards this, and to give up on it would have been crazy.’
There are advantages to having a wife with the mentality of an Olympic champion, it seems. ‘She absolutely knows about training goals, about working towards objectives and she totally understands. She said from the off she would do everything she could to try and make it possible.’
By giving the trip her blessing, though, Helen was signing herself up for sole parenting duties. What if she had said no, though?
‘I think if she had said that, then I would have had to take a raincheck,’ he admits. ‘There are some things that are more important than the job.’
Little Logan did indeed arrive in July, and while Steve managed to be home for the birth, he jetted off again just weeks later. Since then he’s been away for weeks at a time, missing the majority of Logan’s young life so far.
He’s just returned from a six-week trip to the rainforests of Central America. ‘When I left for that one he was ten weeks old, and when I came back he’d doubled in size,’ Steve says, the regret palpable in his voice.
‘But Helen has been quite pragmatic about it. She’s said that of all the times in his life for me to be away like this, this is the easiest because he’s too young to understand.
‘But for me it’s really tough. I’ve been really homesick. I was out in the jungle and all I could think was, “I miss my little man.” It was never like that before.
‘I’ve been doing expeditions for a living for more than 20 years and know all about what you have to go through psychologically to separate yourself from the modern world. This time it was different. I just missed home.’
Helen is a two-time Olympic champion, a triple world champion, quintuple World Cup champion and triple European champion, and hopes to get back to competing once Steve returns from his adventures
He also missed huge swathes of his baby’s development. ‘On these trips some of the crew find it easier that they can’t be in constant contact with home. It means that you can immerse yourself into the job.
‘I found it so hard, though, particularly because every day I knew that I was missing something new with Logan – a smile, a particular sound he was making for the first time.’
Today, he admits he isn’t entirely sure Logan recognises him as his father. ‘Well, he definitely knows Helen, no doubt about that.
‘I get lovely reactions from him – but a lot of other people get lovely reactions from him too. You want to believe that smile is for you and you alone, but at four months it’s way too early to tell.’
Suffice to say that the minute he landed this time, he was on Dad duty. ‘Yep. Straight off a plane, and handed a baby with the words “deal with that, change that nappy,”’ he admits.
‘It’s brilliant. And I’m completely into the idea of being a dad. If the opportunity arises for us to switch roles and let Helen get back into competition, then yes I’d take on the role of a stay-at-home dad. I’d be all over it.’
And he would genuinely embrace it if the roles were reversed? ‘I would do everything I can to make it happen. Just as she has.
‘It would involve spending more time at home, but there are lots of things I can do in this country that don’t involve that same level of travel.’
Interestingly, Steve admits that it would be more challenging than any of his previous adventures (quite an admission given that his usual adventures involve swimming with sharks and getting close to crocodiles).
‘Oh, much more challenging. Since Logan arrived, my respect for parents has gone through the roof.’ The man who seems to be fazed by nothing does admit that he has been reduced to a nervous wreck in the face of a crying baby.
‘It’s such a hard job, particularly when there are protracted fits of crying. As parents we’re comparatively lucky because he’s a pretty chirpy little chap, really.’ He sighs. ‘Parenting has got to be the hardest job in the world.’
All the more reason to bow down to Helen, who’s largely doing it on her own, albeit with help from family. ‘For my longer trips she’s gone down to stay with her family in Cornwall, but how she’s doing it is absolutely beyond me,’ he admits.
He said: ‘I’m completely into the idea of being a dad. If the opportunity arises for us to switch roles and let Helen get back into competition, then yes I’d take on the role of a stay-at-home dad. I’d be all over it’
‘One of the big issues is that Logan doesn’t sleep much – just three hours a night. As an athlete, Helen was used to training hard, then getting a good eight or nine hours’ sleep.
‘Now, she’s not only getting by on three hours, but she’s still managing to find ways to train. She has Logan sleeping in his basket at the end of the rowing machine, and she does indoor bikes and free weights.
‘She’s phenomenal. She’s already got back to the figure and condition she had before. It’s a long way off her peak competing condition, but if she wanted to go back to professional sport, I’ve no doubt she could do it.’
Is another Olympic bid a possibility then? It certainly seems so. ‘It would have to be incredibly important to her. I mean to be able to win an Olympic gold, it has to be everything to you.
‘For the eight years she was working towards that goal, at London and Rio, there was nothing in her life apart from rowing. Now there is, so it would depend on her drive. We haven’t decided yet. Tokyo is too close, but we’re not ruling out Paris in 2024.’
Is there a hint here that little Logan has quenched his father’s famous wanderlust and turned him off the more high-octane adventures? ‘Not yet, but then the risks I take are very measured, and based on years of experience.
‘A lot of people think it’s insane to swim out in blue water with a great white shark, but my experience tells me I can do it safely. Other people might consider it mad, granted, but then I might think what they do is mad.’
The emotional upheavals of the past year have clearly been immense. He admits that the loss of Logan’s twin devastated the couple. The second baby died in the womb at 20 weeks.
‘It was late in the proceedings so we were already prepared for a life with twins – mentally, emotionally. That was what our life journey was going to be, then all of a sudden it was halted.
‘We’ve had contact with a lot of people since who’ve lost youngsters, at various stages, and it’s always an absolute tragedy, but in our case we had our little miracle to focus all our love and attention on. For that we are incredibly blessed.’
Logan, their ‘miracle baby’, as his proud father puts it, was born in July – just before Steve jetted off around the world for a year-long jaunt which would see him visit some of the most unforgiving terrains on the planet for a new TV series
Their lost baby will always be a part of their lives, he says. ‘We said a very fond and emotional goodbye down in Cornwall together. We are not going to forget, or pretend it didn’t happen.
‘It will always be a part of our lives, but from here it is about focusing on Logan. We are so lucky. So many people, even close friends and family, have been through the same thing but not had that wonderful bundle of joy at the end of it to focus on.’
Steve and Helen met at a Sport Relief event in 2014, married in 2016, and make the ultimate go-getting couple. While she has the gold medals, he’s no slouch in the achievement stakes either.
Aside from his TV trips, he has a black belt in martial arts, runs marathons and has written dozens of books. This year he also completed his PhD in the rather niche subject of the ‘venom construction of the Pleurodeles waltl’ – or the Iberian sharp-ribbed newt, to the rest of us.
They are pretty awesomely connected too; between them they seem to know everyone in the fields of sport, TV and exploration. In December, the couple are co-hosting a charity event called One Wild Night in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society, raising funds for rainforest conservation.
Steve’s own childhood in Bagshot, Surrey, sowed the seeds for his passions of travel and natural history. He credits his parents, keen travellers (mostly thanks to the fact that they were both employed by British Airways), with instilling in him a love of adventure.
Logan will clearly be a little globe-trotter too. He made his first flight (to Scotland) when he was just a few weeks old.
And in January, Logan and Helen will join Steve on a trip to Australia, where he has a lecture tour. ‘That’s pretty frightening, the idea of a long-haul flight, but we’ll find out if he likes travelling,’ says Steve.
Ditto sport and nature. ‘If he’s not into those things then we will secretly be disappointed, but the thing about kids is that you have to let them find their own paths. If you try and create a budding young naturalist you will probably drive him into something completely different.’
Will Logan inherit either of his parents’ competitive zeal, though? Heaven forbid, says his dad. ‘God help us if he’s got Helen’s competitiveness,’ he laughs.
Steve and Helen will host One Wild Night at the Royal Geographical Society on 14 December to raise money for World Land Trust. For tickets and more information, visit pleasance.co.uk.
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