The 14th series of Animal Park is about to kick off – and it is a presenting job Kate Humble loves as much as ever. She chats to Georgia Humphreys about its enduring appeal.
For Kate Humble, presenting Animal Park is like being part of a soap opera. “That is the best analogy for it...” suggests the chirpy 50-year-old, also known for Springwatch and Countryfile. “But, storylines you couldn’t possibly make up.”
The London-born nature enthusiast has hosted the hugely popular BBC daytime show since it first aired back in 2000. As it returns for its 14th series - with Ben Fogle as her co-host and Jean Johansson as a reporter - we can expect plenty more drama from behind the scenes at Britain’s longest-running safari park, Longleat.
“You get completely wrapped up in all of the day-to-day intrigue; ‘Who’s leading the pride of lions this year? ‘What’s happening in the wolves’ den?’” elaborates Humble, who has been married to director and producer Ludo Graham since 1992. “And, of course, this year it’s a really big year for the park, because of the arrival of the koalas. First [southern] koalas to be in the UK and gosh, they didn’t come without drama! So, that’s been quite a whirlwind of a story to follow...”
It’s obvious, from how excitable Humble is, that returning to Animal Park – which she also narrates – means a lot to her. “There are still lots of keepers who have been there since the first time I started, and some animals too,” she effuses. “So, it’s like a great gathering of all my old mates, and it’s absolutely lovely to be back there.
“I just feel really happy when I first drive down the drive it feels like I’m back at home really, but I don’t have to do the hoovering, which is a very big relief!”
However, she’s the first to admit that she can get very emotional whilst filming.
“I mean, I cried endlessly last year because we lost Nico the gorilla,” she recalls. (The park’s beloved Western lowland gorilla died at the age of 56.)
“I’ve just been doing the voiceover for the programme; I always cry at the voiceovers and everyone takes the mickey out of me!”
It’s also important, she adds, to show both the good and the bad of what happens at the park. She reasons that’s partly why the show has been such a long-running success.
“We don’t hide the difficult stuff. It is a very real life drama and I think people really appreciate that.
“I think people find it very easy to empathise with the keepers because they all work so hard. They dedicate huge amounts of their lives to looking after these animals.
“I think viewers really understand and appreciate that, and empathise with them when they lose an animal or when an animal is sick – again, there’s been a lot of drama with sick animals this year.”
But even though some scenes are difficult to watch, there’s no denying there’s something wonderfully uplifting and soothing about watching wildlife shows.
“Particularly at the moment, where basically, politically, we’re in turmoil,” affirms Humble. “There’s a lot in the news about, ‘We’re so divided as a nation’ and all of that kind of thing, and I think a programme like Animal Park is a great uniter. It’s got no political axe to grind, it’s just a lovely watch.”
She continues thoughtfully: “It’s not total escapism because it’s real life and everybody can go there [to Longleat]. But, particularly at the moment, we need reminding of what a wonderful world we live in and what amazing creatures populate this world, and not everything has to be about doom and gloom of politics.”
After working in this industry for a couple of decades now, how does she find watching herself back on screen?
“My feeling is you can’t obsess or be over self-conscious about yourself on television,” she says. “I’m not the star of this show, the animals and the keepers are, and that’s what matters.”
Animal Park airs weekdays on BBC One from Monday August 5.