Clare Balding: ‘Holding a panda cub was my favourite moment in Operation Wild’

Clare Balding talks to TV Times about traveling the world to see crucial procedures on animals for Operation Wild (BBC1, Wednesday, August 1)…

You’re known for your love of dogs and horses. Do you think this is a big departure for you?
“I don’t think it’s as surprising as me popping up to do a series on something like trains! I’m pretty careful about what I agree to, and most people know I won’t do anything unless I do the proper homework and preparation for it. I hope I’ve done a decent enough job!”

Why did you want to present Operation Wild?
“The chance to work with BBC Science was a big, big draw. It’s a fantastic department and they have a history of making programmes with real credibility.”

What was your favourite moment while filming the series?
“The pandas. I’d never seen a panda before in the flesh, and holding a panda cub was definitely the best moment in making the whole series. I was sitting with my legs out in front of me and this toddler just leant on me and ate bamboo while I did a link to camera. So it was a really extraordinary experience which I think has made incredible, lovely television.”

Some people have said that so many resources shouldn’t be put into saving the panda, which is just one species…
“There are a lot of debates and issues, but particularly in China, the panda is very closely linked to their sense of identity. It is their national animal. They are making a lot of money out of those sanctuaries. So the panda is helping fund its own safeguarding.”

Did you see dogs and horses going under the knife for tricky operations and procedures when you were growing up?
“Yes. My father trained a horse called Mill Reef who broke his leg on the gallops and his leg was pinned by an American vet in an operation that had never been done in this country before. So I’ve seen probably more than some people! But I’d never helped with darting a rhino from a helicopter.”

Were you surprised at the lengths people all over the world will go to in order to help animals?
“There’s just an awful lot of hard work going on in pretty remote places. And people will put themselves in dangerous situations as well!”

Did you find that a sports presenting background helped when it came to Operation Wild?
“When you commentate around the golf greens, you go into the whisper mode, and you do that with animals naturally – you want to be quiet, but you need to be heard on the microphone. So there are things you can use or that you’ve learnt from one to the other. But then you’re adapting in a completely different situation with the aim of making a very different programme to live sport!”

Would you want to present more programmes like this in the future if possible?
“Definitely. I’m really delighted I was given the chance. I thought it was a really enjoyable, but also challenging, step in learning something new about broadcasting. And I loved it.”

 

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