Mark Evans is probably best known as the presenter of Channel 4's Inside Nature's Giants. His 25-year career has followed an unusual path; this, he says, is partly due to his short attention span, which meant he got side-tracked from a career in practice. A common thread is his fascination with how things work and ‘an addictive need to fix things when they go wrong’.
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How did you become a TV presenter?
In 1990, I complained to ITV's morning show, TVam, about a competition it ran to find the fattest cat in the country. At the time I was working in a small animal practice in Hampshire; I had been qualified three years and was concerned that vets were spending too much time treating preventable problems. I got hold of TVam's telephone number and, amazingly, was put straight through to the show's producer. I gave her a piece of my mind, put the phone down, and toddled off to work. About 10 weeks later, the producer asked if I would be prepared to go on the show and tell a 23-stone lady owner of a 30-pound cat why being obese is bad for your health and welfare. I called the producer back and asked when this would be. ‘Tomorrow morning, a car will pick you up at 4.30.’ I put the phone down and tried not to panic.
I had never been so nervous, but it seemed to go well enough. TVam asked me back to do other bits and pieces on an ad-hoc basis. I was then put forward for an interview to be a presenter on a new children's BBC wildlife series called Wild Bunch. I insisted on taking my dog to the studio audition and, bless her, Katie won me my first proper presenting job. I have now fronted programmes on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Discovery, National Geographic and, most recently, PBS in the USA. It was never planned and it still doesn't feel real. It's as if I'm on some kind of extended gap year.
Inside Nature's Giants was first broadcast in 2009. Were the programmes as interesting to make as they are to watch?
Yes. We have made 18 films so far, from all over the world. I've had the opportunity to explore the anatomy and evolution of some of the world's most iconic species, travel the world, and hang out with and learn from some exceptional vets and scientists. I feel privileged to have been given the chance to front a series that has taken natural history broadcasting in such a new and exciting direction. As vets, we all know that you can't fully appreciate how amazing animals are until you explore them inside out. That's precisely what the programme set out to do. There are three more films ready to be transmitted – hippo, kangaroo (three vaginas – amazing) and a jungle special from Borneo. We have a network of universities and zoological organisations all over the world that are keen to work with us. When something big dies, we are now one of the first to get a call.
Engineering is another of your passions; what has been your biggest engineering challenge?
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to indulge my interest in vehicle restoration and engineering through making TV programmes that follow my workshop adventures. Together with some gifted mates and mentors, we have completed 10 big projects, including the construction of a two-seater executive helicopter – an awesome bit of kit. But, without doubt, my biggest challenge was transforming the rusting wreck of an early Range Rover into a 21st century tribute to the 25 special 100-inch Land Rovers produced in the late 1970s for the Swiss army – arguably the best 15 Land Rovers ever built. I have an untreatable, lifelong addiction for Landies. This one, ‘Hill Billy’ (pictured below) is the mechanical love of my life.
What do you like about your job? Are there any downsides?
What's not to like? I have been lucky, but I have worked hard and there's been a heavy price to pay along the way with the long hours, extended spells away from home and the insecurity and uncertainty of where the next pay cheque is going to come from. There's no question I could have been a better husband and father. I miss being a vet in practice – a job I absolutely adored.
What was your proudest moment?
It's a toss-up between two: winning the Professor Formston silver medal for surgery when I graduated from the RVC, and standing on the stage at the Palladium to receive a BAFTA for Inside Nature's Giants from Brian Cox.
Tell us something that most people don't know about you.
I failed to get into vet school first time around thanks to a Triumph Herald 13/60 convertible. It was my first car and it needed a lot of work. At the time, pulling an engine to bits seemed more important than learning about photosynthesis. I ended up with two Bs and two Cs at A level (in my mock biology paper, I achieved a stunning 14 per cent). To get into the RVC a year later I had to achieve two As and a B. So, I decided to treat revision as a job. Without fail, every morning, I drove to Warwick library and read textbooks from cover to cover, eight hours a day, five days a week. I got the grades and the rest, as they say, is history. What did it teach me that I can pass on to others? If you want something badly enough, never give up. Perhaps, more importantly, car restoration and exam revision are rarely a good mix!
▪ Channel 4 has plans for more accessible interactive science programmes. You can keep in touch via Mark's Facebook page – facebook.com/MarkEvansTV, and on Twitter – @MarkEvansTV