Video: Creepy crawly pets set Norfolk’s Jess French on course to become CBeebies TV presenter
PUBLISHED: 06:30 21 April 2014 | UPDATED: 10:23 21 April 2014
A childhood spent bug-hunting on Mousehold Heath helped pave the way for Jess French to present a new CBeebies TV show.
The 25-year-old student vet developed a fascination for creepy crawlies when she grew up in Norwich and Winterton, sharing her bedroom with tarantulas and scorpions.
She admits classmates thought she was weird as she would scour the playground for insects at Norwich’s Cecil Gowing Infant School, Falcon Middle School, Thorpe House School and The Norwich School.
But, undeterred, she completed a first degree in zoology at University College London and worked as an animal handler on a string of TV shows - where producers spotted her potential as a presenter.
A successful audition later, and she had her own 20-episode series exploring the wildlife that lives on our doorstep.
Minibeast Adventure With Jess airs for the first time on children’s channel CBeebies today.
“I’ve kept it quite quiet for quite a long time,” she beamed. “I kept thinking something would go wrong and it wouldn’t happen.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up - it doesn’t feel real!”
Each nine-minute episode starts with Miss French in her treehouse introducing a bug, then going to find them with children.
Norfolk’s TV talent
Jake Humphrey has been the face of the BBC’s Formula One coverage, a CBBC presenter and hosted football coverage on the BBC.
He attended Framingham Earl High School and the Sixth Form at the Hewett School, Norwich.
Simon Thomas is a former Blue Peter presenter who now works for Sky Sports.
He grew up in Cromer, later moving to Grimston.
Caroline Flack has presented a spin-off show of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! as well as the Xtra Factor.
She went to Great Hockham Primary School and Wayland High School in Watton before she decided to move to London to pursue a career in television.
Christopher Trace, a founder presenter of Blue Peter when it first aired on October 16, 1958, later moved to Norfolk to present Look East.
Keith Chapman, the creator of Bob the Builder, did a three-year graphic illustration degree at Great Yarmouth, and has lived in Coltishall and Norwich.
Hannah Spearritt was in the band S Club 7, their five spin-off TV shows and has acted in further shows including Death In Paradise. She was born in Great Yarmouth.
Myleene Klass was in the band Hear’Say, that won ITV’s Popstars. The Gorleston-born star has since fronted shows including Popstar to Operastar and The One Show.
Ladybirds, butterflies and millipedes are among the minibeasts to feature in the series.
Unable to hide her excitement, Miss French said a TV show about her lifelong passion was a dream to make.
“I’m just really excited, and not so much to see the episodes but to see the reaction kids have,” she said. “My aim is to get kids to go outside and look for bugs.
“It was really easy to do that as it’s something I believe in.”
She said she had never considered TV presenting until she was approached two years ago, and filmed the episodes in her university holidays last summer.
And she insisted she is not interested in becoming a TV personality, instead wanting to finish her veterinary degree at the University of Nottingham.
“I wouldn’t want to just be a random TV presenter,” she reasoned. “I think whatever happens I’m going to try to finish my degree.
“It would be silly to do three years and not finish it.
“I study veterinary as I want to save animals.”
Miss French is not the only member of her family to be mad for minibeasts - as her father Martin French, of Old Catton, is so obsessed he has a giant bug house in his garden and once loaned some of his insect collection for a Sir David Attenborough TV show.
She said when she was five years old she pestered him to take her to a pet shop, where he bought a praying mantis and his obsession began.
“I think we encouraged each other,” she added.
Miss Leake, who currently lives near Loughborough, hopes youngsters will see the light about minibeasts after seeing the show.
“I just think they’re fascinating,” she said. “It’s how small they are but how vitally important they are, and I’m a bit of a sucker for the underdog.”
Minibeast Adventure with Jess airs from Monday, April 21 at 10.30am, on Cbeebies.