Scared of spiders? So was CBBC presenter Naomi Wilkinson until she met them
- Credit: Archant
Children's TV presenter Naomi Wilkinson, who brings her Wild and Scary tour to Colchester, Ipswich and Kings Lynn next month, has revealed she sought advice from Stephen Mulhern and comedy duo Dick and Dom before breaking into TV.
She is pictured on her tour poster with a tarantula on her hand and we had to ask if it was really there, knowing she used to be an arachnophobe. She laughs – she is not at all worried about spiders now.
Naomi, friendly and full of fun, has been presenting shows on CBBC since 2010 and has also appeared on other programmes including Countryfile and Blue Peter.
Always determined to be a children's TV presenter, she was working as a Butlins redcoat at Minehead when she met fellow redcoat Stephen Mulhern (then on CITV) and comedy duo Dick and Dom and asked their advice. As a result she made a showreel which led to her big TV break on Channel 5's children's strand Milkshake in 1999.
Her ambition stretched back to childhood.
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'I was forever singing into the mirror and dancing around. Yeah, a totally embarrassing child. I wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter and was always making things that never turned out remotely like the ones on the telly.'
A dancer by training, how did it come about that Naomi's worst nightmares became her best career move?
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'I had a really serious phobia of both sharks and spiders as a child. I couldn't look at a photograph of a shark. When I got the presenting gig on a programme called 'Alive and Deadly', as co-presenter alongside Steve Backshall, I knew we were going to do an episode in an aquarium so I thought, right, I am going to have to face this head on. It was quite a slow process but by spending a lot of time with marine biologists, shark experts, and now getting in the water with sharks around the world there's been a huge turnaround in how I feel towards them. I feel more passionate about doing everything we can to look after them than being petrified of them.'
'We've got a fair few creepy-crawlies in the show (Naomi's Wild & Scary Tour). There'll be some big spiders.' But it's okay, She's over the spider terrors. 'Now if I find a spider in my house I don't run out of the room screaming, I just get the cup and the piece of card and quite happily put them outside. I can totally understand animal fears but I am living proof that you can overcome them by re-educating yourself and looking at them in a new way. It's what we do in the show... we try to make people more fascinated.
'My career took a massive U-turn with Alive and Deadly. She jokes: 'Once people know you've got a terrible fear of something... they say 'That'll make good telly, make her do that'.' Some squealing ensued.
'Actually, I think my most scary moment was in the Kalahari desert, in Africa. We were there to watch how lions' behaviour changes from daytime to nighttime. We were watching them in the day time when they were sleepy and then, at night, they become these creatures on the prowl.
'We're in an open jeep and it was so dark we couldn't see where these lions were and we turned on this red light so we didn't scare the lions but it was connected to the car battery so we didn't want to have that on for a long time. Each time we turned it on and the lions would have completely changed position and we wouldn't have heard a thing. It was terrifying... about six lions came within a pounce of me. They looked me straight in the eye and I honestly thought I was going to be eaten.'
Fortunately the lions strolled off.
'One of the funniest moments is actually featured in the Wild and Scary Show. I was introduced to a tank full of hagfish, strange eel-like fish. When they feel threatened they produce tons of slime and I had to pick one up from this tank. But could I pick it up? No.'
There is sadness too. 'Animal conservation is very important to me. We went to see orangutans in Borneo and, oh my goodness, the way their habitat is being destroyed. We met all these little orphaned orangutans and it melted my heart.'
Naomi adds that much good work is being done to reintroduce the young one into the wild.
Currently, she is in the middle of filming a series of Marrying Mum and Dad in which 'children organise their parents' wedding. We're on series six of that and people keep applying,' she says sounding faintly astonished.
'We've done five weddings so far but we've got 14 in the series. It's brilliant and I get to wear all sorts of costumes. Two weeks ago I dressed as a fish finger and I've also been a tent and a penguin. I've pretty much worn every costume at these weddings... I don't have any pride left,' she says with a whoop of laughter.
'I love talking to children. They're so entertaining and so honest.'
Naomi's Easter tour also promises to be a lot of fun. 'It's not just all hard facts, there's going to be a lot of joining in.' Aimed at families with children aged five or older, the show also features zoologist 'Animal Mark', (Mark Amey) who has worked on countless TV shows and films looking after animal stars.
Naomi will share tales of her wildlife experiences and she introduce some of the scary and fascinating animals she has met along the way – carpet python, giant centipede, tarantula, cockroach, poison dart frog, praying mantis, stick insect, whip scorpion, millipede, African land snail, and alligator snapping turtle.
Finally, bearing in mind she hardly goes anywhere without her tap shoes, I have to ask how she would feel if she were asked to go on Strictly Come Dancing?
'Oh, I would leap at the chance. I would love to do Strictly.'
• Naomi's Wild & Scary Tour is at the Charter Hall, Colchester, on April 7; Corn Exchange, Kings Lynn, on April 12; and at the Ipswich Regent on April 15.