Philippa Forrester - television presenter and producer

Sarah Peters hears from television presenter and producer Philippa Forrester about her days in Winchester and how the city inspired her love of nature

Philippa Forrester was born and bred in Winchester and she is very proud of it. Despite being based in the West Country now, she still considers herself very much at home strolling the streets near the Cathedral or motoring along the country roads around mid Hampshire, looking for a lovely country pub.  Philippa’s career has included working both in front of and behind the television cameras. She was a presenter on Tomorrow’s World for seven years and went on to present Barking Mad, The Heaven and Earth Show and Robot Wars.  As an author she has written The River and produced numerous wildlife programmes for the BBC Natural History Unit.  Her most recent book is Halcyon River Diaries. Working alongside Peter Snow on Tomorrow’s World was an enjoyable time for Philippa.  “I was no techno-expert,” she laughs. “People still think I am a gadget-freak even after all these years. I just learned things as I went along. I turned the garbled technical details into a script that people could find interesting, easy to understand, but that was still accurate. Finding a way of demonstrating a gadget so people could see clearly how it worked, while they sat and ate their tea was the challenge.”

Wonderful WinchesterWinchester was her home until she went to university and she is still a frequent visitor. Even now after seeing more of England, indeed the world, she still feels at home there.  “For me Winchester is the perfect package. It’s beautiful, it’s historic and the geology of the area makes its plants and countryside unique. You can walk everywhere from the shops, to the Cathedral, to the water meadows. You never feel lost or insecure and you always meet someone you know.”Philippa remembers her days at St Bede’s School in West Gate with happy memories of working hard, learning from inspiring teachers and doing lots of after school activities. She went on to study at Peter Symond’s College and has a degree in English from the University of Birmingham plus a First in Ecology and Conservation at Birkbeck, University of London.“I had everything I could want as a child and I loved my school. I had many great teachers, the wealth of the city at my doorstep and the beautiful watercress fields around me. Playing in chalk steams are one of my earliest memories as a toddler. Watercress was part of my heritage and it still inspires me. It is fantastic to eat and is so healthy. To stand on the watercress beds, pick a stalk and eat it is just brilliant. There’s nothing else like it!”

Watercress was part of my heritage and it still inspires me. It is fantastic to eat and is so healthy. To stand on the watercress beds, pick a stalk and eat it is just brilliant. There’s nothing else like it!

Nature, natureShe explains that the watercress meadows around Winchester inspired her interest in nature.  “The watercress meadows, the chalk and the geology of the whole area are very particular and make it a unique place. Images of St Catherine’s Hill and the water meadows remain with me even now. It was the first countryside area I knew and fed my love of nature. I often saw trout while I rode my bike as a kid and lots of beautiful birds.”Nature has always been part of Philippa’s interests. She is a keen conservationist and environmentalist. “I used to love going to Marwell Wildlife. My mother lives near there so we still go there quite a bit with the children. I helped them out with a reptile project recently and they do brilliant work.”

Work and familyToday Philippa’s work tends to focus on the production of nature films. She has her own production company, Halcyon Media, which she runs with her husband, wildlife photographer Charlie Hamilton James. She is also very busy as mother of three boys (Fred, Gus and Arthur aged nine, six and three). She is as enthusiastic about her family as she is about her work.“The children are lucky enough to accompany us on many of our overseas trips. Only last month they were swimming with barracuda in the British Virgin Islands. I’m not sure who was more scared, the barracuda or the children. Gradually they got used to each other and we were amazed how the children overcame their fears and respected the fish and loved it.”She’s a devoted mother and involves the children whenever she can. She explains that taking the children on overseas projects makes her job even more enjoyable: “It’s like taking your kids to work. They get really excited when we’re going away. They get so much out of it and learn so much without realising.”

Starring rolesPhilippa is passionate about wildlife and the idea of getting children interested in nature from an early age. Her new book, Halcyon River Diaries, traces a year in the life of the river that runs behind their home and the children are very much part of the book. “We invited TV cameras into our family to live with us for a whole year,” she says with a hint of disbelief. “What was I thinking? “The children are a vital part of our life so it was important that they too were involved in the film. They were hilarious, they were sweet, they were inspiring and they were stroppy and irrational just like all children, but the film and the book reflect a real family!”Philippa and Charlie seem to have an ideal working partnership and she genuinely enjoys working alongside him: “I can honestly say that working with my husband is a joy. We’ve been working together for about 10 years and I cannot imagine (and wouldn’t really want to) working with anyone else. We work really well together.”

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Snap happyHaving a cameraman as a husband means Philippa has a selection of cameras to choose from when taking family snaps. “I tend to get a new camera for Christmas and birthday and Easter!” she laughs. “He probably buys them so I don’t touch his precious photographic equipment. At least they are my toys to play with.“He has done some amazing shots of the children. I tend to snap winning sports day or family parties or the kids jumping off a wall. The head may be cropped-off and the subject may not be perfectly in the centre, but at least we have a record of the moment.”With that, she dashes off to prepare some soup for lunch. It’s her own recipe: butternut squash and watercress, served with warm crusty bread. “I love soup,” she adds enthusiastically, “Great wholesome bowls of the stuff. There’s nothing like it!”

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