Michaela Strachan takes our Grown-Up Test

Daphne Lockyer / 26 April 2016

The Springwatch presenter, soon to front a Saga cruise, turned 50 in April but how old is she in her head?

Childhood nicknames?

Micky, Mick and Twigs – because I did a lot of dancing and had the skinniest legs. I still occasionally get all three.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A ballet dancer, but I had flat feet and got into contemporary dance instead. I still go to a class every week.

Childhood pets?

Two cats, a tortoise and two hamsters, Chalky and Charlie. The latter had to be coaxed into mating, and if you chose the wrong moment they’d try to kill each other instead.

First car?

A second-hand Mini with dodgy steering and nasty green paint. I sorted that by covering it in bugs and bees stickers.

When and where were you happiest?

A few weeks ago, I was on the beach with my partner Nick, 11-year-old son Ollie and one of his friends. The sun was shining and I looked and saw they were playing ball in the surf. It was just one of those moments where being alive felt so good. I had breast cancer a couple of years ago and treasure life – I’ve learned how fragile it is.

Last time you broke the law?

I’m such a goody two-shoes that on Springwatch they call me Hermione. I recently took a bottle of chardonnay to the beach and let my Jack Russell Toto off the leash on the sand. Both banned in Cape Town, where I live, but not exactly the Great Train Robbery.

Last drink too much?

About 12 years ago, I did a five-day walk with friends along South Africa’s Wild Coast. On the last night we drank a skinful of tequila and I was so ill that I reached the spaghetti-coming-out-of-my-nose stage. I’ve never drunk tequila since, although I like a glass of wine most evenings.

Bad habit you can’t break?

I rub my nose a lot because of minor allergies. And I drum my thumbs on the steering wheel when driving, which annoys the hell out of anyone in the car with me.

Out in nature or tucked up cosy at home? O

Out in nature. I love to garden, growing vegetables – spring onions, aubergines, potatoes, leeks. This morning I used our spinach to make a soup for supper.

Biggest missed opportunity?

At 17, I dated Sean Connery’s son, who said, ‘My dad might be able to help you.’ Being proud, I thought, ‘No thanks! I’ll get there on my own.’ Who knows where I could be now?

Favourite recent chart song?

Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson. Oddly, it’s very similar to the theme tune of The Really Wild Show [the BBC children’s programme Michaela presented for 15 years].

What did turning 50 mean to you?

Without the experience of overcoming the Big C, I might have been dreading it. So it wasn’t, ‘Oh, God, I’ll be 50!!’ It was ‘Yay!!!’ I celebrated at a campsite with family and friends, just walking, talking and swimming in the river.

What single thing would make getting older easier?

I’d like to not need specs for everything and to enjoy the suppleness I had at 17, performing in a can-can troupe. I could yank my leg above my head and fall into splits! It would kill me now.

Hope for the future?

To still work and live an interesting life surrounded by the people that I love.

The worst hairstyle you’ve ever had?

My ‘pineapple’ hair do phase wasn’t good and nor was the perm I had in the Eighties. My hair was already highlighted and the perm finished it off. It was a haystack.

Who was your teenage crush?

Adam Ant. I used to write his lyrics on my rough book at school.

What is the object that you’ve kept from childhood?

A tiny red tutu, worn aged four, performing Drip, Drip, Drip Little April Showers. I skipped round the stage doing jetés with my mum standing in the wings doing it with me. It’s one of my earliest memories.

The silliest thing that you’ve done recently?

During the last live Winterwatch Chris Packham and delivered a piece to camera about a fox and a Golden Eagle fighting over a carcass – against the backdrop of a major storm. You couldn’t hear a word. It was hysterically absurd TV.

What is your longest friendship?

My friend, Kate Jackman who I’ve known since I joined her mum’s dancing school at the age of three.

What music gets you on a dance floor?

Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. It was my song when I was going through cancer treatment. Great message and brilliant dance track, too.

Latest fashions or time-honoured classics?  

Time-honoured classics. Better to have a few expensive, classy items than a wardrobe stuffed with cheap, fashionable rubbish. I’ve learned what suits me, too. Jeans? Give me classic boot leg every time.

In the last ten years, have you learned a new skill?

I learned to high dive when I appeared in Splash! in 2014. I dreaded appearing on TV in a swimsuit, until we started training. Then it was much more about the pain. High diving hurts like hell.

What was your life-changing moment?

The moment I clapped eyes on my son. My first marriage ended because my husband didn’t want children and at 39 I’d come to motherhood late. To finally have a baby with Nick felt like a miracle.

Name two people from the past that you like to sit next to at dinner?

My father, who died during my pregnancy, and Nick’s dad, who passed away four years ago. Ollie would be there and they could talk about their shared obsession with cricket.  How lovely just to watch my son connecting with his grandfathers.

Winterwatch or the warmer Springwatch?

Springwatch because being a longer series means we can show animals’ stories as they unfold.  Last year, the stickleback, Spineless Si, was our star. He battled it out with Frisky Phil for territory, nest building rights and female company, not always successfully. It was like Downton Abbey for sticklebacks.

Binoculars or glasses?

Binoculars . I can’t imagine going on holiday without them – I find it so frustrating not being able to see the wildlife close up. I even take binoculars to the cricket. It’s like being on the pitch.

What would you prefer - to have your youth back or to be where you are now?

I loved being young but it also involved a lot of drama and I prefer being calm and settled. Fortunately, I set aside enough money too and it’s nice now to be free of financial stress.

What are the two main lessons life has taught you?

Grab opportunities, even if you think you won’t enjoy them.  You never know until you’ve tried. And don’t take life too seriously. If you look for the absurdity and the humour in things everything becomes more bearable.

Verdict: Contemporary dance? Uptown Funk? You may like a potter in the garden, but you’re 50 going on 39.

Michaela is guest speaker on Saga Sapphire’s whale-watching cruise in July. Visit saga.co.uk/cruises, 0800 096 0079.  She is also a motivational speaker for the Fitter, Stronger health retreat (fitterstronger.org).

See listings for Springwatch broadcast dates and times.

A version of this article was first published in the May 2016 issue of Saga Magazine. For great articles like this, subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition today.

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