Matt Baker: A man for all seasons
PUBLISHED: 16:05 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:42 20 February 2013
TV presenter Matt Baker hit the big time when he won a place on Blue Peter in 1999. He stayed in the programme for more than seven years, becoming one of its best loved presenters and facing a host of hair-raising challenges on behalf of millions ...
MATT Baker is much in demand. Following his success in Blue Peter, it seems that the County Durham farmer's son is busier than ever with a host of projects bubbling away.
Despite some previous presenters of the BBC's popular children's TV show vanishing almost without trace, Matt's profile has only increased since he left in June 2006 and his is now a familiar face on mainstream television.
After decamping from Blue Peter, Matt's many credits have included presenting coverage of Crufts dog show, commentating on gymnastics at the Beijing Olympics and, more recently, returning to his native North East to play Caractacus Potts in a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Sunderland Empire.
He has also worked as a reporter on The One Show, been one of three main presenters on City Hospital and even found time to pop up as a guest on comedy panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks - all for the BBC.
And as if that wasn't enough, in addition, he has presented Countryfile Summer Diaries on weekday mornings for BBC 1, along with Radio 4's Open Country and Animal Rescue Squad for Five. But his prolific broadcasting career is actually based on humble beginnings.
Matt, who turned 31 in December, grew up on a sheep farm and learnt about life and animals though his farmer dad Mike. Now living deep in the Chilterns - in a quiet hamlet on the Buckinghamshire/ Hertfordshire border between Wendover and Berkhamsted - Matt thinks his rural childhood left a permanent imprint on his character.
'I'm still a country boy at heart,' he confesses. 'I'm very much into countryside and everything about it. I love it. It's part of me. It's what I am. I have to be out in the country to feel really happy.
'We have always found Chilterns people to be absolutely fantastic'
'But it's tough being a farmer. It's more a way of life for my father these days rather than being just a business. I still go back there to help out whenever I can.'
Matt thinks his upbringing is a benefit when it comes to keeping his feet on the ground in the rarefied world of television.
'The thing about being on a sheep farm is that you learn a lot about responsibility,' he explains. 'These animals rely on you. They need you. Without wanting to sound morbid, you also learn about birth and death.'
After marrying long-time partner Nicola in 2004, Matt is now father to Luke, who shows every sign of following in his father's adventurous footsteps.
'He's brilliant, absolutely fantastic,' laughs Matt. 'He's only 18 months old but is just like me, a real little adventurer. He will climb anything and loves to be outside. If he's inside, he says 'Get me out!' He just wants to get out there into the countryside. Meg looks after him as well.'
Meg, as Blue Peter viewers will recall, is Matt's beloved border collie, a pet he taught to herd sheep on the show and took with him when he left.
'She's always kept an eye on Luke,' he said. 'When he was even littler, we'd put him to sleep in his cot upstairs and Meg would lie beneath him. As soon as he woke up, she'd shoot downstairs to tell us, 'He's awake! He's awake!'
'They have great fun together, him throwing a tennis ball and Meg returning it to his feet. It can go on for hours.
'She is aged eight now and, to be honest, has a very good life,' he said. 'She definitely has plenty of exercise and, being away from Blue Peter, has more time to enjoy herself.'
So how did Matt end up living in the Chilterns? 'We just wanted some space, fresh air and greenery,' he explains. 'I started off living in Chiswick, West London, after getting the job on Blue Peter but didn't like that much. I wanted to be able to see trees and sky. We lived in Chalfont St Giles for a time and then we ended up where we are now. We've been here nearly four years. It's in the country but also within range of London for work.'
'I'm very much into countryside and everything about it. I love it - it's part of me, it's what I am. I have to be out in the country to feel really happy'
Matt says he and his family take every opportunity to enjoy the beautiful countryside around their home. Wife Nicola, who has a physiotherapy degree and met him back in Durham, also adores the outdoor life.
'I do lots of running and we cycle and are constantly off all
over the place,' he says. 'There are so many lovely walks, too. We particularly like Wendover Woods. You can get some exercise there, have a coffee and relax. It's nice.'
Does he stay in touch with his former Blue Peter colleagues? Over the years, Matt was on the show with Katy Hill, Konnie Huq, Simon Thomas, Liz Barker, Ze Salmon and Gethin Jones. 'Absolutely,' he says. 'We still meet up. We went through so much together after all. Looking back, it's incredible how well we got on. We had such a fantastic time together, living in jungles or doing other amazing stuff.
'You could say we grew up together on the show and some of us have our own children now. Blue Peter gave me so much, so many opportunities. You get access to all areas. I will never have a problem being identified with it. I'm really proud of all the things I did on Blue Peter.'
And no wonder. While on the show, Matt, a British gymnastics and sports acrobatics champion in his youth, became known for taking on a host of physically daunting challenges.
He trained as a stuntman, passed gruelling recruitment courses for both the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment, and set a world record for hang-gliding.
His efforts have not gone unrewarded, as Matt has two BAFTAs and a Royal Television Society award under his belt.
But it might surprise some viewers to learn that behind his cheery presenter's smile is someone who also wants to be taken seriously as an actor.
Among the former Edinburgh drama student's earliest roles was 'Butch Vendor', a character in a travelling disco-comedy show, before he joined Blue Peter.
'Acting is something I love to do,' Matt admits. 'I enjoy the challenge of it. I've just done a musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was great.
'Presenting really happened to me by accident. The Blue Peter job was offered to me and I took it and loved it. But I do want to get back to my acting roots as well.'
Previously, Matt says, he has relished acting in small scale college productions of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III and Henry V, as well as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.
'I like to be stretched and wouldn't mind being known for some serious acting roles,' he adds.
In the meantime, Matt is involved in a number of different projects, including recording new episodes of BBC2's One Man and His Dog series for sheep herding fans. Starting in April, he will be one of two main presenters of a revamped Countryfile show, too. Also on the stocks is a series of illustrated children's books he has been busily working on with his wife.
'There are five different books,' he said. 'I've always drawn and done cartoons and the books have really come out of that. We haven't got a publisher yet but are just getting them ready.'
All in all, Matt seems to be on a creative roll at the moment, a position only enhanced by the stability of his personal life in the Chilterns.
'We love it here,' he says. 'We have always found Chilterns people to be absolutely fantastic. We have great neighbours and feel really settled. We just enjoy life. We really do.'