TV stardom beckons for Great Yarmouth ‘bone man’ Ben Garrod - Norfolk evolutionary biologist stars in new show Secrets of Bones
PUBLISHED: 07:15 25 January 2014
He is billed by the BBC as a “master skeleton builder” and thinks having a bone-room at home is normal.
And now Great Yarmouth-born animal expert Ben Garrod is on the brink of becoming a household name with his own prime-time series all about bones.
The 31-year-old is being tipped as a new TV talent with a “bloke down the pub” persona that viewers will warm to.
But the evolutionary biologist whose imagination was first fired by finds along the local seashore says he was just “a curious kid” and is stunned to have come so far.
His career, through a series of mishaps and coincidences, has taken him across the globe working with some of the most eminent names in primate conservation in places like Uganda and Sumatra.
At one point he “randomly” got a job as a tour guide in the Arctic and is currently working on a Phd thesis which takes him to the Caribbean.
Along the way he has also contracted cerebral malaria and broken his back - episodes brushed aside as occupational hazards.
But for all the exotic places he has visited Norfolk is still among his favourite wildlife-rich hubs and “one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Growing up in the Elephant and Castle pub in the town’s urban heart he made much of the wildlife on his doorstep, watching the squirrels in St Nicholas church yard and combing the beach for specimens with his grandfather.
The gift of a sheep’s skull from a pub regular was also a turning point astounding the ten-year-old with its mechanical perfection and triggering a passion for bones.
And while he was inspired by veteran natural history presenter David Attenborough and local naturalist Percy Trett he enjoyed wildlife but couldn’t see how to make a living from it.
“I wanted to be a doctor and did work experience at the James Paget Hospital,” he said. “But I totally lost the passion for it when I was 17 or 18 and had just started my A levels for medicine. My mum asked me what I was really interested in and I said ‘animals’ and just took it from there. You do not have to be in Africa to be enthralled by the natural world, in Norfolk it was all around me.”
After finishing his studies at East Norfolk Sixth Form College he joined a six month volunteer programme in Madagascar but a spell travelling was cut short in Uganda by malaria.
However, it meant he could start his animal behaviour course earlier than expected, leading to a significant chance meeting with famous chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.
“I was actually working as a waiter and I asked if I could serve her table,” he said. “We had a chat and she stared at me for a while and then said ok she would take me on, even though I wasn’t even asking for a job. I ended up in Uganda for two years running one of the largest chimp conservation projects in East Africa.”
After that he returned home and worked for a spell at Caister High School as an instructor, which he enjoyed.
A spot talking about bones on Springwatch a couple of years ago bought him to the attention of the BBC which in turn bought him on-line work and now his own six part series.
He hailed the support of his younger brother Jon and parents Ross and John, stewards at Great Yarmouth and Caister Golf Club, who have been to see him filming on set.
“I never wanted to be a presenter, I never chased for it, it has jumped at me and it hasn’t really taken effect yet. I enjoy educating and I love the natural world and it’s just really good fun. Ultimately I cannot believe I have come this far. I have been so lucky, I have been all over the world but I genuinely love the Norfolk coast.
“The programme covers some really weird and funky stuff. We are reinventing the wheel with a lot of the format. But we explain complicated stuff in layman’s terms so it is sciency but in a fun way. It is a natural history series from the inside out.”
Secrets of Bones starts next month on BBC4. The date is yet to be confirmed.