An Interview With Doug Allen

Doug Allan

At Wildfoot Travel, we’re exceptionally proud to be sponsoring award-winning wildlife cameraman Doug Allan’s fantastic UK theatre tour.
This month we managed to sit him down for an exclusive chat to find out some more about his wildlife travel experiences.

Of your many wildlife encounters, which stands out as the most memorable?

The biggest ones always involve big mammals. Underwater in the company of friendly humpbacks in Tonga. Sharing quality time with a polar bear who’s only relaxed because you’ve been patient approaching her. When Doug Anderson and I filmed the orcas for Frozen Planet hunting the seals in the pack ice, washing them off the ice floes by making waves with their tails – well that was probably my most memorable encounter. Spectacular, dramatic, never before filmed, so many elements to the story.

Doug diving with humpbacks in Tonga

What is the ‘trickiest situation’ you have found yourself in on your Polar travels.

I was grabbed by a walrus while I was snorkelling off the ice edge in the Canadian Arctic. He came up from right below me without warning, hugged my thighs with his flippers just as they do when catching seals in the same way. I looked down, hit his head with my fist, he let go and I swam back to the solid ice. Took less time than it has done for you to read this. Now if he’d held on and taken me down …… well no more Doug I guess.

Of all the Polar regions you talk about in your mesmerising UK lecture tour, which is the area that stands out the most?

Between 1976 and 1987 I spent a total of five winters and eight summers working in Antarctica. Four winters as diving officer, biologist and finally film maker at the British Antarctic Survey base on Signy Island in the South Orkneys, a small group of islands on the northern edge of the Weddell Sea. The other winter as base commander at Halley station, at 75o south on the eastern side of the Weddell. Wintering with 18 other men but just as importantly for me, within visiting distance of a colony of 25,000 pairs of emperor penguins. Those ten years were formative to everything I’ve done since. I developed from photographic neophyte to full time film maker. In the years since, the chance to visit places like South Georgia and down the Antarctic Peninsula was a wonderful privilege, filming the kind of animal encounters only the Antarctic can offer.

As a fierce campaigner for cleaner oceans and a sustainable environment, what is the key piece of advice you would like give to:

a). Every Politician

b). Every individual

For politicians – take your heads out of the sand over climate change. Give us worldwide, joined up strategies, faster goals than 2050, new economic priorities as the old model is clearly not fit for purpose. You found $2 trillion ten years ago for the Troubled Asset Relief Programme that saved the banks. What price a Troubled Planet Relief Programme?

For individuals – we used to sing All You Need is Love and I bet we all could still sing the tune. But now – All We Need is Less would serve us better.

Reflection of icebergs - copyright Doug Allan

If you hadn’t become a world renowned natural world photographer and film maker, what alternative career would you have pursued?

I was fortunate in that I found my passion for underwater at only 10 years old. All since was in a way bolted on. Marine biology, expeditions, the Antarctic, photography. When I met David Attenborough and his three person film crew in the Antarctic in 1981, I realised that Hugh Maynard, the cameraman with him, was doing all the things that excited me. Diving, photography, travelling to exciting places, working with wildlife, involved with worthwhile projects and with fascinating people. It was two days helping them that took me to wildlife filming full time.

Doug` Allan with David AttenboroughSo to ask me what alternative career would I have pursued, well how far back do you want to go? Something definitely outside an office, an element of unpredictability, an adrenaline kick now and again, something that felt ‘worthwhile’. Working for the emergency services, being the guy who was winched out of the helo for the rescues? But on the other hand I know myself to be an incorrigible showman so how about something on the stage?

Doug using a filming blind

What are the three top travel destinations still outstanding on your Bucket List

I plan to spend more time in the wild parts of UK and Ireland. They’re the match of anywhere on the planet, I like that they’re not predictable, that they reveal all their moods only to the persistent, and that they can challenge all your survival and field craft skills if you choose the season and place to explore.

I’d also like to spend a spell sailing slowly round some of the less visited islands of the Pacific. Using my French in some places, feeling the big ocean spaces, having the time to spend with the locals.

I haven’t yet had the chance to go deep in a submersible. I’d love to go down to the bottom of one of the oceanic trenches, say + 8000 metres, spend a few hours there.


Freeze Frame By Doug AllanBuy a copy of Doug Allan’s latest book ‘Freeze Frame’ here

Find out more about Doug Allan’s theatre tour here

doug allan's tour dates