Blue Peter first aired in 1958 and now, with more than 5,000 episodes under its belt, it is celebrating 60 successful years on our screens, making it the longest-running children’s television programme in the world.
Helen Skelton was a presenter on the show for five and a half years. In that time she kayaked down the Amazon, walked a high-wire between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station, and trekked across Antarctica. We wanted to hear more about her adventures.
We understand that you initially turned down the presenting role on Blue Peter. Why was this and why did you change your mind?
I didn’t say flat out no, I was just loving life on Newsround so I was reluctant. I didn’t think anything could be better than the job I was doing but my boss said Blue Peter was the best presenter job ever and so I took it, and really is! There is no better job for a presenter in my opinion.
We’ve just read all about ‘Helen’s Magnificent 7’ where you wanted to inspire viewers to do something for Comic Relief. Can you tell us about this – what was your favourite challenge and why?
I had cycled to the South Pole and walked a high wire at Battersea so it was hard to find something to top that, so I did seven little challenges that I hoped the audience would see as more achievable. In terms of favourite challenges, I would have to say the adventure on the amazon. It was the best thing I have ever been part of.
Did you watch Blue Peter growing up? Will you encourage your boys (Ernie & Louis) to watch it as they grow up?
I did and I didn’t. I was the kid who was always at an activity so I wasn’t glued to any TV shows but when I watched it I loved it. I loved the travel; they went all over the world. I will absolutely encourage my boys to watch it. It’s a show that excites kids about the world and inspires them to be whoever they want to be. What’s a better message than that to tell your kids?!
Blue Peter has had 37 presenters over the years, you were the 33rd. Who do you think has been the most iconic presenter and who has been your favourite to watch?
I love Diane Louise Jordan. She’s even nicer in real life than on telly. She’s a total joy and a genuinely sensational person.
In 2012 you travelled to the South Pole. How did you mentally prepare yourself for the isolation and being so far away from your family?
I was there for about 6 weeks. Its always hard being away from family on that trip it was tricky because it was Christmas and New Year but it was an epic adventure and a once in a life time opportunity so it’s worth it. It was before I had children or a husband so it was ok. I had been on a lot of long trips before then with television and as a student so I am used to being away from home – my husband thinks I am nomadic! But yes the bottom of the world is quite isolating – it’s such a harsh environment it makes you appreciate every little thing from normal life.
If you could pick just one moment from those five and a half years that will always stay with you / is your favourite, what would it be?
Crossing the line in the Namibia ultramarathon. I wish you could bottle that feeling! Months of training, unimaginable pain; no-one thought I would finish then I did. It was a chance to stick two fingers up to everyone who said I wouldn’t do it.
We have to ask; do you have a Blue Peter badge?
Many! Oh and a gold one.