As a Blue Peter presenter, it’s par for the course to do a few crazy challenges along the way. Be that flipping pancakes live on air, building a Tracey Island or getting gunged.
But former Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton might just take the prize for the most impressive challenges to date, with a string of world records her name.
A finishing Ultra Marathon runner, Helen is holder of world records for the longest solo journey by kayak, and the longest distance in a kayak in 24 hours by a woman.
She became the first person to reach the South Pole using a bicycle, in a heroic Sport Relief fundraising effort in 2012, and in perhaps her most terrifying feat, she walked a 150-metre tightrope between chimneys at Battersea Power Station, 66 metres above ground, again to raise money for charity.
We called her up to chat about her adrenaline-packed career to date, and how she got there.
Stay enthusiastic. I’ve been so lucky to spend most of my working life around young people and children. That was so brilliant about Blue Peter. Children are naturally so positive, and excited and interested and I think it’s up to us to keep that enthusiasm going as much as possible and encourage them. After all, they’re going to be the people looking after us when we’re old biddies, they’re our future doctors, future politicians.
Jump on every opportunity. I was the kid that did every sport going - badminton, dance classes, anything that came my way. I wasn’t brilliant at them all but I think that breadth of experience really helped build my confidence when I went into adult life. I wanted to try everything. Everything I’ve done - the running, the kayaking, presenting in Rio, even living in France, is because I said yes to the opportunity.
Make yourself useful. Whatever career you want to go into, the key is to make yourself what it needs. TV is so competitive, I always gave every task my all and did everything i needed to do to fit the role they needed. I wouldn’t have predicted some of the more hair-raising stuff I’ve done, but you have to be open to ideas and requests and give it everything.
Find what motivates you. Without a doubt, the Ultra Marathon in Namibia was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. [Helen ran the 78 miles in 23 hours and 45 minutes.] The biggest motivation, what really kept me going, was just imagining how it would feel to go home and have to tell the viewers on Blue Peter that I hadn’t done it. Visualising that disappointment was enough to get me round.
Be more French. We moved to France at the end of last year and we’re really making the most of living here. We live not too far from the beach, which is brilliant and we really try to get there as much as possible.
I think you have to use what’s around you. We have a paddle board and last year I was in the sea every day from when we moved in November right up to the New Year. Yes, it is easier to be outdoorsy here because of the weather, but it also feels like a more normal thing to do, to get out and be together as a family. The culture is more family-orientated. Like, on Sundays, the shops are closed so we have to get out and do something as a family to keep ourselves entertained.
Chaos is OK. Life does get chaotic, I can’t lie. I am pretty used to living out of a bag. I have to be prepared to go off to filming locations at the last minute. You have to be flexible or you won’t be able to take advantage of everything you’re offered. Plans change, opportunities arise. You have to be in a position to take them.
With a bit of effort, you can do anything. Running’s actually not my thing. I’m not naturally super fit. I’ve really had to work for it. The Ultra Marathon was not a natural progression, I had to learn running techniques and how to stay on track mentally. It was really, really hard.
Keep challenging yourself. There’s loads more I’d like to achieve. I’d really like to do something at sea - I’ve never done anything like that. Or maybe something with climbing. I do have to consider the sorts of things I accept now though, because I’ve got a toddler and I can’t be disappearing off to the Antarctic for weeks without him! So maybe I’ll do more of the shorter, adrenaline challenges like the high wire.
Be a good role model. I’m new to parenting and I’ve learned that children will do what you do, so it’s really important to be a good role model. Eat well around them and be active and get outside and do stuff with them. Those are the things they’ll remember, those are the things that will set them up to be happy, healthy and adventurous in life.
Follow your dreams. I’m excited to be working with Sun-Pat on the Fuel Your Dreams campaign because it’s so important to follow your dreams when you’re young. If you want something enough and work hard at it you can achieve it!
Helen is supporting Sun-Pat’s Fuel Your Dreams campaign. A natural source of protein and fibre, Sun-Pat Peanut Butter is a great tasting fuel to give busy kids, teens and adults the energy they need to pursue their dreams, as part of a balanced diet.
Sun-Pat will be making two lucky winners’ dreams come true for a day, for more information go to: www.sunpat.co.uk/fuelyourdreams