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Putting wildlife at top of agenda: Liz Bonnin talks ahead of Planet Earth II live show coming to Birmingham

The hit TV show Planet Earth II helped to create a huge shift in environmental consciousness. The 2016 BBC sequel to Planet Earth, which was broadcast ten years earlier, was narrated by Sir David Attenborough with music from Hans Zimmer.

Planet Earth
Planet Earth

The series was announced by the BBC in 2013 and focused on Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Desserts, Grasslands and Cities. More than 11 million people tuned in.

Sir David Attenborough closed the series by saying: “Now, over half of us live in an urban environment. My home, too, is here, in the city of London. Looking down on this great metropolis, the ingenuity with which we continue to reshape the surface of our planet is very striking. But it’s also sobering. It reminds me of just how easy it is for us to lose our connection with the natural world. Yet, it’s on this connection that the future of both humanity and the natural world will depend. And surely, it is our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.”

The series was described as being ‘undoubtedly the greatest TV nature documentary to date and there’s a strong case for it being one of the best TV series full stop’. It won numerous awards and is now being recreated live in concert with Planet Earth Live II.

BBC Studios and the acclaimed BBC Natural History Unit has announced a UK & Ireland arena tour for Spring 2020. Fans can experience sensational footage from the BAFTA and EMMY® award winning BBC series, with the show promising to bring audiences closer to the planet’s spellbinding animals, landscapes and wildlife dramas than ever before.

Following on from the recent success of the 2019 Blue Planet II Live In Concert tour, the live concerts will feature breathtaking, specially-selected footage shown in 4K ultra high-definition on a gigantic LED screen, as the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Freeman, play the remarkable music by Oscar winner Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea & Jasha Klebe for Bleeding Fingers Music.

The arena tour will visit Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena on April 3.

Zimmer is renowned for his work on the likes of Gladiator, Interstellar and Blade Runner 2049, but said that the landmark BBC series stood out amongst his work. “Planet Earth II is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been involved in: some of the greatest action scenes ever put on film, some of the most emotional, epic, fragile scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Filmmaking at its absolute peak.”

In the spectacular live show, audiences across the UK will get to rub shoulders with our acrobatic primate cousins in the steaming jungles of Madagascar, race alongside fearsome hunting lions in the remote sandy deserts of Namibia, face stormy Antarctic seas with a family of penguins and feel the raw tension as a baby iguana tries to escape the clutches of deadly racer snakes. And they will no doubt tap their toes along with dancing grizzly bears and be swept away by the bravery of a mother snow leopard.

Sir David Attenborough

The Planet Earth II Live in Concert arena tour will be hosted by wildlife and natural history TV presenter Liz Bonnin. With a masters in wild animal biology, Bonnin has presented over 40 primetime programmes including Blue Planet Live, Super Smart Animals, Galapagos and Horizon.

With her recent landmark BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic, she investigated the ocean plastic crisis, with her hard-hitting environmental reporting raising the level of public debate on this important topic. Bonnin also regularly speaks at and hosts science and natural history events across the country, including the National Science + Engineering Competition, the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, New Scientist Live and Blue Dot Festival.

She said: “I am so honoured to have the role of host on the Planet Earth II Live in Concert arena tour. The TV series included some absolutely breathtaking sequences – who can ever forget the marine iguana fighting for its life as it escaped those racer snakes? I will be just as thrilled as the audience to relive such magnificent scenes on the giant screen, accompanied by a spectacular 80-piece orchestra – it will certainly be an experience to remember.”

Mat Way, Global Director, Live Entertainment at BBC Studios, added: “After the very successful Blue Planet II tour we are delighted to partner with FKP Scorpio once again and bring Planet Earth II Live In Concert to the UK & Irish arenas, an incredible production bringing the BBC’s ground breaking footage to the stage for fans to enjoy”

Bonnin had always been interested in biology and chemistry at school, and she went on to study Biochemistry at University. After graduating, she started a career as a TV presenter working on such shows as BBC One’s Top of the Pops, before returning to her first love, science, and completing a Masters in Wild Animal Biology and Conservation. Bonnin’s main interests during her studies were animal behaviour and intelligence and big cat conservation. She set up and carried out a research project on the diet of tigers in Bardia National Park, Nepal, which saw her come first in her class.

Bonnin’s TV career has drawn heavily on her academic expertise. Recently, Bonnin has co-presented BBC One’s Blue Planet Live and the ground-breaking documentary Drowning in Plastic. She has also presented Should We Close Our Zoos in the latest series of Horizon and Big Animal Surgery, both for BBC Two.

She has previously been on our screens presenting the BBC One series Galapagos and Wild Alaska Live following the hugely successful Big Blue Live series in Monterey, California for the BBC, and for PBS in the USA.

Bonnin has also appeared in the series of Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC One and presented a wildlife series for BBC One about animal migrations called Nature’s Epic Journeys. Other TV credits include wildlife and animal behaviour programmes Super Smart Animals, Animals in Love, Animals through the Night: Sleepover at the Zoo, Operation Snow Tiger and Animal Odd Couples; science series Horizon, Stargazing Live and Bang Goes the Theory; documentaries Egypt’s Lost Cities, Museum of Life and Science Friction; and ITV’s popular Countrywise.

In addition to her TV work, Bonnin has hosted various high profile events, including the UK’s National Science and Engineering Competition Awards and the Natural History Museum’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. She was also recently awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the British Science Association.

Planet Earth

“When I got the call to do this, I jumped at the chance. I was onboard immediately. Quite selfishly, I’m looking forward to the experience myself – just as much as other members of the audience will be.

“The thought of seeing that footage on such a big screen and having a live 70-piece orchestra will be magnificent. I’ve seen some of the programmes on big screen and it’s a complete game changer. For me, it’s a kind of spiritual experience. For people who don’t work in wildlife, these creatures remind us of our connection to nature. Then to see that while hearing music from Hans Zimmer is emotional. It’s one of those rare occasions where we can celebrate the plant and humanity itself.”

Bonnin’s role is to take the audience by the hand and keep the talking to a minimum. She wants the music and visuals to work their magic.

“So I’ll put into context the scenes and I’ll give them new unexpected information about the scenes. And then the exec producer of Planet Earth II will come on every now and then to give them insights into what it took the make the scene work. There’ll be little fun facts and we’ll have 16 sequences, some are compilations that we’ve prepared that work well together. Of course they include the racer snake and iguana. We have hummingbirds, penguins, snow leopards. We’ve cherry picked stuff that lends itself to them.”

Bonnin describes hosting the show as a dream gig. She fell into a career that she adores and hopes to effect change. “I do feel there’s a very good quote going round. If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. The younger generation are making their voices heard more loudly than mine. Considering what’s happening to the planet we should all be environmentalists. My role is to spell out what conservationists are doing. So when I’m making programmes like Drowning in Plastic, I’m a human being who has to play a part in being part of the solution.

“This concert plays a role in that. It will really move us all to feel inspired and feel motivated to play our part. I don’t need to preach, the images will remind us of the magic of the wildlife. I want to leave the audience with messages of hope and inspiration. We can save our wildlife and ourselves and become better custodians.”

Bonnin is a communicator who wants to spell out inconvenient truths. In addition to Planet Earth II Live, she has recently finished a documentary on the impact of meat production on our environment.

“These are reminders that we need to think about how much we consume. It’s about all of these resources that we take for granted.”

Given her success, it’s remarkable that Bonnin didn’t want to do TV. “It’s been a wonderful blessing but it wasn’t part of the plan. I’m extending myself without going back to school. I really hope some of my work opens people’s eyes as much as it did mine.”

Bonnin grew up amid nature, living in the mountains in the south of France, above Nice. She played outdoors all the time and spotted hedgehogs and snakes and spiders. She fell in love with nature.

“I was plonked in the middle of it. Nature worked its magic around me. I always wanted to understand how that everything worked, down to the smallest layer. When I discovered chemistry and biology and biochemistry in school, I was thrilled. You can understand everything down to the atoms. When I listen to the processes in the human body, you realise we’re extraordinary, the way cells do things is incredible.

Planet Earth

“I did a bit of telly after uni, then went back to school. After biochemistry – neuro degenerative diseases was going to be my PHD. I had done some zoology by then and knew I was passionate about wanting to protect wildlife. My masters set me off on a different path.”

Bonnin doesn’t see her work as being ‘a job’. Instead, she feels very privileged to continue to learn from all the scientists and conservations working night and day to save our planet. “I do a lot of talks in schools and it’s important to care and to play their role in protecting the planet. I feel very lucky to be doing it.

“There’s never been a time in our history when people like Greta Thunberg and people who organise protests like Extinction Rebellion have not tried to make their voices heard. There’s a zeitgeist there and so people are more aware and more conscious than ever before.

“Greta is a hero of mine, no question. She sat outside parliament in Sweden on her own and she has galvanised millions of people to make their voices heard. For the first time in human history on a global level we are impassioned enough to say enough is enough. I feel ashamed as an adult that young children are doing this. We should have taken better care of their future. Among all the pretty dire news about climate, plastic and biodiversity I am hugely inspired that the beauty of the human spirit can turn this around. But my God have we left it late.”

Greta isn’t Bonnin’s only hero. There are others she admires. “Sir David Attenborough is my absolute hero. Sylvia Earle, the marine biologist and author, and Alexandra Cortez, a congresswoman in New York who ran with no corporate funding, are also heros. Alexandra is a powerhouse of a woman who stood by the strength of her convictions.” Just like Bonnin.

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