The spiky, blonde, electric-shock style hair-cut that put the wild into his wildlife programmes is long gone. Chris Packham, now with neat dark hair, casually dressed and tanned from a wildlife lecture abroad, has moved onwards and upwards.

At 38, one of the country's best-known natural history broadcasters, raised in Southampton, is finally building his own nest in Netley.

From the outside, the house is what you'd expect from an outdoor man. Cottage-style with rambling garden. But inside, it's as unconventional as its owner. Not a pair of wellies or green Barbour in sight.

Instead, it's modern and minamalist with rooms that could have sprung straight from the pages of a top interiors magazine.

Sleek wooden floors, a chrome kitchen with funky luminous green and pink accessories and a space-age toilet give the whole place a designer look.

"I follow avant garde design in household taste, whereby everything is uncomfortable or impractical," says Chris, gesturing to a stream-line sofa in shocking pink that wouldn't look out of place in an art gallery.

Following the break-up of his marriage three years ago, Chris shares his new home with girlfriend Joanna and her four-your-old daughter Megan, whom he clearly adores. A change of heart from a man who never wanted children.

"To be honest, it came as quite a shock to find myself involved with someone with a kid, but I don't regret it at all. Megan is a fantastic revelation to me. The way children perceive things is the way I like to - in simple terms.

"Megs is also a great excuse to do all the things I used to do when I was younger. It's brilliant taking her along to all the museums my father took me to."

His boyish enthusiam for all things wild is still very much in evidence. He still talks at an incredible rate of knots, using piles of adjectives where one would do.

He'd eventually like to own a crocodile - "that will turn heads in Netley" - but for now just owns pet milk snake Trebor, who, as we talk, is comfortably curled around his neck. Uncomfortably, for me!

It comes as much relief to hear his tarantula has been banished to his mother's home because girlfriend Joanne is arachnaphobic.

"My parents are used to looking after weird and wonderful pets.

"From a very early age, our home was like a menagerie, thanks to me bringing home all manner of animals. Snakes, spiders, finches, foxes and fish all left their mark on my mum's carpets.

"And when I flat-shared in Portswood, the criteria for a new flatmate was whether they'd be able to animal sit. It was a question of 'can you feed a racoon' rather than 'can you wash up'"

Chris's broadcasting career of well over a decade includes a host of wildlife shows, including The Really Wild Show which launched him, through to reporting for the The Good Sex Guide series.

The loner child who preferred catching frogs to making friends is still grateful to his teachers at Bitterne Park Comprehensive school who were instrumental in channelling his interest.

" I suppose I was regarded as a bit of a stiff by my peers," says Chris, who often returns to his old school to lend support as a famous ex-pupil.

"Instead of doing the usual stuff like playing football, I'd be out on my bike tracking down animals.

I used to do bizarre things, too, like really concentrate on my senses. I read that dogs can smell ten times better, so I became obsessed with smell. If you focus hard, you can heighten your ability to smell. It really works - even now I can smell out different animals."

The nature boy admits that even as an adult, he's often far happier around animals than humans.

"I don't really like humans as a species. Of course, I'm fond of friends and relatives but as a species, people have held little interest for me from a very early age. In a childish way, one of the first things that attracted me to wildlife was its perfection. I saw so much beauty in nature but never in people. Aside from Audrey Hepburn, that is."

Chris is not afraid to let his feelings be known to some of the members of human species who ruffle his feathers. He has slated Ben Elton over the comedian's attempts to write environmental books.

"We had a flaming row because I told him to stick to comedy and leave the people who know about the environment to talk about it." He also despairs of what he terms the Spice generation.

"Young kids these days seem to expect instant success without putting in the effort. Celebrities who achieve success without any obvious ability really rile me. I just haven't got the time of day for them."

The celebrity side that comes with being a TV star is an element that someone as down to earth as Chris is still not truly comfortable with.

"I grew up with a keen fascination for animals and enthusiasm for them. I drifted into television through a passion for wildlife.

That has given me enormous opportunities that I'm grateful for, but I still stand at a showbiz party and think, what the hell am I doing here This isn't my world."

Instead, he's happier talking tarantulas with an amateur naturalist in his new Meridian series Watching Wildlife with Chris Packham.

"Some might call these people cranks. I prefer to see them as passionate enthusiasts. I get a real buzz out of seeing that. To me, that's far more exciting than going to some swish celeb party."

True enthusiasts have always gained the respect of Chris.

It was people like Johnny Morris and Patrick Moore who inspired him. "You could just see they were brimming with passion about their subject.

"Aside from them and gorgeous Audrey Hepburn, I don't have TV heroes, as so many aren't genuine enthusiasts - plus I never watched much TV as a kid."

The television is still rarely on in the Packham household. It's hardly necessary with a floorshow of badgers who come to investigate the titbits Chris leaves out for them.

Lured onto a wooden stage where a camera is set up, their antics are beamed back into the kitchen to the delight of Megan.

"That's what we watch most, although Joanne is a bit of a soap fan. I have to leave the room, I can't stand the shouting. Why does everyone in EastEnders have to be so miserable I think they should introduce a storyline about a rare bird arriving in Albert Square to lighten things up a bit. A few smiles about how Pat Butcher would care for it wouldn't go amiss."

As to the future for Chris, he's clearly enjoying the responsibilities that go with being a dad and most important is being able to combine worklife with home life. "I enjoy giving time to Megs and want to be able to do more with her. If that means travelling less, so be it."

He has just set up his own production company, Head Over Heels, in Southampton, specialising in high-quality, small-budget wildlife shows, and is writing books from home.

"Before, I was working with companies who weren't wildlife specialists, but Head Over Heels is made up of a team who have all worked in this field. TV budgets are being cut - to succeed in the marketplace, you've got to know what you're doing and I like to think we're managing to pull it off."

As some birds swoop to feed on his patio, he excitedly points them out and reels off their names. His enthusiasm is infectious. Something tells me the boyish Chris Packham will never grow up completely. It would be a shame if he does.


Converted for the new archive on 25 January 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.