Television host Monty Halls has tried his hand at many things over the years, including working in the Royal Marines during Nelson Mandela’s presidency and leading expeditions such as an anti-poaching project in northern Malawi.
Television audiences may recognise him from his shows Great Ocean Adventures, Animal Planet and Great Barrier Reef, as well as his appearances on the History Channel and National Geographic.
His latest series, the BBC’s Fisherman’s Apprentice follows Monty as he lives and works as part of a fleet fishing industry off the coast of Cornwall in the UK. The goal? To find out what is really involved in getting seafood onto our plates.
It is, his latest project, though, that pushes back the time of today’s Friday afternoon interview.
“Anything you do with boats, always takes longer than you think it’s going to,” Halls offers by way of an apology, explaining that giving his newest vessel her maiden voyage was the reason for the delay. Monty and the family have upped sticks and set up home in the Devon countryside in Dartmouth, UK, preparing to open a wildlife and media training business.
The setting for the new business is not a million miles away from where Halls filmed his latest series for the The Fisherman’s Apprentice. The show follows Halls as he joins an industry that has been working the bay for generations.
Originally envisaged as another Great Escape style series documenting Halls living in unfamiliar territory, the show began to shift focus when filming began.
“Suddenly we realised that the story we were telling was the story of this dying industry,” explains Halls. “We tried to switch it so that it was much less my story and much more the story of the men on the beach.”
When asked about the shrinking fishing industry, Halls is quick to praise the hard work and professionalism of the fishermen he worked with: “They’re just hard working, they really knew the sea and they really understood the sea. And they were all aware that their lifestyle was coming to an end, so it became a particularly important story I think, because we all want sustainability nowadays and the small boats are highly, highly sustainable.”
At certain points of the series, Halls is hit with harsh bouts of seasickness, an unfortunate problem he says has cropped up before.
“It’s just one of those things,” he says. “I’ve had all sorts of Facebook comments and emails from people, the vast majority of people saying they understand. ”
There was also apparently the odd bit of taunting in some comments, but as Halls says, “Those people have never been to sea!”
Halls comes across as genuinely passionate about the south west of the country: “The Cornish thing, it’s funny, y’know, it’s quite judicious editing sometimes.”
He adds: “It makes it look like there was a bit of hostility there. There wasn’t really, there was…healthy cynicism!” he laughs. “We never felt anything other than completely welcome there. As I said, a bit of judicious editing always helps!”
It appears Halls has made an effort to keep in touch with a few of the local fisherman he spent time with while filming the series, as talk drifts back to his current task of getting the business up and running.
“The shop itself, it’s nice enough, but I wanted something really evocative, you want to feel like you’re walking into a beach hut,” he says. “You want to feel like you’re walking into somewhere that has that real whiff of escapism and adventure about it” he says. “And then I had the idea, why don’t we get a rowing boat, chop it in half and half of it will be the counter and half of it will be the shelving. So, I called my mate Nige -who was my boss in the TV series – and some delighted Cornish fishermen duly relieved me of a considerable sum of money.”
Talk turns to his new role, as father to a baby Isla, who he recently took for her first swimming lesson: “Kids being kids, sooner or later they’re going to fall in somewhere and…. you want them to get out again!” he reasons.
And to his equally famous four-legged friend: “Reuben is in top, top form. He’s the size of a bear now,” he reassures us.
Asked about what 2012 has left in store, Halls enthuses about opening the shop in April and staying in the Devon area for the foreseeable future. He hints to more TV projects in the pipeline, but most tellingly reels off a list of new places left to discover:
“China,” he says. “Certainly plenty of dive spots I’ve never done, I’ve never done Bora Bora, I’ve never done Rangiroa, these are iconic diving sites. So lots left to do.”
As our chat winds up, Halls reveals where his real passion lies: “I’ve always done things like, the public speaking, the TV work, and the expeditions, but at heart I’m never happier than when I’m out in a boat with a group of people showing them some seals or some dolphins”.