Wildlife snapper Doug Allan going to extremes

Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan. Picture: Greg Macvean
Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THERE’S a chance that should filmmaker Doug Allan accidently slice his finger, pure anti-freeze instead of blood would ooze out.

He’s spent a lifetime slithering around snow and ice, either under it as he dives deep into waters so cold that staying there a fraction too long could be fatal, or on it, patiently waiting, day after freezing cold day, for the perfect wildlife shot.

As the “go to” cold climate cameraman with a reputation for turning out brilliant moving and still images of the world’s most precious creatures, the 62-year-old award-winner – his work includes Operation Iceberg and Life in the Freezer – barely has a chance to thaw out between trips from one pole to the other.

Indeed, as he describes his past few months’ travels, from deep in the Antarctic to watching humpack whales with rich tourists to French Polyensia working on coral reefs, then Norway to film polar bears for a new movie and back to the South Pole to make a film about, of all things, a post office slap in the middle of a penguin colony, it’s a wonder he has any energy left to embark on a new UK tour to tell us all about it.

“I’ve got to keep moving,” laughs the intrepid 62-year-old. “I don’t do much sitting around.”

Indeed now he has some time off from his international travels, the hardy Scot who prompted the legendary Sir David Attenborough to comment “wildlife cameramen don’t come much more special than Doug” is preparing to come face to face with real terrifying creatures – an inquisitive audience at the Royal Lyceum Theatre tomorrow night, as he answers questions about his fascinating career.

“The questions from the children are always the toughest,” grins Doug, who grew up in Dunfermline and studied marine biology before finding his niche as a wildlife filmmaker.

“They want to know about the challenges and the scariest animals. It’s a privilege to feel that among the youngsters who come to hear me speak might be one or two that end up doing something similar with their lives.”

There’s unlikely to be any shortage of fascinating tales to tell as he reflects on a career that kicked off in 1985 almost by accident. Doug has pretty much seen and done it all, from witnessing the wonder of baby polar bear cubs taking their first wary steps in the wild to wrestling his way to safety after a hungry walrus mistook him in his diving suit for dinner.

It all started after presenter Attenborough rolled up with his Living Planet film crew to the Antarctic base station where he was working as a research diver.

Fascinated by the filming process, Doug offered his services. Within a few years he was picking up awards for his mesmerising images and travelling the world from the heights of Everest to one of his recent travels 1000ft below the waters of Antarctica, in a submarine showing rich tourists a view of the world only the lucky few can hope to see for real.

Far more of us, however, will be able to enjoy the fruits of one of his most satisfying recent expeditions, when a new feature film telling the heart-tugging story of a boy’s caring relationship with a polar bear cub hits the big screen.

“It’s called Midnight Sun, a drama set in the Arctic,” explains Doug. “It was mostly filmed in Canada using a tame bear, but to make it really work they needed shots of a real polar bear mother and cub. So I spent six weeks in Svalvard, an island 600 miles from Norway where, because there has been no hunting for 45 years, the bears have little fear of humans.”

The shots Doug finally snared were, he grins, worth the week-long wait for a minute of footage.

“I found a bear with two cubs in a frozen field and waited until eventually I got the shot I wanted,” he recalls. “You learn to be patient in this job.”

Doug Allan – In the Company of Giants is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre on Sunday from 7.30pm, £14 (£12.50 concessions. Booking Info: 0131 248 4848 / www.lyceum.org.uk.