Art Attack’s Neil Buchanan lives near Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, and is a regular visitor. Emma Chaplin caught up with him over the phone to find out how his lockdown was going.
Many people will know you as a TV presenter, but you’re also an artist and musician. Tell us a bit more about yourself.
I grew up in Aintree, Merseyside and attended the Liverpool Institute. Sir Paul McCartney went there too and when it later went downhill, he bought it out and transformed it into LIPA, the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts.
Other than the city centre, Liverpool had so many open fields, brooks, ponds, hedges, farmland. All gone now. I grew up loving birds. I loved making Airfix models, and there was something about birds and flight that really appealed to me.
I’ve always been creative and feel fortunate to have made a living out of it. You need three things to be successful creatively, a bit of talent, some luck and a lot of drive. I’ve always found people to help me with drive.
I worked in a tax office for two years after leaving school to earn enough to buy a guitar. I applied for art college, but they turned me down because I was a musician. I was part of a band who won the first ever Battle of the Bands in the early 1980s, which was a bit like the X Factor of the day. For four years or so we toured the world, then our management went bankrupt.
I found a slot on the telly, so many people know me from Art Attack and other programmes. What runs through my veins is ‘failed rock star’. I’ve always loved music, art and writing and photography. And I’ve managed to do all of those things. But after I retired from the telly, I wanted to paint for myself, not for other people. Unfortunately my art exhibitions this year have been postponed due to the virus so I am exhibiting on my website.
How’s lockdown been?
I now live in the beautiful Tillingham Valley, where I’ve got my own recording studio, so lockdown hasn’t been too bad for me. I’ve got enough people around – my son was here for part of lockdown, and he’s a musician, so that was great. I’m ok at getting on with projects on my own.
I’ve seen an incredible number of birds here. Red Kites, Crossbills, Peregrine. I’ve got a 5.5 acre paddock which I’ve left to become a meadow, which probably helps.
You’re a regular visitor to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve?
Yes, there was a time when I’d go five or six times a week. The early shift. I’d often speak to members of the reserve team. My favourite part is Castle Water, the viewing platform, where I got my Bearded Tit fix. Also, Bittern and Marsh Harrier.
My favourite incident there was in one of the hides. I was on my own and saw a Kingfisher on a pole on Castle Water. I took a photo, then a lot of other people came in, so I mentioned it then left. They were all hanging out of the windows with their binoculars trying to see it. I turned back as I was walking away and spotted the Kingfisher had flown on top of the hide.
What do you think about the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre?
I can’t wait for it to open. It’s fabulous for Rye, for education and for the future. It’s fantastic from a design point of view. I love, when you walk away, you can’t see it. It blends in (when all of the contractor fencing has been taken down). I’ve been promised the finest coffee and I can’t wait to try it. And the loos too!
All photography courtesy of Neil Buchanan.