The day NEIL GIBSON threw a sickie and picked up a camcorder proved to be his making. The Scottish presenter of Lonely Planet explains.
Words: Ellie Carr
Photograph: Creative Photography
WE’VE ALL BEEN the star of some bad home video, be it wedding, BBQ or baby’s first dodgy haircut. How many, though, can say they’ve fallen into the lap of fame by posting a fuzzy VHS tape to a TV company for a laugh? Neil Gibson can.
Snapped up from a mundane job in an Edinburgh book shop, the 24-year-old Aberdonian with no TV experience was chosen, almost overnight, to become one of the trio of presenters on the new series of Channel 4’s top-rating alternative travel show Loner Planet. It’s the TV equivalent of being spotted singing in the launderette by a gold- toothed A&R man.
Before landing the Lonely Planet job, Gibson’s life was unremarkable. The son of a lecturer and a gift shop worker, he once found a degree in communications (PR and advertising to you and me) was enough to entice him to the central belt. But the pushy world of PR no longer appeals. A string of sensible office jobs at the Bank Of Scotland and Scottish Widows followed the degree, but the only thing that got Gibson going was slinging on a backpack and heading off round the globe.
So how did this wee guy from Aberdeen with a big thing for travel make it onto a show even Carol Smillie would give her sparkly eye-teeth for?
‘l was working in the [book shop] warehouse,’ recalls Gibson, looking every inch the sussed traveller in faded checked shirt, big boots and cropped hair. ‘I had that Monday morning feeling and thought, “I can’t be bothered going into work.” So I took a sickie, bought The Guardian newspaper and saw this advert.’
This advert, as it turns out, had been placed by Channel 4. ‘Travel presenters wanted,’ it said. So Gibson applied. Just for a laugh mind.
‘My mate got his camcorder and we wandered around talking absolute rubbish about Edinburgh,’ he laughs. ‘Not a word of it was true.’
Eager for a second opinion, Gibson showed the finished tape to friends who urged him not to send it in. He ignored the advice and several weeks later picked up the phone to find he was up for a job on the world’s most watched travel show.
Having beaten back the competition —
mostly experienced applicants — Gibson was thrown straight into the lion’s den, or the leper’s arms to be exact.
'My mate got his camcorder and we wandered around talking absolute rubbish about Edinburgh. Not a word of it was true.’ Neil Gibson
Trained to the extent of knowing what a camera looked like, our intrepid traveller was landed with a first assignment on a leper colony in Pakistan. ‘11 was harrowing to see all these guys in beds missing fingers and stuff,’ admits Gibson. ‘For the first interview, to get your head round what you’re seeing and try and convey that to an audience was all very daundngf
Neil Gibson: 'I could never go back to an office job now'
Other enduring memories from the first series include wrestling with 25-stone men (not much fun when you’re a ten-stone Scottish weakling) and the souvenir tooth left in his foot by a Piranha whilst swimming in the Peruvianjungle.
All of which is a far cry from the Bank Of Scotland. ‘I could never go back to an office job now,’ confesses Gibson. And judging by his jungle screen test, he never will.
The fifth series of Lonely Planet begins on Channel 4. Thu 2 Oct, 8pm. Neil Gibson presents
episodes on Peru and Pakistan on 16 Oct v. K
and 6 Nov. yr
28 Sep—9 Oct 1997 TIEIJST'I