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Celebrity Health - Professor Alice Roberts

Scientist and TV presenter Professor Alice Roberts talks about her passion for natural living and the great outdoors

Image of Professor Alice Roberts courtesy of Dave Stevens

For anyone who’s watched a science documentary over the last 15 years or so, the chances are Professor Alice Roberts will be a familiar face to you. Ever since her first appearance on Channel 4’s Time Team Live back in 2001, she’s been busy writing and presenting a series of high-profile TV programmes and series that have explored a diverse range of subjects, from Ice Age woolly mammoths to the benefits of wild swimming. Alice’s fresh and engaging style has won her legions of fans, inspiring viewers as she enlightens us on the mysteries of our planet’s history. A professor at the University of Birmingham, Alice has also published several bestselling books, whilst finding time to support worthwhile causes, from heart health to science communication.

Born in Bristol, Alice studied medicine at university and after graduation worked as a junior NHS doctor in South Wales. In 1998 she took up a teaching job in the anatomy department at the University of Bristol, becoming a lecturer and researching for a PhD in evolutionary anatomy and pathology. It was while Alice was at Bristol University that she started to write reports on human bones for Channel 4’s Time Team Live – research which led to regular appearances on the programme from 2001, and then a host of further high-profile presenting jobs.

Alice tries to live as healthily as she can. She’s a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats fish), and avoids too much sugar. “I rarely have to resist bars of chocolate,” she says, “because luckily I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth.”

Ethical shopping is important to Alice. She tries to buy clothes from brands that care about sustainability, working conditions and fair wages, organic fruit and vegetables, and cruelty-free skincare products.

“I take time to eat well but I’m fairly low-maintenance when it comes to a beauty regime,” says Alice. “Generally it’s a case of a quick shower in the morning, then I wipe away any lingering traces of make-up and apply some waterproof mascara. I don’t buy many beauty products, but when I do I always look out for ethical and organic lines. But it has to work well too. I’ve recently discovered Green People’s quinoa and avocado hair serum – amazing stuff! It has proven to be just about the only thing that really smooths my flyaway hair.”

Alice has been so impressed by Green People – a family-run organic skincare brand based in rural West Sussex – that she has agreed to act as ambassador for their 20-year anniversary campaign, ‘Change the World in 20 Ways’. Green People has pledged to allocate £1,000 of funds to 20 separate charity projects that have the potential to change people’s lives in a positive way.

“This is a great opportunity for community groups and local charities to boost their funding or get a project off the ground,” says Alice. “I hope it inspires people to have a go doing something they wouldn’t ordinarily have tried. I’d love the campaign to turn into a ripple of positivity. It feels like we need a lot of that right now.”

Alice’s love for the natural world is something she shares with her family, and she loves nothing better than taking off in her camper van for adventures in the great British countryside with her husband and their two young children. “We look for new places and new adventures every year,” says Alice, “but we also re-visit old favourites, for example the North Devon coast between Saunton Sands and Ilfracombe. Depending on the time of year, we’ll be walking on windswept beaches, rockpooling, swimming, surfing, kayaking and walking the coastpath.”

Alice currently has several projects to get her teeth into – but she’ll be taking her work with her into the wild – heading off in the camper van once again – armed with her laptop and her kayak.

“I think I write better, and have more creative ideas, when I can balance that with time with my family, physical activity and fresh air,” she says. “And I love the freedom that having a camper van offers. I love to spend days walking on the beach, kayaking along the coast, cooking a barbecue – then tucking the kids up in bed before settling down to read and write for the evening. I don’t mind rain. If it wasn’t for the rain, our countryside wouldn’t be so green. And luckily, human skin is fairly waterproof!”

With such a positive mindset, it’s no wonder that Alice has forged an impressive career that’s going from strength to strength. Last month saw the launch of her latest book, Tamed, about the domestication of species. It examines the history of 10 familiar species, both animals and plants, and the different ways in which they became our allies. In the book Alice reveals how these species – from dogs, cattle and horses to wheat, potatoes and apples – were tamed, and then had their own impacts on human history. “It’s an epic story encompassing thousands of years of history and archaeology alongside cutting-edge genetics and anthropology,” she says.

So, with a busy work schedule and two young children to look after, how does Alice relax and chill out? “Paddling around the coast in a kayak is something I particularly enjoy,” she says. “In fact kayaking is my absolute favourite form of activity – and the most calming thing I’ve ever discovered. You feel like you’re part of nature, not separate from it, and I think it’s important to remind ourselves of that. We too often remove ourselves from nature, but evolutionary biology teaches us that we’re still part of the great, branching tree of life on earth.”

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