Steve Backshall and Helen Glover called twins ‘The Boy and The Girl’ for a month
He has wrapped himself in venomous snakes, scaled the Eiger, been bitten by crocodiles and chucked in a Colombian jail.
But nothing has tested Steve Backshall more than the sleep deprivation inflicted by his six-week-old twins.
“Caffeine is like gold dust,” he says, apologising for delaying our interview as he had to stop off at a coffee shop.
Battling through a double dose of new-baby exhaustion has left the TV naturalist and adventurer and his wife Helen Glover knackered.
In fact Steve and the Olympic rowing legend were so shattered that they were unable to think of names for their tiny son and daughter, who were known as The Boy and The Girl for a whole month.
“When you start thinking about choosing baby names, particularly when you get two hours’ sleep at night, it becomes almost impossible,” says Steve.
“We thought that we had their names sorted. And then they came out and the names didn’t fit. At all. Neither of them. And I don’t know why – I can’t explain why a baby that doesn’t yet have any character doesn’t suit the names.
“We both loved Bo for our little girl. Then my sister pretty much told me that was cruel, as did my agent. There were some tense times there.
“And we were absolutely set on Rory for the boy. And I don’t know why, it just didn’t work.
“So we dropped both names.
“Then we made the mistake of talking to people about new names. We said, ‘What do you think of this name and that name?’ And of course half the people love it, half the people hate it.”
In the end, Steve, 46, and Helen, 33, named their beautiful babies Kit Nathan Newlyn Backshall and Willow Bo Backshall – siblings to 18-month old son Logan.
Steve is besotted with his new arrivals, who were born 20 months after the devastation of losing Logan’s unborn twin in April 2018.
He says: “Logan knows there are huge changes going on in his life and he’s quite unsettled. But at the same time he’s such a beautiful little boy with such a gorgeous character so he’s adapting well.”
Coping with three children under two would push many couples to the brink. But Helen and Steve are unlike any other couple.
“We are both super active and we went for a kayak the morning our twins were born. Helen was so big she could hardly get into the boat, but we still went for a kayak. And that’s just Helen – she has remarkable verve.”
Steve’s feelings for Helen struck the instant they were introduced at a Sport Relief event in 2014.
“I would say, from my perspective, it was love at first sight” he says. “The moment I met her I knew she had all the things I was looking for in my soulmate. I didn’t necessarily think that she would have any of the same kind of feelings towards me.
“We got chatting, realised we lived quite close to each other and kept in touch.
“She is not only the best rower in the world but she is fun, adventurous, ambitious, has incredible lust for life and I think it was very quickly clear to both of us very early on that we were going to be a strong partnership.”
To clinch his first date with Helen, Steve played his A-game and recruited a celebrity wingman.
“I’m friends with Alfie Boe, the singer. He was playing the O2 and gave me VIP backstage passes, and I thought this could be the greatest ever first date in history to impress the woman of my dreams.
“So I took her to the show and she met Alfie behind the scenes.”
This year Steve is again involved in Sport Relief and he’s now training to take part in The Celebrity Boat Race which will see
his BBC boat pitted against rival crews from ITV, Channel 4 and Sky at Salford Quays.
With Olympic double-champion James Cracknell, Helen is coaching Steve and the other celebrities who include BBC Breakfast anchor Louise Minchin, Radio 1’s Maya Jama, Loose Women star Andrea McLean and boxer Carl Froch. Just don’t ask him how it’s going.
“It’s not going at all – she’s not giving me any coaching,” says Steve. “I think she is secretly taking sadistic pleasure in seeing how badly I’m suffering and how badly I’m feeling.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first training session on the water didn’t exactly go well.
“It felt fantastic at first – until we realised only four people were rowing and the other four were sitting with their oars in the water and stopping us from capsizing. The second we all tried to row, it was utter chaos.
“There were people being catapulted out the boat, hit by oars, it was a genuine disaster. And that wasn’t even trying to race.
“I think there’s a serious possibility in the actual race, when we’re really going for it, that some people could be swimming. In fact, I’ll put money on it.”
To be fair to Helen, she has been extremely busy lately – and surviving on even less sleep than Steve’s two hours a night.
And her efforts mean Steve has her on an even higher pedestal.
He says: “I am amazed by Helen. I think, as much as the breathtaking miracle of birth, it’s how she as a hard-nosed, driven, ultra-ambitious athlete has taken to motherhood. She’s not even broken stride and gone from being the world’s best rower to the world’s best mum.
“I am trying so hard to keep up and generally failing.
“But she just smashes it, day in and day out. It makes me so proud.”
For all their extra supplies of stamina, Steve is also aware that he’s heading for stormy waters.
“Give it six months, when I’m back on the road travelling, Helen’s mum’s gone home, all the adrenaline’s gone and Logan’s in the midst of the terrible twos and tantrumming, that’s when I think everything’s going to get really tough.
“But for the moment, it is beyond bliss. I’ve never been so content in all my life.”
- Sport Relief 2020 will be live on BBC One on March 13 from 7pm.
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