“We’d like you to star in a BBC travel documentary. You’ve got a real sense of humour, physical grace and beauty.”
“Ok, I’ll do it.”
Such flattery, jokes Michael Palin, adventurer, author and former Monty Python member, convinced him to appear in BBC’s travel series Around the World in 80 Days in 1989. He had whet his appetite for travel with a part in a 1980 BBC railway documentary — for which he received a modest £1,500 — but his 80 Days role as a modern day Phileas Fogg set him on the path that defined his life for the next 24 years.
“I was bitten,” he says. “I knew what I wanted to do, and that was travel.”
Palin has since produced eight internationally acclaimed television series on world journeys and authored as many accompanying books. With Palin as the tour guide, viewers have been introduced to more than eighty countries across seven continents, and granted access to a staggering range of cultures and environments. He also served for three years as president of Great Britain’s Royal Geographical Society, during which he made geographic education and awareness as his top priority.
Palin came to Canada from his home in London, U.K., to receive the 2013 RCGS Gold Medal, Canada’s highest honour in geography, for his immense contribution to geographical literacy. He received the award in a ceremony at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory theatre, in front of a crowd of several hundred admirers.
“It’s with great pride that I am accepting The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Gold Medal, but my life is not over yet,” he laughs. “It’s wonderful to be honoured for something I love to do.”
For Palin, travel requires more than just visiting places on a map. It takes understanding.
“As I embarked on my travels, I realized that the only useful approach was to combine my natural curiosity and abundant sense of wonder with real geographical knowledge. In this way you can better understand the basic questions of where we live, why we live where we live, and how we live where we live. Geography, in other words.”