David Gray shares his wildlife passion
David Gray: From music to marsh harriers
By Martin Barber
International recording artist David Gray shares his passion for wildlife and explains why the open marshes, natural habitats and bird reserves of north Norfolk are the perfect getaway location to indulge his love of Mother Nature.
Music fans around the world know David Gray for his raft of albums, concert tours, television appearances and magazine interviews - it's the kind of life you might expect of a successful musician.
But away from the bright lights of the music industry, the star indulges in a love-affair with Mother Nature and has created a home for his family in north Norfolk from which to share his life-long passion.
"Ever since I was a kid, the first book I was obsessed with was a bird book – The Book Of British Birds. I used to spend hours looking at it and I remember the first bird was a spoonbill," said David.
"There were all kinds of things in there but I was fascinated, absolutely fascinated. I've just had it [a passion for birds] all my life.
Marsh harrier at Strumpshaw Fen
"Since coming to Norfolk I'm right close to a nature reserve where I am. The diversity of things that you see from a barn owl, which I'd only ever seen a handful of times in my whole life, I'll see one every day now. A marsh harrier I'll see a couple of times a week.
"The big turning point was coming down here and then buying my first pair of binoculars. Ever since that it's just taken me right into the world of what's going on out there with the birds and all that, so I've really got into it.
"I've gone down to Titchwell Reserve a bit. I just wander down with my kids to the nature reserve in Holme and that's really how it got going. That fuelled the fire and now I'm really passionate about the whole thing," he added.
Wild About The Wensum
David Gray was the guest of honour at the Wild About The Wensum 2008 event. Hosted by Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, the annual event celebrates the Wensum Valley and is part of the ongoing work to enhance people's awareness of the area.
The area is protected as a Special Area Of Conservation (SAC), one of Europe's highest nature conservation designations and is rich in its varied landscape, habitat, bio-diversity and archaeological and cultural heritage.
"I was asked by Bill Jordan and his wife [the owners of Pensthorpe] if I'd be interested in fronting the event, putting a celebrity face to the whole thing," said David Gray.
David goes wild about the Wensum
"They wanted somebody who might represent a halfway stage between the average person on the street and a sort of environmentalist. I'm passionate about the whole thing and I'm a passionate bird-watcher – not many people know that about me.
"I think they also wanted me as someone enthusiastic that other people might relate to. Because I think it's just about building a connection between local people, everyday people, and the natural world as they're trying to preserve it," he added.
Getting involved in a Norfolk way of life and the groups that look after the county's wildlife has been important to David Gray. He's a member of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Norfolk Ornithologists' Association.
"Well, it seemed like the least I could do. I mean it's something I care about so the first thing I did was get a family membership to the NWT and the Ornithologists' Association. I'm getting more involved all the time," said David.
"I think they're looking at me and thinking, 'Hang on, we could use you for this and that,' so I've become a resource. My public profile is being put to some use and I don't mind at all in this particular instance."
Norfolk is well-known for its big skies, sweeping coastline and abundance of wildlife, especially since BBC Springwatch moved to the Pensthorpe Nature Reserve - beaming the county into the homes of millions of people each evening during June 2008.
Bill Oddie and Kate Humble
"I can understand why [Springwatch came to Norfolk] because it's got such an amazing diversity," said David.
"When I think back to being brought up in Pembrokeshire and the birds that I used to see down there, that was amazing and still is, but there's a much broader cross section of animal and bird life here.
"Springwatch has been a real success. I was just saying, they've had terrible springs here, last year was a disaster!
"I actually found it quite moving because through knowing the people on the reserve, I started to understand a bit more the subtleties of the breeding and the nesting. How birds suddenly have to breed again because the brood has died, or it was too cold and there was nothing to eat.
"There was that fantastic Easter which was just boiling hot, then it just became freezing cold, windy and rainy and you realise that for the birds who are breeding and having eggs, it's actually a complete disaster. You realise what a fine line these animals are treading."
But why did the singer-songwriter decide to spend so much time in the county?
"The reason I ended up here was really just a total chance thing. It was the fact that when I moved to London I fell in love with my wife and she lived in East London," said David.
"To get out for the weekend, to cross London and try and go west, forget it - it takes you about half a day. So we would just go out north and started to explore Norfolk and Suffolk.
Laughs in Cromer
"Someone once said, 'You should go to Cromer, that's a laugh' - and then someone said Blakeney. When I came up and saw Blakeney I was absolutely blown away looking out over the marshes.
"So anyway it was just really convenience that led me to explore. I think most people who haven't been to Norfolk have got this sort of Noel Coward line about it – it's flat or some stupid thing like that going through their heads - but it's actually beautiful and it's quite diverse too.
"There's the kind of lush interior which I don't know so much about and the Broads which I've never been to, I just know the north Norfolk coast really.
"So that's the story of how I came here and then when I made some money I think the first thing we wanted to do was get a cottage up here and that was the turning point really because it's obviously a luxury that you can't really put a price on.
"It's a privilege to have two places to live, one in the city and one in the country because you realise it's such a different way of life. You get to have the best of both worlds.
"You get the social life in town and then you come out and you have the beauty of nature and the quietness and the relaxed living that you have and the people that you meet when you're down here. It's on a completely different level. It's a wonderful thing."
David's work stays in London
Work and play
Time in Norfolk is time to spend with the family, while David's work, the music writing and living the life of an international recording artist stays in London.
"Every time I come down it's with the family, so it's family time. And when I'm in London I'm basically working pretty much all of the time, so this is the sort of the other side of the coin.
"It's weird: I'll have songs buzzing through my head like I have at the moment, but when I come down here they sort of fall away."
David is currently working on a new album, scheduled for release in November.
"I'm smack-bang in the middle of making a new record. It should be finished – completely finished - by the end of the summer but the recording will be finished by the end of June.
I don't even know what's going to be on it but we'll see, I'm looking forward to getting it finished. It's been in the pipeline for a little while, time to get it done."Picture credit: Marsh harrier by Chris Gomersal/RSPB
last updated: 06/06/2008 at 20:06
David Gray (born June 13, 1968 in Sale, Greater Manchester) is an English singer-songwriter.
Although he released his first studio album in 1993, he didn't receive worldwide attention until the release of White Ladder six years later.
It was the first of three UK chart-toppers in six years for Gray, the latter two of which also made the Top 20 in the US.Source: BBC Music/Wikipedia