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Dr Alice Roberts takes time to talk to Somerset Life's Sara Ford about her life in Somerset

PUBLISHED: 12:19 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:40 28 February 2013

Dr Alice Roberts in the Department of Anatomy at Bristol University

Dr Alice Roberts in the Department of Anatomy at Bristol University

Scientist, TV presenter, teacher and artist, Dr Alice Roberts takes time in between university lectures to talk to Sarah Ford about her life in Somerset. Portrait by Mike Alsford.

Scientist, TV presenter, teacher and artist, Dr Alice Roberts takes time in between university lectures to talk to Sarah Ford about her life in Somerset. Portrait by Mike Alsford.


They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and that was certainly the case for Dr Alice Roberts and her partner, Dave. The couple were apart for six months while she trekked around the globe to find out how our ancestors colonised the planet for her recent epic TV series, and soon after she returned home to North Somerset Dave, who is a freelance archaeologist, popped the question.

Alice's travels had taken her to Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas on a mission to retrace our ancestors' footsteps and discover where we come from. The Incredible Human Journey, which has been running on BBC2, uses the latest discoveries in genetics, archaeology, paleoanthropology and climatology to explain how our journeys across the world made us who we are today.
With her infectious enthusiasm for her subject, Alice has become a familiar face on our screens in recent years. Her TV credits include her role as a bone expert on Channel 4's Time Team, presenting on BBC2's Coast and her fascinating documentary on health called Don't Die Young.

Today she's talking to me from Bristol University where she teaches clinical anatomy, embryology and physical anthropology. Alice was born here in the city and I am eager to discover more about her local connections. She tells me she is the daughter of a teacher and an aeronautical engineer. Her father was a student at Bristol University, fell in love with the city (and Alice's mum), and Alice grew up in north Bristol, on the edge of the historic Blaise Castle Estate.

"I spent a lot of summer afternoons after school climbing trees and wandering, barefoot, up and down Hazel Brook," she recalls. "Dad encouraged me to enjoy science and ask questions, while my mum, who taught art and English, made sure we were always creating something.
"Since then I have used art in several ways to help my own understanding - when I'm trying to get my head around anatomy, for example - and I have drawn illustrations for the anatomy student handbooks for Bristol University. I've also illustrated the book which accompanies The Incredible Human Journey."

As a child Alice was interested in biology and anatomy and vividly remembers being taken to Bristol Museum when she was eight to watch the unveiling of a mummy. "It was a good example of how museums can enthuse people," she says, musing over the issue of how to make science engaging for the next generation. "It is important to present science as exciting, because it is, although a lot of the time we're presented with cold facts, without the dynamic debate and excitement of discovery.

"It's wonderful to think we can discover new things about the world that no one has ever known before," she adds, recalling the moment as a student when she looked down the microscope and found a tiny piece of cartilage in a ferret skull, that hadn't been recorded before. "It was certainly not a breakthrough - but I personally felt very excited by it!"

Alice qualified as a medical doctor at Cardiff University in 1997, and worked as a junior doctor in South Wales before joining Bristol University's Anatomy Department in 1999. For her TV series Don't Die Young she gave us a tour of the human body and tips on healthy living.

It was a programme for which she received a massive response - including e-mails from viewers who had given up smoking after seeing a lung tumour.

She became a vegetarian 18 years ago - something which proved difficult in Siberia during filming for The Incredible Human Journey. "We stayed with a tribe who ate almost entirely meat and I had to take out a lot of packet food. Even some of the crew who were not vegetarians found they could not cope with all that reindeer meat for breakfast, lunch and tea!"

Alice, who has fond memories of her grandparents' garden in Chard, now grows her own vegetables. She tells me her favourite Somerset spots include Glastonbury and the Tor, as well as Crook Peak, which she climbed with her new husband and their two witnesses immediately after their wedding ceremony. A keen cyclist, Alice rides to work each morning and is a supporter of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans; she was present at the launch of Bristol's status as UK Cycling City.

Although she confesses to owning a petrol-powered four-wheel camper van (which she has resolved to do something about), Alice and Dave do try to make their home as environmentally friendly as they can. "All our heating is wood and solar, which works well, but we spend a lot of time chopping wood - or rather, my husband does!"

Dr Alice Roberts' book The Incredible Human Journey, is published by Bloomsbury.




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