Interview: Mark Thompson – 'There are some really fascinating things out there in the world'
The TV presenter tells us how his enthusiasm for science started young – and never left him
Mark Thompson was ten years old when science first hit him square between the eyes.
'My dad took me along to our local astronomy club,' he recalls, 'I saw Saturn through a telescope and I was totally hooked. I had no real interest in science before that, but ever since then I've been captivated.'
The 10-year-old boy may have grown up to become a presenter on the BBC's Stargazing Live, a regular on Radio 5 Live and guest on The One Show – but that enthusiastic child is still in there somewhere. Which is perhaps why Thompson is so well suited to encouraging others to explore the wonders of science.
'I've still got that boyish enthusiasm for the world of nature,' he says. 'And that takes you down all the different routes of science: physics, chemistry, biology, geology – it's all fascinating.'
Heading to the Fringe to present Mark Thompson's Spectacular Science Show, where he'll make beakers disappear, Pringles' tubes explode and do strange things with elephants' toothpaste, Thompson thinks the secret of his success is his own attitude to science.
'I've been to lectures where the speaker just doesn't seem to be enthused by the subject,' he says. 'And if they're not enthused by it, how on earth is the audience going to be? So I think having a genuine fascination and excitement about the topic makes a huge difference to how it's perceived.'
Although Thompson has spent the past 20 years becoming an expert in the field of astronomy, when it comes to engaging family audiences he recognises that star-gazing will only take him so far. Which is why he's borrowed from other scientific fields to keep everyone entertained.
'With astronomy, there's only so much you can do physically and practically,' he says. 'So rather than just show loads of pictures, which kids would get bored with in about five minutes, I delve into other parts of science – bits of chemistry, physics and other subjects – to try and make science more engaging for children.'
We're all suckers for messy explosions and magic trickery, so it's unlikely Thompson will struggle to keep his audience captivated. But will they be learning anything they can take home or into the classroom?
'It's really about making it interesting visually, so that I can throw in lots of little bits of information along the way, just to reinforce it,' explains Thompson. 'But people probably won't even know they're being educated at the same time. That's certainly the plan – to entertain both adults and children, and educate them without them even realising it.'
Thompson refuses to give away any details, but promises plenty of opportunities for audience participation during the show. Because, as he says, 'watching and listening is one thing, but actually doing is what makes a difference'.
But it's not just the lucky ones chosen to help Thompson on stage that he hopes will be inspired to get stuck in to science. Some of the experiments he carries out can easily be replicated at home.
'Trying for yourself and experimenting is one of the most important things,' he says. 'And I hope people come away from the show thinking wow, science is actually quite fun and isn't just about lab coats and test tubes – that there are some really fascinating things out there in the world.'
Mark Thompson's Spectacular Science Show, Gilded Balloon at the Museum, 5–14 Aug, 4.30pm, £8 (£6). Preview 4 Aug, £6.