Presenting Piers

13th May 2015

News, Alumni news

Wadham alumnus Piers Gibbon (1985, Human Sciences) has experienced drinking hallucinogenic juices, eating a still-beating heart and sharing dinner with some hospitable cannibals. 

  • Piers Gibbon

A TV presenter, writer, conference host and prolific voiceover artist he presented Headshrinkers of the Amazon, Dining With Cannibals (filmed in Papua New Guinea) and the series The Witch Doctor Will See You Now. Before all that he presented Jungle Trip on Channel 4 back in 2000 and the series Tasting History for ITV. Piers will be sharing anecdotes from his career so far with alumni when he speaks at the Wadham Alumni Dinner in September 2015.

The research skills that Piers learned as part of his Human Sciences degree have stood him in good stead for his career in television. “Human Sciences has the most amazing scope, enabling me to delve into 32 different ‘ologies’. It gave me the tools to research and evaluate and in fact my first television programme evolved from my undergraduate thesis where I had studied hallucinogenic plants used in tribal societies.”

His first presenting work was Jungle Trip which followed him into Peru for an extensive scarification involving the native hallucinogenic drink ayahuasca and having frog poison burned into his skin.

It also involved ingesting a live millipede as one of the few westerners to be inducted into the shamanic tradition of “yachay” (swallowing the magical phlegm of a maestro).

Born in Lincolnshire, Piers was educated at Westminster School (his contemporaries include Nick Clegg and Helena Bonham Carter), where English “was my thing” he says.

On reaching the sixth form Piers was faced with a difficult decision: “I had a place to study Drama at the Central School of Music and Drama and had to decide whether to accept it or try for Oxford. My girlfriend was studying Human Sciences at Magdalen College and she sent me a copy of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, saying you’re interested in too many things to concentrate on Drama, and encouraging me to apply for Oxford. “I am glad I took that decision.”

Play Headshrinkers of the Amazon

Piers turned up for his interview at Wadham wearing a three piece suit which he had bought in a charity shop. “I felt such a dork being the only one in a suit, but when I was interviewed by my tutor-to-be Richard Passingham, he made me feel better saying ‘you look like you are here to work’ going on to tell me that being at Oxford would be like working in a full time job.”

“I was not a model Oxford student” admits Piers who confesses to “wasting every hour of every day doing Drama.” As a member of OUDS, he performed in Richard III and Peter Pan at the Playhouse and managed to take part in two plays each term. “I was convinced that I would have an acting career and wanted to take advantage of every opportunity.”

He ran up a large battels bill once he discovered that via a ‘weird loophole’ you could get bottles of port on battels. Feeling the need to redeem himself, on finding a wallet in the street, Piers went to some trouble to track down its owner and return it. “The guy was so grateful he asked if he could do anything in return and I suggested that dropping a line to the Warden, Sir Claus Moser, letting him know what I had done, would be helpful. It worked  - I was congratulated by the Warden for my good deed.”

After graduation Piers became an actor for a few years, working with the English Shakespeare Company and doing television and radio work before deciding to focus on TV presentation.

He now has recorded more than 300 hundred hours of documentaries for the BBC, NatGeo, Discovery, Channel 4, Channel 5 as well as commercials for BMW and The Royal Bank of Scotland. Other voiceover highlights include work for Oxfam, the Royal Television Society award winning Risky Business series, and David Attenborough’s Birds of Paradise for the BBC.

Piers published his first book Tribe; Endangered peoples around the world in 2000, and spends much of his time working with live audiences, moderating discussion and running Q and A sessions. He also trains people in public speaking and hosts awards ceremonies and conferences.

Interestingly, Piers also plays the Jews Harp and has appeared on a worldwide top ten hit - a skill we are hopeful he might share with us when he speaks at the Alumni Dinner on 12 September…