Art Attack’s reserved fan

Neil Buchanan

Neil Buchanan lives in the Tillingham Valley and is a regular visitor to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. Emma Chaplin from Sussex Wildlife Trust caught up with him over the phone to find out how he’s getting on.

“Many people will know you as a TV presenter, but you’re also an artist and musician. Tell us a bit more about yourself.”

I grew up in Aintree, Merseyside and attended the Liverpool Institute. Sir Paul McCartney went there too and, when it later went downhill, he bought it out and transformed it into LIPA, the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts.

Other than the city centre, Liverpool had so many open fields, brooks, ponds, hedges, farmland. All gone now. I grew up loving birds. I loved making Airfix models, and there was something about birds and flight that really appealed to me.

I’ve always been creative, and feel fortunate to have made a living out of it. You need three things to be successful creatively, a bit of talent, some luck, and a lot of drive. I’ve always found people to help me with drive.

Battle of the Bands

I worked in a tax office for two years after leaving school to earn enough to buy a guitar. I applied for art college, but they turned me down because I was a musician. I was part of a band who won the first ever Battle of the Bands in the early 80s, which was a bit like the X-Factor of the day. For four years or so we toured the world, then our management went bankrupt.

I found a slot on the telly, so many people know me from Art Attack and other programmes. What runs through my veins is “failed rock star”. I’ve always loved music, art, and writing and photography. And I’ve managed to do all of those things. But after I retired from the telly, I wanted to paint for myself, not for other people. Unfortunately my art exhibitions this year have been postponed due to the virus so I am exhibiting on my website.

“How’s lockdown been?”

I now live in the beautiful Tillingham Valley, where I’ve got my own recording studio, so lockdown hasn’t been too bad for me. I’ve got enough people around (my son was here for part of lockdown, and he’s a musician, so that was great). And I’m ok at getting on with projects on my own. I’ve seen an incredible number of birds here. Red Kites, Crossbills, Peregrine. I’ve got a 5.5 acre paddock which I’ve left to become a meadow, which probably helps.

“You’re a regular visitor to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve?”

Yes, there was a time when I’d go five or six times a week. The early shift. I’d often speak to members of the reserve team. My favourite part is Castle Water, the viewing platform, where I got my Bearded Tit fix. Also, Bittern and Marsh Harrier.

Kingfisher was hiding

My favourite incident there was in one of the hides. I was on my own and saw a kingfisher on a pole on Castle Water. I took a photo, then a lot of other people came in, so I mentioned it then left. They were all hanging out of the windows with their binoculars trying to see it. I turned back as I was walking away and spotted the kingfisher had flown on top of the hide.

“What do you think about the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre?”

I can’t wait for it to open. It’s fabulous for Rye, for education and for the future. It’s fantastic from a design point of view. I love, when you walk away, you can’t see it. It blends in (or will, when all of the contractor fencing has been taken down). I’ve been promised the finest coffee and I can’t wait to try it. And the loos too!

Footnote: Access to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is currently extremely restricted from Rye Harbour Village, due to work being carried out digging a service trench. Please check for more information before travelling, especially people with mobility challenges

If you’d like to find out more about the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre, or to support it, see here

For more of Neil’s art and photography, see here

Image Credits: Daryl Jones .


  1. Neil’s early career as a head banger playing heavy metal music must’ve numbed his memory as Marseille won the inaugural ‘Battle of the Bands’ in 1977, not the early 1980s, and it was barely three weeks after his 16th birthday!
    It’s surprising he was rejected from art school because he was a musician since John Lennon and George Harrison met at Liverpool School of Art; Keith Richard’s went to Sidcup Art School; and Joe Strummer and Sade went to Central St Martin’s art school.
    “She studied sculpture at Saint Martin’s College, that’s where I, caught her eye,” crooned Jarvis Cocker in the immortal opening line to Pulp’s Common People, since Sheffield-born, working class Cocker studied Fine Art and Film (but not sculpture) at Central Saint Martins.
    The list of rock and pop stars who went to Britain’s art schools is very long.
    Maybe the admissions tutor wasn’t overly keen on heavy metal when Neil came knocking on the door!
    Incidentally, the judges of the first Battle of the Bands were Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen. Maybe a grateful Neil referenced them with his long running TV show as Queen’s 1974 album was called Sheer Heart Attack!


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