TV presenter, explorer and naturalist Dwayne Fields FRGS talks about a childhood in Jamaica and London and his lifelong passion for the wild world

Where did you go to school?

I first went to infant school in rural Jamaica, and then I moved to London at age six. My first school was in Palmers Green, and then I went to the school next door St Michael at Bowes. My secondary school was in Arnos Grove, even though my Mum and I lived in Stokey (Stoke Newington). 

What was school like for you?

My school experience in Jamaica was very happy – I remember I loved learning – but my first experiences over here were very scary because there was no common ground.

I made some really good friends and didn’t struggle in terms of feeling bullied – beyond the first couple of months when my accent was different and I didn’t know which TV characters to talk about. But those early experiences of feeling out of place stayed with me. Even in secondary school I had a level of mistrust of people. Every day I would plot a route from Stoke Newington to Arnos Grove avoiding certain bus stops because that’s where other schools congregated and they’d pick on me.

Did you love school or hate it?

Neither. School was just something I had to go through. I tried to take part in everything but I never stuck to anything. I wasn’t an ignorant student – and I don’t want to blame anyone – but I just always felt like there was no support. Of course, through my studies much later on I discovered I am dyslexic.

There were some things culturally that I found difficult. There was never any room for debate with teachers. I can remember getting into arguments about whether cockroaches could fly and whether you could make coal. I’d seen cockroaches fly and people making charcoal in Jamaica with my own eyes. I’m a respectful person – I was raised in Jamaica by a great grandmother who never raised her voice and only ever showed disdain in a look – but teachers would take discussion and questions as troublemaking. I learned to stay away from questions and debates.

What were your favourite subjects and activities?

Geography and sciences were my favourite subjects. I also loved anything to do with technology. I came from a world that is very resourceful, so I was very hands-on as a kid and would take apart things like remote controls and then repurpose them.

Later, I went on to study electromechanical engineering at college and had an apprenticeship with London Underground for three years. Then when I went to work in banking I realised I was contemplating issues all the time. I discovered a real interest in psychology and went on to study for a psychology degree with international development and business management. 

Making of me: Dwayne Fields, on schooldays in Jamaica and London
Dwayne Fields’ love of nature began in rural Jamaica and continued throughout schooldays in London. Photo: Michael Wharley

Who were your favourite or most memorable teachers?

There were not many who stood out and made a difference to me. But one who did was Miss Dimitri, my very first teacher in the UK. I think she was just more sensitive, perhaps because she was dealing with younger people. I also remember my chemistry teacher Mr McGee. He carried things around in his pockets, like a rock that he’d tell you was giving off radiation but it wouldn’t harm you. He’d do these experiments, like putting magnesium in acid, and then he’d say ‘stand back’ as things started to fizz. He seemed a bit of an oddball, a bit like me, and he made things interesting so I’d take time to listen. He was energetic and passionate about what he was doing. He genuinely was one of the teachers who was going to make a difference to someone’s life, even if it wasn’t to mine.

Where was your favourite place / space at school and what did you do there?

In the beginning I tried to do all the things other children did, like hang out in the corner of the playground. But then I realised I just liked being in the open, especially near the playing fields. I just always wanted to be near something wild, something green.

What beliefs did your time at school instilled in you?

Much of what I’ve learned has been by myself. I don’t want it to sound like I don’t believe in school – but I think there are many kids like me who didn’t have their full potential tapped into. I enjoyed school more than I didn’t. But the things that send you rushing there – a great lesson, a great teacher or whatever –  I can’t remember rushing there for any of those things. I just remember the journey there was tough, sitting in classrooms was tough, trying to have an opinion was tough.

One of my biggest issues, still today, is that most teachers would go straight into teacher-student mode with no human interaction. I work with young people now – including as a UK mountain leader – and I think it’s a huge privilege. And there’s nothing that pleases me more than walking into a group and finding out how they all are and helping to improve their day just by taking a moment at the start to talk with them.

“Once we’ve got to a certain point in life it’s our responsibility to leave a trail of breadcrumbs – otherwise, what are we doing here?”

What was your proudest school moment?

It was in primary school – this is going to sound really silly. We were doing a play with Mr Jeffreys and he let us decide what it should be. We were going round the class deciding. Someone suggested Three Little Pigs and then I put my hand up and said: ‘what about instead of a wolf we have a crocodile?’. He said: ‘oh, that’s a great idea and I think you should be the crocodile’. I remember painting the box and drawing the teeth on and I was that crocodile. And when everyone clapped at the end of the play I felt like I was on cloud nine – best moment ever!

What was the most trouble you got into at school?

I never did anything to get into really big trouble. I just put my head down and tried to get through. There were times when I was a bit naughty. I used to climb over the school walls when we weren’t officially old enough to leave the school premises. I would go and buy sweets and then sell them to the other kids when I got back!

Were you ever too cool for school?

Far from it. I never missed school and I was never ever late. My uniform was always on point. In Jamaica you can’t present yourself scruffily and that stayed with me. It’s interesting how important I believed timing was. When I was in year 8 or 9 I lost my bus pass money. Mum told me I’d better walk. I used my lunch money that day and left home 90 minutes early and walked. After that, I stopped using bus pass money for the most part and walked to and from school instead – I was always on time.

What is your most vivid school memory, looking back now?

I had watched a TV programme. It was David Attenborough on the life of insects. I’ve always liked insects so I thought: ‘I’m going to use this as a conduit to make friends – this is the one new thing I can share with them’. I went into the school garden and gathered a handful of woodlice and centipedes and other creepy crawlies. I ran over the school playground to a group that I wanted to be my friends. When I opened my hands they all screamed and pointed and called me nasty. I’ve never felt so alone as in that moment!

When did your interest in the natural world begin?

In Jamaica. My great grandmother, great aunt and I were in a small rural community of seven or eight houses and around every house was woodland and fields. This is where I knew the world around me and was confident and capable. I was free and could explore. I remember I climbed a tree one day and stuck my hand in a hole and pulled out a parrot and that became my pet. At one stage I had a parrot, a dog, a cat, and a pig following me around.

When I came to London, I climbed a tree to get to a squirrel’s nest because I’d never seen squirrels before. A crowd began to gather below me and when I came down I had this strong sense I’d broken a cardinal rule. But I walked home with this baby squirrel – there’s still a picture of me with that squirrel somewhere. I’ve always had a way with animals. Even when I went to the North Pole this baby muskox decided I was its mum – for days it followed me around.

What other key influences / passions shaped you when you were growing up?

In Jamaica I remember loving learning things – even now I’m very much a fun facts person – but we didn’t have any books in the house so it wasn’t easy to carry on learning after school. Then when I came to London, we had this set of encyclopaedias and I remember the wonder of reading and drawing and copying and learning things. And when I was about seven I discovered a book called ‘How to Do Just About Everything’ and I lived in that book. Just about everything I could think about doing was contained in there!

D Fields Copy
Dwayne Fields’ next adventure with Phoebe Smith is to Antarctica – the aim is to take young people from across the UK

What projects and challenges are coming up next for you?

As part of #WeTwo Foundation, Phoebe Smith and I are running a trip. We are fundraising to take 10 young people from across the UK to Antarctica – a mix of backgrounds, but young people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity. It’s going to be the world’s first carbon negative trip. They don’t have to pay a penny but they do have to offset all the carbon the trip produces and then they have to share their experiences with their peers. We will give them all the tools they need going forward and we want them to be ambassadors and leaders in conveying the experience. We are asking youth workers, support staff, social workers, friends and family to nominate young people who should join us.

It’s an exciting project, and an important one. Once we’ve got to a certain point in life it’s our responsibility to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to help others along. It’s our responsibility to share knowledge across the whole community. Otherwise, what are we doing here?

How would you sum up your school days in five words?

A difficult time well spent.

* To find out more about Dwayne Fields’ work, visit For more about the #WeToo Foundation trip, visit

Further reading: Isabella Pappas talks about schooldays at ArtsEd