5th June 2007, 7:45 WST
It has been almost two years since fans of Samuel Johnson got a good dose of aural satisfaction from the man who could have even the most devout vegetarian yearning for a Whopper.
But the bloke with the velvet voice is returning to the small screen as the high-energy presenter of Bluelist Australia, a fresh new four-part travel show on SBS.
A Bluelist is described as “recommending a travel experience” and the show is based on the Lonely Planet’s Bluelist, which started as a book before being developed into a website.
Bluelist Australia delves into some of Australia’s favourite destinations, presented in a “best of” format, ranging from conventional travel ideas such as Tastiest Food Safaris (part one) and Best Place To Get A Culture Fix (part two) to the more outrageous Top Spots To Take The Plunge (part two) and Top Natural Highs (part four).
A self-confessed gypsy, the former Secret Life of Us star said travelling was in his blood from an early age and he was thrilled to land a gig which would pay him to do what he loved. “If I plant myself for too long, I start to go insane,” he said. “The idea of settling down just doesn’t quite wash with me yet.”
He names a trip to China and Mongolia as his best overseas travel experience, but it was an encounter a little bit closer to home which landed him in front of the camera.
Johnson filmed a Bluelist of his own as an audition tape for the job — skydiving over the Great Ocean Road in Torquay.
“I caught the skydiving bug recently, thanks to a braver friend than me, and I can’t get enough of it now,” he said. “I’ve only done two jumps but I’m desperate for more. It’s a bit like tattoos — once you start you can’t stop.
“I knew the job was coming up and I was going anyway, so I filmed a bit of an intro and somehow got away with it.”
After spending 15 years as an actor, being told not to look at the camera, Johnson said it was difficult to adjust to looking straight down the barrel — which he does often and in close-up as the Bluelist presenter.
“It was really different for me, I’m settling into it, but it’s almost a different game entirely to acting,” he said. “As an actor, you’re used to getting scripts and a lot of presenting work is not strictly script based, so I feel like I’m in freefall in a way. I just tried to relax and be myself, within the pretty wacky framework.”
Rather than rehash the same hosts in each episode, Bluelist Australia has eight different travellers, including Johnson, from wide and varied walks of life, giving each story a different feel and sound.
The first episode features loud and effusive comic H.G. Nelson taking viewers on a tour of Australia’s tastiest food regions, followed by a journey of urban adventures with the more modest nature of actress and writer Marieke Hardy.
Nelson’s brash and open style is a refreshing change from the polished-to-perfection performances we’ve come to expect from TV presenters. “If Stefano doesn’t like it, I’ll punch him in the head,” Nelson says after choosing a wine to go with dinner prepared by Mildura restaurateur Stefano de Pieri.
Other hosts in the series are Triple J radio host Robbie Buck, former world champion surfer Barton Lynch, actress Susie Porter, young gun sailor Jesse Martin and MAX music channel host Yumi Stynes.
Viewers will be pleased to note that WA travel spots made the cut in several Bluelist categories. Margaret River is named as the third tastiest food spot in the country and AC/DC frontman Bon Scott’s grave in Fremantle is named as a must-do pilgrimage.
Johnson says sand surfing in Kalbarri was another local adventure which made the Bluelist, but his plans to grab that trip for himself were thwarted by Barton Lynch. “Unfortunately Barton stole sand surfing in WA,” Johnson said.
As much as he sings the praises of WA, Johnson has yet to visit the west coast of Australia, a fact he’s not proud of.
“I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to WA before,” he said. “A couple of times my plans have been thwarted through work but I definitely want to get down to Margaret River.” Bluelist Australia premieres tomorrow on SBS at 8pm