Hamza: Strictly Birds of Prey review – a solid hour of utter loveliness from the Strictly winner

Cameraman Hamza Yassin takes us to his Scottish village home for adorable meetings with locals – and magnificent encounters with eagles and ospreys. It’s joyful, escapist TV

Whoever booked Hamza Yassin for Strictly Come Dancing last year should get a cash bonus. His victory, achieved via public voting after he finished last on the judges’ scoring in the final, confirmed that Britain felt a warm privilege in having been introduced to an unassuming wildlife cameraman who was nearly unknown before he stepped on to the dancefloor. Pure of heart and unlimited in his enthusiasm, Hamza is a pearl.

One of the perks of winning Strictly is the unspoken understanding that the winner can front a BBC documentary in their area of expertise a few months later, and here is Hamza: Strictly Birds of Prey, his guide to Britain’s most impressive raptors. Camera and tripod over his shoulder, binoculars around his neck, Yassin is on a quest to show that his home country is full of places where spotters of winged predators can find joy.

First, though, there’s more getting to know him, and it is this introductory section that provides the loveliest moments of a programme that’s basically a solid hour of lovely moments. Having arrived here from Sudan aged eight, Yassin took the bold decision to move to Kilchoan, a village on the west coast of Scotland, when he was 21, knowing nobody. The community have almost literally adopted him: a married couple called Chris and Amanda are in loco parentis, with Chris offering practical advice and Amanda emotional guidance, which was key when Yassin was in the middle of the Strictly swirl. We see footage of a rammed village hall, everyone gathered around a big screen showing the grand final. When Tess Daly says “HAMZA!”, the place goes bananas.

It’s almost a disappointment when we have to leave Kilchoan’s bosom to go and look at some birds, although the first ones aren’t far away – hence Yassin choosing the western Highlands in the first place. At the top of his list is the white-tailed eagle. “They are powerful, majestic, beautiful, charismatic, intelligent,” he says. “They are what I think of when I wake up.”

When we’ve seen those birds hunting barnacle geese – as featured previously in Wild Isles, some of which Yassin shot – it’s time to go farther afield … to Ealing, where peregrine falcons can be seen around the hospital if you know when to go and where to look. Here we get a quick insight into the wildlife cameraman’s trade, as Yassin works with two spotters, acting as his eyes when the falcons are swooping and his own gaze is consumed by the viewfinder. Soon, a peregrine is tracked down to its regular perch, the side of a railway viaduct, where it plucks the feathers from a ring-necked parakeet.

Gradually, a message about conservationism emerges. Yassin returns to the Highlands to visit the Loch Garten nature reserve, telling the story of the pair of ospreys who decamped there in 1954. Their nest was under threat from egg thieves until the RSPB mobilised, its members keeping watch in their dozens. The ospreys are still there, under loving surveillance, and these days there’s a webcam for closeups. Come together to look after these precious animals, Yassin says, also popping to Wildland in the Cairngorms, where the depleted hen harrier population could use our support.

This is not, however, a hectoring demand. Yassin, and the colleagues he reunites with on his travels, are all about the sheer pleasure of witnessing the magnificence of the natural world in person. Early one morning on the marshes of Somerset, Yassin and cameraman Simon King stand, rapt, as dragonflies – a favourite food of the migrating hobby – gather in their hundreds among the reeds, turning their wings towards the first sunbeams of the day. The location, restored as a habitat having not long ago been the grim site of industrial peat digging, is exceptional, but King explains that one need not travel to such places to feel that wildlife glow. “There’s always somewhere where the real world prevails. It can be a crack in the pavement, a park in the city. It can be the sky.” In Sussex, the photographer David Plummer has created his own haven for nature in his back garden. Yassin, disguised as a mossy knoll, gets to see and film a tawny owl.

Joining a project to conserve and monitor golden eagles in the Cairngorms, Yassin brings the good news that such efforts have seen numbers of this incredible animal rise in the UK. He used to spot them in the hide he built near Kilchoan; returning there to conclude his journey, he finds a note from fellow birdwatchers, secured in a plastic bag, thanking him for inspiring them to see the eagles too. He beams: “People are awesome. Humanity is amazing!” Watching this stirringly positive, wonderfully escapist film, you can believe it.

• Hamza: Strictly Birds of Prey aired on BBC One and is on iPlayer now.


Jack Seale

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story review – hour after hour of boredom
It was the amazingly bizarre legal battle that got us all excited. Sadly, this tedious trudge through dry Rooney biography does not do the same

Lucy Mangan

18, Oct, 2023 @4:00 AM

Article image
The Piano review – Claudia Winkleman’s new talent show is an utter delight
The sheer wonder of tinkling the ivories is showcased in this new series’ diverse selection of instant stars. They perform in train stations, wow commuters and are absolutely fascinating

Jack Seale

15, Feb, 2023 @10:00 PM

Article image
Dodger review – this hilarious Dickens prequel is an utter treat
Nicola Coughlan! Lennie Rush! Paul Whitehouse! This festive special of the Christopher Eccleston-fronted show is a supremely funny, star-packed delight

Jack Seale

03, Dec, 2023 @5:45 PM

Article image
The Great Climate Fight review – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall goes ‘not strictly legal’
Kevin McCloud is undercover, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall does some flyposting and Mary Portas sends a Jilly Cooper book to the PM. This government-baiting show is impressively angry TV

Chitra Ramaswamy

21, Nov, 2023 @10:15 PM

Article image
Three Little Birds review – Lenny Henry’s Windrush drama is way too sanitised
The star’s semi-autobiographical period drama about Jamaican immigrants moving to England in the 50s fails to get under the skin of its characters. It needs more grit

Ellen E Jones

22, Oct, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
Grime Kids review – so joyous you’ll want to get out your Discman and blast So Solid Crew
Set in the early 00s, DJ Target’s book about the birth of grime becomes a fun, infectious look at a group of mates trying to make it in music. It’s as box-fresh as a new pair of Reeboks

Leila Latif

13, Nov, 2023 @10:50 PM

Article image
Anton and Giovanni’s Adventures in Sicily review – the Strictly stars’ bond is so moving it will make you weep
This is much more than a celebrity travelogue – it’s the tale of a charming and genuine friendship. These two are a ray of hope in an age of toxic masculinity

Lucy Mangan

21, Mar, 2023 @10:00 PM

Article image
Ukraine from Above: Secrets from the Frontline review – the startling tale of how a child destroyed Russian tanks
This documentary’s drone-based perspective on the war is like little else – from amateurs talking about stopping tanks with homemade equipment to aerial footage of dropped grenades

Jack Seale

19, Feb, 2023 @11:00 PM

Article image
The Case Against Cosby review – a revelatory story from the woman who brought him down
This powerful film rails against a legal system that so often fails victims of sexual assault. It is a vivid, intimate – and ultimately redemptive – look at trauma

Rebecca Nicholson

10, Aug, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
Colin from Accounts review – at last, a female character that’s not a stereotype!
This unfailingly funny, perfectly acted Australian sitcom features a lead that’s neither a hot mess nor a manic pixie dream girl. It’s honest, kind and goes from strength to strength

Lucy Mangan

11, Apr, 2023 @9:30 PM