John Pakenham was born in Zanzibar, where his father was a colonial officer. He was still a small child when his family returned to England.
After schooling in Bath, he studied theatre design and spent several years working in provincial and West End theatres. He then moved into the film industry as a special effects technician. He was one of the team responsible for the robot R2D2 in The Empire Strikes Back.
Fascinated by the journeys of past adventurers, he befriended the last of the old-school explorers, Wilfred Thesiger, who encouraged him, between movies, to travel without modern comforts, using only map and compass, donkeys and camels. That created the foundation for the treks described in Walks on the Wild Side.
He believes passionately in the need to protect the planet and its wild creatures from the damage caused by humans.
He and his wife now live in Norfolk.