Sir Michael Palin says confronting slavery in Nigeria series was ‘uncomfortable’

Sir Michael Palin has said he found it “uncomfortable” to confront what happened in the transatlantic slave trade in new docuseries Michael Palin In Nigeria.

In the three-part series, the actor, comedian and TV presenter embarks on a 1,300-mile journey across the West African country and visits Gberefu Island, also known as the Point Of No Return, where he retraces the steps captured people would have taken before boarding slave ships.

The 80-year-old said: “The lady who I was with, she knew an awful lot about the slave trade and talked about it really well.

“There was no getting away from what she was telling me, nor did I particularly want to get away.”

Discussing what stood out to him when he visited the beach, Sir Michael said: “It was just the contrast between the beauty of the beach, I mean that would be on brochures anywhere else.

“It was the most beautiful beach, lovely, beautiful palm trees and all the sand and everything and yet it had been this sort of terrible trading ground for the worst kind of oppression, but that made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

“But we’d just try and take it in and kind of put yourself in the place of those people who had been driven along… there was a great brutality.”

Speaking about their decision to visit the Point Of No Return, he added: “We discussed this… and generally it felt, you’ve got to confront this and there’s no way of avoiding it, nor would we want to avoid it.

“At the same time, you can’t change anything now. It happened. You’ve just got to admit that it happened and talk about what happened.”

According to the National Archives, Britain was the most dominant slave-trading country between 1640 and 1807 and it is estimated that they transported 3.1 million Africans (of whom 2.7 million arrived) to the British colonies.

Produced by ITN Productions, the docuseries follows the 2022 series Michael Palin: Into Iraq and the Bafta-nominated Michael Palin In North Korea.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Sir Michael Palin being knighted (Yui Mok/PA)

The Monty Python star is known for his globetrotting BBC travel programmes, which have seen him visit locations including the Himalayas and North and South Poles.

Some of his books, including his Travelling To Work diaries, contain accounts of his travels around the world.

Sir Michael was knighted for services to travel, culture and geography in 2019.

The first episode of Michael Palin In Nigeria airs on Channel 5 at 9pm on Tuesday.