Covering science, the environment, geography, history and culture in a distinctive photojournalistic format, National Geographic is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable and widely read magazines. Australia-born, Hong Kong-based filmmaker, activist and entrepreneur Craig Leeson, best known for documentaries including A Plastic Ocean (2016) and The Last Glaciers (2022), tells Richard Lord how it changed his life. My parents gave me a subscription to National Geographic magazine when I was about eight. I used to immerse myself in it, and it gave me an understanding of different places, cultures and wildlife. As a child, I had a thirst for knowledge. It wasn’t reading that I enjoyed so much as the curiosity of finding things out. In those days there was no internet, so I had to read. There were two main sources for me: Encyclopaedia Britannica , particularly about wildlife, and National Geographic, which was more immediate, with what was happening in exploration, adventure, culture. It told stories that would take me to a different place. I got a sense that there were all these amazing worlds elsewhere. I can remember the excitement of receiving National Geographic . Every month the anticipation would build up, waiting for the postie to arrive. I remember the smell of the ink and paper. How reading How Women Rise changed the life of this jewellery expert It wasn’t just the stories in it; I was also interested in the people making it. There would be a breakout paragraph, describing how someone was an explorer or photographer in residence. I was fascinated by how they got to be in that role and became the person to tell that story. I thought: there are people out there who have this wonderful job. It drove me to become that person. The photographs were as impressive as the stories, because they told a story of their own. You felt you could almost see and touch and smell the cultures. I got a job at the local paper (in Burnie, Tasmania). It gave me a voice, which I realised I could do something with. I grew up in a surfing town, but it also had a lot of industry, and I looked into why it had a high incidence of cancer and why my eyes were red after going in the water. I realised that storytelling applied in the right way could be very powerful and could get people to change their minds. I could do something good to protect the environment. In A Plastic Ocean , I reference a National Geographic article – the first time I’d read about blue whales. It showed the number of humans you could stack against a blue whale. It blew me away: they’re the biggest animals on Earth, but we’ve hunted them to a point where they’re so hard to find. That propelled me to find out more about animals and what humans are doing to them. I used to collect National Geographic . When I left home to enter the big wide world on my own, I left a suitcase of them under my old bed to protect them. My father found it and sold them at a car boot sale for next to nothing, and they were worth a lot. Once he realised the enormity of his mistake, he started trying to find copies, and he’s managed to get me a reasonable collection of magazines from since my date of birth. I have that collection now, sitting on my shelf in Hong Kong. Sometimes I take one out, and it fills me with wonderment and memories of my childhood.