Ella Al-Shamahi

Explorer, Palaeoanthropologist, Evolutionary Biologist And Stand-Up Comic
© Clare Jones, BBC Natural History Unit

Ella is a National Geographic Explorer, palaeoanthropologist, evolutionary biologist... and stand-up comic. Her debut book The Handshake is a Times and Sunday Times Book of the Year.

Ella specialises in Neanderthals, caves and expeditions in hostile, disputed and unstable territories. She almost exclusively works in places it is hard to get insurance, such as Iraq, Yemen, Nagorno-Karabakh and places she can’t publicly admit to. From heading up exploratory expeditions to joining cave excavations, the conditions can be unusual, from avoiding landmines to wearing a burqa for security reasons.

Ella believes that this is a risk worth taking because huge parts of the planet’s scientific potential is being ignored due to instability. She argues that realistically, these places will become the frontline of science and exploration. She also believes that development is not just about aid, it is also about science and empowering locals. As a stand-up, Ella uses comedy as a coping strategy, but also to communicate science. She passionately believes that knowledge and science can empower locals and help with sustainable development.

Ella performs nerdy stand-up internationally from the Bloomsbury Theatre to the National Geographic main stage in DC and has taken 4 stand-up shows to the Edinburgh Fringe. She was a 2019 TED main stage speaker where her TED talk has been viewed more than 2 million times. She was also a TEDxNashville speaker and is a Keynote speaker at various international and corporate events.

In 2018 Ella was the presenter and associate producer for BBC Two's science series, Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors, as well as Horizon: Body Clock - What Makes Your Body Tick. She then went on to present a National Geographic show on Viking Warrior Women where during filming she discovered what might be the first evidence of a battle injury on a female Viking warrior. This discovery was widely reported on by the international press. Last year alone she also presented on programmes such as Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon (Channel 4) and Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis (BBC2). She is currently filming 3 TV projects from the BBC, Channel 4 and National Geographic. Only one of these has been announced What Killed The Whale for Channel 4. She has also just completed a BBC World Service radio series with her brother journalist Abubakr Al-Shamahi. The 5 part-series commemorates and reflects on the 10 year anniversary of the Arab Spring. She is currently recording a pilot podcast for BBC Sounds.

Ella has also been featured twice in National Geographic Magazine, and was a co-guest Editor for the first UK edition of National Geographic Magazine. She has also been extensively featured in publications like The Times, The Telegraph and The Sun. She has contributed to radio programmes such as BBC Radio 4’s Midweek and BBC World Service’s Outlook.

She holds a BSc in Genetics from University College London, an MSc in Taxonomy and Biodiversity from Imperial College London/Natural History Museum and is currently undertaking a PhD in Neanderthal rates of evolution at University College London. Her book The Handshake: A Gripping History (Profile Books) is about the history and anthropology of the handshake and came out in March 2021.

For comedy enquiries please contact Christian Knowles at Blue Book Artist Management.



The Secrets of Tutankhamun's Tomb , 2022 (Channel 4)

What Killed The Whale, 2022 (Channel 4)

Our Changing Planet, 2022 (BBC One)

Waterhole: Africa's Animal Oasis, 2020 (BBC Two)

Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon, 2020 (Channel 4)

Viking Warrior Women, 2019 (National Geographic)

Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors, 2018 (BBC Two and PBS) 

Horizon: Body Clock - What Makes Us Tick?, 2018 (BBC Two)


Ella Al-Shamahi & Susie Steed: Gold Diggers, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2019

TED Talk: The Fascinating (and dangerous) Places that Scientist Aren't Exploring, TED, 2019


The Handshake, A Gripping History, 2021 (Profile Books)

The Story of Dinosaurs, due 2021 (BBC Books)


The Compass: My Arab Spring, 2021 (BBC World Service)