Ella is a National Geographic Explorer, palaeoanthropologist, evolutionary biologist... and stand-up comic. She 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 are being neglected because of instability, which is tragic because some of these places represent the frontline of science and exploration. She also believes that development is not just about aid, it is also about science and empowering locals. Ella is a stand-up comedian and uses comedy as a coping strategy and 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. She has also finished filming a series with Channel 4 in the Amazon and a series with the BBC Natural History Unit in Tanzania. 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 featured in The Times, The Telegraph, The Sun among other publications and 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.
She has two books coming out next year, one about the history and anthropology of the handshake with Profile Books and she edited a children’s book on Dinosaurs for BBC Books. She is also making a 5 part radio series with her brother Abubakr Al-Shamahi for the BBC World Service, to commemorate and reflect on the 10 year anniversary of the Arab Spring.