Adventurers are ten-a-penny these days. Every new reality TV show spawns another new daredevil, desperate to make a name for themselves by doing something crazy. If you’ve watched Joey Essex in Africa you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Do they inspire us? Unlikely. Will they last? Probably.
We were first introduced to Ben Fogle in Castaway 2000 – TV’s original reality series set on the remote, uninhabited Scottish island of Taransay. Lasting a full year, thirty-six men, women and children were tasked with building a sustainable self-sufficient community as part of a bold millennium experiment, filming everything themselves along the way. The Big Brother house this was not. The community reared their own animals, built a wind turbine and a hydro-electric dam, and lived in turf covered eco pods.
There was no winner, no prize, and no magazine deal at the end of Castaway 2000. But for Ben, a successful career as a television presenter and genuine adventurer beckoned.
A real life adventurer might swim with crocodiles, row 3000 miles across the Atlantic, run 260km across the Sahara Desert or race across the Antarctic Plateau. Ben’s ticked all four off his adventure list. But what really makes an adventurer?
Ben, here at Source Magazine we’re calling this the ‘Summer of Adventure’, which chimes nicely with your quest to find Britain’s next great adventurer. Tell us about your involvement…
I have teamed up with Mumm Champagne, Land Rover and Canada Goose to find Britain’s next adventurer. I belong to a club of adventurers, climbers, sailors and mavericks who have excelled in the art of adventure and we wanted to help someone else off the starting grid.
(If you provide the winning idea for the competition, Ben and his team of fellow adventurers including Bear Grylls and Sir Ranulph Fiennes will provide the expertise to make it happen this year.)
There’s a real appetite for adventure these days, amongst people from all walks of life and all backgrounds. What do you think is the catalyst for this?
I think that the evolution in technology has created an increasingly static, cocooned way of life. People are looking for ways to escape the conformity and consistency of modern day life.
All of your adventures include quite a large chunk of risk. Is risk an important ingredient in adventure travel? Or is the ‘risk’ part optional?
There is no adventure without risk. Adventure is merely a form of taking yourself out of your comfort zone, which inevitably entails a degree of risk. Apart from that, it is up to the individual to decide the degree of risk and it’s important to manage that risk through planning and preparation.
Many of our readers will be in the mountains as they read this interview, many on family holidays. Having a young family of your own, can you give us your top three adventure breaks with kids in tow?
We just returned from a family holiday in Tanzania. Camping, safari and epic landscapes. Ludo is five and Iona is three, but they loved it. It gave them a little window into another way of life. We have also taken them to Mozambique. They loved the simplicity of island life. I plan to take them all to Iceland this winter, I’ve just returned from there and I fell in love with the place and the landscape.
When you volunteered to take part in Castaway 2000, did you anticipate that it would be as life changing as it was for you? And do you keep in touch with the others from the island?
It was the first of the reality shows and I had no idea it would lead to all the opportunities that it did. It’s 15 years since I was marooned. I returned with my wife for our honeymoon and we had a reunion five years ago. Sadly, the island has since been sold.
Of all your amazing adventures, which did you find the most challenging? And which was the most rewarding?
Rowing the Atlantic was arguably the most challenging but trekking across Antarctica was the most rewarding. I never thought I’d have the chance to visit Antarctica and I’ve since returned to make a documentary about Captain Scott’s hut.
Do you have any fears? Has there been a time when you’ve thought, ‘nope. That’s a step too far’?
Of course. I would be doing something wrong if I never felt fear. Fear for fear’s sake but also fear of failure. I am terrified of heights. Jumping out of an aeroplane the first time on my own during a solo skydive was pretty scary. Scuba diving with wild Nile crocs in Botswana was also pretty nerve wracking.
If my other half were about to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic or dive between tectonic plates in Iceland, I’d likely feel a little anxious. How does your wife cope with your thirst for adventure?
Our marriage is founded on trust and respect. I proposed to Marina shortly after I had rowed across the Atlantic so I think it’s fair to say she knew what she was letting herself in for. Occasionally she will put her foot down. I’ve suggested climbing Everest, which didn’t go down well!
During the series ‘New Lives in the Wild’ you visited some fascinating places. Did any of them inspire or tempt you? Can you see yourself relocating to the Swedish Arctic Circle, for example? Or farming coconuts in the Philippines?
I’d love to move to a remote wilderness. In all my travels I am still yet to find my own wild utopia. I have always loved Northern Europe and Scandinavia. I have a romantic idea about building my own little cabin on a Norwegian fjord or a Swedish island.
Here’s a few facts that our readers might not know about you. You made your acting debut in Hotel Babylon. You have a wax work at Madame Tussauds. What else don’t we know?
I was once in the Royal Navy as a Midshipman officer.
What and where’s next?
I am off to Cuba, then Laos, Costa Rica, Canada and Botswana. That will take me to June!