Al Gordon meets Britain’s best-known outdoors expert
Survival expert, soldier, television host, youngest ever Chief Scout – and now author of new book Extreme Food… there’s very little that Edward Michael Grylls – or Bear, as he’s more commonly known – cannot do when he puts his mind to it. And according to him, the same could be said for you: “The determination to keep going despite the pain – that’s in all of us; it’s how we’re made,” Grylls explains. “Sometimes it gets covered up in life by a lot of fluff, but when things go wrong that’s nature’s way of blowing that fluff off and you get to see what people are really made of. It’s in us all.”
Although climbing Everest, eating raw bugs and writing a book about it may seem insurmountable to some, Grylls insists it’s not, although he admits it takes a bit of scratching beneath the surface to find the strength. “And also practice. The more you kind of get used to hardships and discomfort, the better you become at coping with it. It’s definitely in everyone, it’s just about grit and heart.”
Since first traversing the Sahara during his television debut, Escape to the Legions, back in 2005, Grylls has become a fixture on our screens, most recently with Man vs Wild, now airing on Discovery. The show sees Grylls partnering up with such Hollywood luminaries as Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller on more unfamiliar terrain for the actors. “There are so many incredible wildernesses,” says Grylls, “and what that show actually taught me was the value of home. And it really was such a driving force, and still is on all the shows that we do, making smart decisions working hard and throwing ourselves into everything that we do, with always the goal of getting home in one piece.”
The show’s success and subsequent expansion to Discovery US has seen Grylls star in his own NBC series – Running Wild With Bear Grylls – alongside the likes of Zac Efron and Channing Tatum.
Considering all his accolades and achievements, scaling Mount Everest stands out for the 40-year-old: “Everest was a big dream for me ever since I was a young boy,” he explains. “After my accident [freefall parachuting in 1996] I obviously didn’t think it would happen.” The accident in question took place in southern Africa, and threatened not only his career, but his life. It is an experience from which Grylls has learned important lessons. “There have been many instances like that and certainly through my recovery from my parachute accident you realise what is important and what’s real and what’s of value in your life – and friends and family are right up there.”
These days, Bear takes a more considered approach to his extreme escapades. “Because we film so much of it, we are pretty smart as a team about managing risk and we’ve all learned the thing about no egos and bravado when we film,” he admits. “We make quiet, smart, good decisions, but once we decide on something we really go for it and throw ourselves into it. There is a tinge of recklessness that the wild demands, but I think the skill is knowing how to use that and when to use it.” He assures that, although the likelihood of life-threatening accidents is limited by the measured way he and his team make television now, the adrenaline levels are still high on location. “Essentially, if we were just reckless in the stupid sense we wouldn’t still be here. It’s reckless in the sense that it does demand a little bravery pill to do something, but that is a kind of recklessness that is healthy. But as the crew say, we used to be 100% reckless and now we’re 70% reckless, so that is good progress.”
In addition to a number of survival guides and an autobiography, Grylls has also penned a series of children’s books – Mission Survival – published by the Scout Association. A dedicated family man, he says his own children – Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry – have inherited his spirit of adventure: “I love taking them climbing or paragliding, exploring caves. We live right in this little island in north Wales and there’s lots of adventures there. They love it, it’s deep in their DNA.” Grylls was criticised earlier this year for advocating that children should be taught knife skills, especially when he admitted that 6 year old Huckleberry cut himself. “[He] came in with blood pouring everywhere,” Grylls said, “but, you know what? He’s not cut himself again…” As far as Grylls is concerned, that’s an excellent lesson learned. He’s all for empowering children by teaching them how to do something dangerous safely.
So what does Grylls attribute his longevity as a survival expert to? “I think never give up. I think that is at the heart of a great survivor, that fire inside, that never say die attitude” he enthuses. “Everything else can be learned but the real heart of great survival, whether it’s in the jungle or everyday life, is to hang on in there. Life rewards the dogged.”
And so it does. Grylls’s ‘dogged’ approach, whether applied to writing, hosting, adventuring or fatherhood, has seen him become the most recognisable face in his field, in Britain and around the globe.
‘Extreme Food’ by Bear Grylls is published by Bantam Press and is available now. RRP £20