Transatlantic TV star, wildlife fanatic, marathon man…. does Ben Fogle ever stop?
Al Gordon catches up with him before his next grand expedition.
During their time on Taransay Island, it’s arguable that it was Inca the Black Labrador who was the breakout star of BBC reality series Castaway, and not her owner, TV presenter Ben Fogle. And no clearer was this than in the sad days after her passing this summer.
“You know I’ve been absolutely amazed," Fogle explains, audibly saddened. “Out of all things that I’ve done and all the places I’ve been, the reaction I’ve got from writing that piece in The Telegraph about Inca… the reaction from people has been astonishing.”
The public’s response has been both written – “I’ve had thousands and thousands of letters and emails, it’s astounding… we really are a nation that loves our animals, loves our dogs, and I think I must have tapped into some emotional thread” – and personal: “People are stopping me in the streets in floods of tears, and I didn’t want that reaction, I just wanted to share the brutal reality of having an animal that you’re going to outlive. It’s heartbreaking.”
Fogle’s been given free taxi journeys, free coffees. People have been running up to him with pictures of their own animals.
“I’ve lost my best friend but I didn’t realise just how much Inca meant to the public. I knew she was popular but… it’s been wonderful. Bittersweet, sad and wonderful.”
Does Fogle, who celebrates his 39th birthday this weekend, ever think he’ll be strong enough to allow another dog into his life? “You never replace a pet; it’s not like a piece of furniture. But I think in time, for the children, we would consider it – but it’s not something I could even think about now.”
The avid adventurer and young father of two, who was busy during the summer with Olympic hosting duties for The Today Show and E! Entertainment on American network NBC admits he was sad when the Games came to an end, not least because they gave him a great excuse to stay in London for an extended period.
“I’m sad because it was such an amazing event for the city and I was so honoured to witness it in person; something I’ll be telling the grandkids. I was stationed just a few miles from my home in Notting Hill, which is very rare considering my line of work takes me away two to three weeks out of the month. But for a while at least, it was lovely to come home every day, working a nine to five, so to speak.”
Fogle’s international adventures begin again with filming for new Channel 5 series Where The Wild Men Are, which will see the Londoner travel the four corners, getting a taste of what life is like for some of the planet’s toughest men and women.
“I’ve just come back from Texas where I was rattlesnake hunting and being a cowboy for a couple of weeks, and I’ll be moving on to the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, so lots more travel over the next few months.”
Ben reveals that, after his work with NBC, a permanent move to the States could be on the cards for the Fogle clan. “It’s nice to be working with another broadcaster on the other side of the Atlantic… it’s a whole new world, and great to be a part of that.”
Although he stresses that he and his wife are very close to their families, and have strong roots, he’s always open to new horizons. It’s what got him where he is today, after all.
“I’d never say never; it’s something we’d definitely consider. I’ve had a lot of opportunities for meetings out there and I’m guessing some could produce some great options, so yes, I think it’s something that could happen. It would be great to have a family adventure and the kids are at the right age.
Meanwhile, when we met, Ben was once again pounding the pavements in preparation for the Royal Parks Half Marathon, held in early October, taking in Hyde Park, St James’ Park, Kensington Garden and Green Park. “I ran the first one in 2008,” he tells me, “and I’ve run every one since. As someone who has a close relationship with our parks, having grown up in them, it’s one of the most enjoyable events in London.
One of these has a particular place in his heart. “Hyde Park means the most to me. I love the greenery and the freedom, and it was where I met my wife when we were both out walking our dogs. It holds very special significance for me.
He loves the half marathon as an event – “fantastic” – but is equally enthusiastic about its long term outcome: “…there’s a yearlong legacy of getting people fit and in shape, and that’s the most important thing.”