INTERVIEW: Wild at Heart! We chat to TV star Ben Fogle

TV star Ben Fogle is about to take a walk on the wild side with a new UK tour. Editor Katie Thomson caught up with him to find out more…

Your tour follows on from your wildly successful ‘Tales from the Wilderness’ a few years ago. Are you excited to get out in front of a live audience again?

Yeah I loved doing the last tour. It was a great opportunity to meet people who have championed me and watched my shows over the years. What I wanted to do with this one was bring something that is maybe even more relatable for people. My last show was all about my experiences with expeditions and how I’ve used them to build my confidence. But what I wanted to do this time was to make a show about how to find happiness and how to live a simpler life. Not necessarily like some of the examples I’ll be sharing of people who have gone to live in Siberia or outer Mongolia, but just how to live a happier life. So yes, I can’t wait to start touring again.

I can imagine it’s nearly impossible to encapsulate all the experiences you’ve had and how they’ve shaped you and put that into an evening. Was it an interesting process to take stock of everything you’ve done to be able to pull the show together?

Yeah, the last one was kind of quite easy because there was a chronology to it. My journey from being marooned on an island through to rowing oceans and ultimately climbing Mount Everest. This one is a little bit different as this is sort of a journey around the world meeting different people and a behind the scenes look at some of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met and kind of what I’ve taken away from that. So this was actually quite an interesting way of analysing some of the experiences that I’ve had, from walking through the remains of Chernobyl in Ukraine through to people who are trying to bring back the woolly mammoth in Siberia. But at the heart of it all is this idea that happiness is kind of a journey, not just a destination. So many people kind of just trudge through life waiting for that metaphorical summit that they will eventually reach. What I have discovered over the years is that there are so many people who just enjoy the whole process and make the most of the whole journey and that’s what I’m trying to bring together.

I guess, in that way, you’ve never really conformed to the nuclear life. We ask a lot of our children these days; even though we know as adults how broad and diverse our interests and abilities are, we still ask children to conform to one form of standardised testing. Would you say you would cover that in the show, that there’s much more to life than ticking boxes?

Absolutely, I think that it’s almost like society wants to make everything homogeneous. They want all cars to look the same, all people to look the same, to learn the same, to have the same education, to live in the same sort of house. My upbringing was always very different to that anyway, in that I spent a bit of my time in central London, Dorset, a bit on a little farm in Sussex and a bit of my time in the wilds of Canada. It meant that I had quite an eclectic list of experiences and I think for me, my struggles with academics and the fact that I wasn’t very good at sport or exams meant that everyone looked at me like I was a bit of a freak, and it meant that I was forced look for alternative ways of being me. I was able to find that freedom in the wild. The ‘wild’ is obviously quite an expansive word, and it’s down to your interpretation really. But that is, as you very astutely said, is one of my big things in life; trying to encourage youngsters, families, individuals, couples to do what they want to do, not what society expects them to do and that’s what I’m trying to share with this show. I’ve sort of done bits of it over the years with the expeditions I’ve been on. A lot of people say, “why would you go and climb Mount Everest?” “Why would you row across an ocean?”. And the answer is because you should try to enjoy each day, not just sleepwalk through it.

Would you say it is your struggles with self-doubt that push you to do these more extreme challenges? You surround yourself in many of them with these athletes and Olympians that have this mental fortitude beyond anything the regular person would have. Is it a case of confidence is a muscle you’ve got to exercise, it’s not just something you naturally have?

Absolutely, I think we all need some form of validation, either from ourselves or from others and by surrounding myself with people who excel in whatever field it might be, whether it is cycling or rowing, it does help build your own self confidence. Certain my last tour, ‘Tales from the Wilderness’, focused quite a lot on that, and there will be a little bit of a cross over here because it’s about how to improve your own self esteem. I think so many people are racked with self-doubt, especially in this age of social media where you are constantly looking at other people and you are looking at their appearance and what they have and what they have achieved, where they go on holiday and their homes and so many people then start having self-doubts about what they’ve done with their life or what they’ve achieved. But actually, it’s all relative to who you are and what you’ve done, and I think as soon as you start comparing to others that’s a very dangerous place, but when you work with others it can actually create a beautiful working relationship.

I guess travel must have really shaped who you are as a person. Solo travel is a huge passion of mine and I think it’s because you are forced to problem solve and it builds a certain sense of resilience. Do you find that the experiences you’ve had have given you almost a tool kit to tackle other everyday challenges in life?

Absolutely. I think travel teaches you so many things about yourself. It gives you perspective on where you live and what you have, or what you don’t have, or others don’t have and for me it has been like a parallel education. I’ve learnt more over the years through my travel and journeys and encounters with people than I ever learnt in formal education, without a doubt. It has armed me with tools that I have used in life far more than any of my educational years and I’m a huge supporter of gap years and travel generally because I think it makes you curious and it teaches you how other people live. It opens your mind; it makes you less insular.

With your tour, would you say there is a sense of that we have to stop looking at the actual destination and instead enjoy ride a little bit more?

Yes, it is about enjoying the journey itself. So many people sleepwalk through life. It’s almost like it’s a trial and it doesn’t have to be that way. Now obviously people are struggling financially and there are all sorts of reasons why people are experiencing mental health problems and many other things, but what I’ve realised over the years is that human nature is to aspire and to want more. So, whether you want that job promotion, or you want the bigger house, the better car, or the newer phone. But actually, if you simplify everything, then suddenly those aspirations are all relative and it means that to actually find that nirvana of happiness becomes much easier to attain. Sometimes the things that give you great happiness are much easier to actually find and hold on to. That’s what I’ve discovered the wilderness and the wild has done for me. To be in the jungle in the trees, on a river, on the sea, in the dessert. Away from the pressures of social media and the excesses of the internet, all those things. I find myself so much more content and happy. I just had a whole month in Antarctica for a new show and it was revolutionary in terms of not having any internet, email, any contact. All I had was a satellite phone to make a few calls to my family, and it changed my whole psychology. I found myself less anxious, happier, I chatted more to people around me. I lived in the now, rather than in someone else’s little world. I think that’s the nuts and bolts of what this show ‘Wild’ is going to hopefully help people attain; not by showing how climbing a mountain can change your life, but just how in some ways, changing your perspective can do that. I hope the tour can be a bit of a medicine for modern life that will hopefully leave people smiling and feeling uplifted. 

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Minerva Studio
Author: Minerva Studio