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Going to extremes
There isn’t much that phases Bear Grylls; fighting porcupines, biting the head off a snake, free climbing waterfalls – you name it, he’s nailed it.
During our interview, the phone line abruptly goes dead. Within minutes, he’s back. Don’t worry, he says breezily, a car just drove into the side of the vehicle he’s travelling in but he’s fine – now, where were we?
There is no place in his world for emotional outpouring. Sure, he gets scared now and again – he’s nearly died on several adventures. But he won’t let it get the better of him. Fear is just a way of sharpening your senses, he tells me.
This old-fashioned derringdo is conveniently packaged with good looks and a wholesome outlook (the youngest ever Chief Scout, he repeatedly emphasises the importance of “following your dreams and looking after your pals”).
It has made the 37-yearold one of the world’s most recognisable – and marketable – adventurers. His TV shows such as Born Survivor and Man Vs Wild are watched by millions and have led to several advertising campaigns, his own clothing line (Bear Grylls “survivor”
trousers, anyone?) and three best-selling books, the latest of which has inspired a live show.
Mud, Sweat And Tears is an action-packed jaunt (naturally) through some of Grylls’ most exciting exploits – from his journey to the summit of Everest to joining the French Foreign Legion, and featuring an audience Q&A and guitar-strumming finale.
To a man more used to sleeping in a dead camel’s chest cavity than a Travelodge, touring must seem mighty dull. But Grylls insists he loves it for giving him a chance to meet his fans and reveal the person behind the stories. He particularly enjoys meeting young adventurers.
He’s a dad of three himself and takes the same gung-ho approach to parenting as he does to his work.
His boys Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry – “I gave them fun names because I think you should live life colourfully” – are already showing signs of following in their father’s footsteps.
Despite their tender ages – Jesse, the oldest, is seven – Grylls told one interviewer how they had climbed a church steeple together and how Jesse had even saved a girl from a stream.
Grylls has mixed feelings about rearing mini versions of himself: “I want them to love life and love adventure but at the same time, it’s like their schoolteacher said to me, it’s all well and good knowing how to take a door off a helicopter but that’s not very helpful if your mathematics is rubbish.
“Half of me thinks it’s great ’cause that’s just like I was, but the other half thinks they have to be able to do the other stuff too.”
Adventuring has been in Grylls’ blood from an early age. Christened Edward Michael Grylls, his sister Lara nicknamed him Bear when he was a week old.
He later had his name legally changed.
Grylls learned to sail and climb from his father, the late Tory MP Sir Michael Grylls who inspired much of his son’s career. As a teenager, he helped start Eton College’s first mountaineering club and learned to skydive.
On leaving school, he briefly attended university before joining the Army.
In 1998, aged 23, he became the youngest Briton to scale Everest.
He has since broken a list of other records; leading the first team to circumnavigate the UK on a personal watercraft; highest open-air formal dinner party (on a hot-air balloon at 25,000ft); flying a Parajet paramotor over the Himalayas and the longest continuous indoor freefall.
But it’s his TV stunts that have made him a household name. From the comfort of our sofas, we’ve all goggled as Grylls runs through forest fires, wrestles alligators and is forced to wear a T-shirt soaked in his own urine to keep cool in the desert.
What drives him to do this stuff? “I think it’s just because I love it and it’s one of the things I can do really well in my life. It’s such a privilege to have a job that’s what I always dreamt of doing as a kid. I just love the adventure and being with my good buddies. I’d need ten lifetimes to do all the stuff I want to do.”
He has taken a number of famous faces with him on trips; he taught Brokeback Mountain star Jake Gyllenhaal to wade across a frozen river and scale a thin rope to cross a 150ft-deep gorge.
More recently, he filmed an episode of Channel 4’s Bear’s Wild Weekend with comedian Miranda Hart, who admitted she found life “quite frightening” and wanted to use the trip to get rid of her fears. The pair went on an intense expedition to the Swiss Alps where Hart was helped to complete challenges ranging from abseiling down a waterfall to crossing a glacier.
“I think Miranda was a moving one because she carried so many fears and doubt and it’s empowering when you can help people overcome challenges. I really admired her because she put herself in that situation, trusted me and was empowered by the end of it. Good on her.”
There must be an added pressure when travelling with someone else – particularly someone famous?
“It’s a different dynamic with celebrities, definitely.
I never double-check knots normally because I know they’re OK. But when you’re responsible for someone else’s life, you think you’d better make sure. You have to think for them because they’re often not aware of the dangers.”
It’s not all about entertainment though.
Grylls firmly believes we all need survival skills under our belts.
“Every man should know how to make a snow cave, light a fire in the rain and deal with snakes,” he once pronounced. “I think it’s a nice thing to be able to do, it’s based on thousands of years of DNA and it’s empowering to be selfsufficient.”
It’s a fair point but in reality, most of us are unlikely to find ourselves in the sort of situations he finds himself in.
He laughs. “Every survivor I’ve ever met says the same thing – they never imagined it would happen to them.
You have to be careful what you say! As the Scouts say, you have to be prepared.
That’s the heart of it.
“I’ve heard a lot of amazing stories of people using tips they saw on Man Vs Wild to survive snowboarding accidents, falling through the frozen ice on a lake, breaking down in a car….”
Grylls has had several close shaves himself, many while filming his TV shows. Last year alone, he was nearly hit by a falling camera and in North Canada, a huge shard of ice broke off and missed his face by a few inches.
“You’re not human if you don’t get scared now and again but the key thing is to stay in the moment and get through a shoot in one piece.”
He’s a Christian, which helps, and he also keeps a laminated photograph of his wife Shara and three sons in his shoe at all times.
“It’s helped me in a lot of difficult moments in jungles in pouring rain in the middle of nowhere.”
* Bear Grylls’ Mud, Sweat And Tears comes to the Brighton Centre at 7.30pm on March 24. Tickets cost £39.50 on 0844 8471515.
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