An interview with the presenter, writer and accidental adventurer
You could say that this well-known presenter/writer/adventurer/animal-lover is rather well travelled… During his service in the Royal Naval Reserve, he deployed to Norway, Spain, Gibraltar and France and later volunteered to be marooned on an uninhabited Scottish Island for a year as part of BBC1’s Castaway 2000. As roving correspondent for a glossy magazine, assignments took him to Japan, the Falklands, Nepal, Zambia, Bali, East Timor, the Arctic Circle and Barbados and today, he’s a special correspondent for US network NBC News. His first book, The Teatime Islands was short-listed for the WHSmith’s People’s Award for Best Travel Book, while his highly-acclaimed TV series Through Hell and High Water won a prestigious RTS award.
His inspirational sporting achievements include racing 160 miles across the Sahara Desert in the Marathon Des Sables and crossing Antarctica in a foot race to the South Pole. Ben Fogle talks to Angela Sara West about his relentless, and often highly-precarious, globe-trotting travels and attending the Royal Wedding.
You’ve filmed numerous TV programmes abroad, such as the BBC’s Wild in Africa, Holiday and hit adventure show, Extreme Dreams and as a special correspondent for NBC News you report from all over the world. As we speak, you’re on your way back from filming in Australia but about to catch a flight to Canada…Phew!
I travel weekly for work and most of my filming commitments are currently overseas. I also spend a great deal of time in the USA for NBC.
Having travelled extensively, throughout South and Central America and to far-flung and exotic destinations such as Tahiti, Fiji, Libya, East Timor and Papua New Guinea, what are the top three destinations still on your wish-list?
Space, Madagascar and Easter Island, in no particular order.
What’s your top travel tip?
To avoid jet lag, switch your clock to the time at your destination as soon as you board the plane and stay awake until it’s night time.
And your earliest holiday memory?
Canada, where my father is from. I spent every summer there from the age of one. Happy, happy memories of swimming, fishing and building camps on the Canadian lakes.
What are your favourite things to do on holiday?
Relax, read and catch up on sleep.
Where in the world would you recommend for the best food and drink, warm welcome and culture?
Italy for food, Iceland for night life, New Zealand for wine, Botswana for a warm welcome, Bolivia for culture.
As a keen horseman, diver, sailor and skier, where do you head to divulge in these passions?
Riding is good anywhere but the Brazilian Pantanal and Namibia remain highlights. I have scuba-dived all over the world but the highpoint remains diving between the tectonic plates in Iceland.
Do you own a property abroad or are looking to buy one in the future?
I don’t, but my parents have a holiday home in Florida. I would love to buy a property overseas, preferably in Portugal where my wife and I got married. Somewhere on the Costa Do Sol…
Which are your favourite hotels?
I love the Malmaison in Oxford, Hotel Farol in Caiscais, Portugal and Carlisle Bay in Antigua.
Hotel or villa?
Villas, with friends, are fun!
Travel guide or play it by ear?
Playing it by ear can be fun, but research definitely helps to enhance an experience.
Where do you head for pure escapism?
Cornwall, the Outer Hebrides or Austria.
Do you worry about your carbon footprint?
I do and I try to offset it as often as I can.
You spent your gap year helping an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador before heading to the Mosquito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, where you worked alongside the American Peace Corps on a Turtle conservation project…
I have very fond memories of my gap year. I spent time in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. I went for a year and stayed for three! They were some of my most formative experiences and my time in Latin America changed both my outlook on life and its course.
You’re a bit of a linguist – which languages do you speak?
Fluent Spanish, French and I’d love to learn Portuguese.
You’ve undertaken numerous epic challenges, surviving in extreme climes, such as the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya, running across deserts, walking to the South Pole and skating across Sweden, running through and paragliding over the Dolomites and diving under an Icelandic glacier to check out tectonic plates, not to mention rowing across the Atlantic Ocean with James Cracknell in just 49 days (setting the British pairs record)… What motivates you to attempt such feats?
Learning and discovering. I like to push my own boundaries, both mental and physical.
You frequently push yourself physically, psychologically and emotionally to the limit, have tackled some of the most hostile environments on earth, swum with crocodiles in Botswana and Australia and even survived tropical diseases (requiring two months of chemotherapy) and being bitten by a rabid dog! How do you keep fit and healthy and on top of your game?
I try to run whenever I can. I find it a great way to discover new places, to get lost in a city. I have run just about everywhere in the world.
Finally, in June, you’re taking part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Flotilla (the largest flotilla in modern times) along the Thames in London in your Atlantic rowing boat The Spirit for the first time since you rowed it the 3,000 miles to Antigua across the Atlantic in 2005. You’re good pals with the Princes – how did it feel to be invited to attend the Royal wedding?
I was very lucky to spend time in Botswana with Princes William and Harry and was enormously lucky to go to the Royal wedding!
Ben’s new book The Accidental Adventurer is out now.
Look out for Ben’s new BBC series Swimming with Crocodiles and A Year of Adventures.
Ben is an ambassador for WWF, Médecins Sans Frontières and Tusk, which protects wildlife, supports communities and promotes education in Africa. He’s also a keen supporter of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the President of the Campaign for National Parks. Further details at: www.benfogle.com