Survival expert Bear Grylls, known for hosting the popular television show, Man Vs Wild, says that he doesn’t mind sleeping in camel carcasses or drinking his own urine. “Part of survival is leaving your prejudices behind and doing whatever you need to do to stay alive. I do end up eating quite a lot of terrible stuff,” he says. This time, Grylls is back on Discovery Channel with two new series — Island With Bear Grylls and Bear Grylls: Breaking Point. In an interview with HT, the adventurist informs how he follows his dreams, his love for India and Calcutta and why visiting jungle swamps is the most difficult thing. Excerpts:
Man Vs Wild is one of the most popular adventure shows in the world. The show requires a lot of travelling. How many days do you actually get to stay at home and spend time with your family?
I try to go home during the school term time, so that I can be around with my children as much as possible when they’re out of school. We take a couple of months off in the summer and we go out to a little Welsh island that we own and we hang out there.
It must be tough leaving the family behind and going on sojourns.
I think they’ve lived without me for a while. I met my wife while I was still in the military. After I left that, I was leading a lot of the big climbing expeditions… so I think they’re quite used to me being away from home. They’re used to a lot of danger of it and I think Shara (his wife) doesn’t really ask too many questions about what’s been happening. I tend to get home and I don’t want to talk about work.
Do you want your children to follow your footsteps?
My (late) dad always used to tell me that what matters is to follow your dreams and look after your friends. That to him was life in a nutshell. I hope to do the same with my three boys although if they wanted to climb Everest I might be a bit less enthusiastic (In 1998, Grylls scaled Mount Everest). I have seen the raw end of those statistics and I am not sure I would want my kids to go through that themselves.
Coming to the new show, The Island With Bear Grylls, a group of men will be sent to the Pacific without luxuries and comforts of modern life.
I chose to base my experiment on a remote desert island in the Pacific Ocean, more than 5,000 miles from Britain. I think there’s something appealing about doing this on an island for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there’s nowhere to run. And secondly, I feel people often think of desert islands as nice places. The reality is that they’re deserted for a reason. There’s very little running water and it’s covered with snakes, tarantulas and scorpions. But despite the dangers, the men survived. One month after dropping them off, I went back to see for myself what the men had achieved.
In the show Bear Grylls: Breaking Point, you will be helping 12 ordinary people combat their unique phobias.
Breaking Point is about facing and overcoming your deepest fears. Everyone has a few phobias. We just have different levels of them. With this show, I’m taking people with mega-extreme phobias, whether it’s of spiders or of heights. The truth is most people have phobias that actually go back to something that happened when they were child. You develop defensive mechanisms around that phobia and you get very good at protecting it and that shell becomes very hard to crack. Sometimes fears get so out of proportion and a little bit of simple knowledge changes peoples’ perceptions.
You have travelled the world and have often tasted creepy crawlies. Did you ever get scared on any trip? What has been your worst experience?
I remember filming once in what we call the black swamps in Sumatra. It was a place where the Tsunami had hit and crocodiles had been feeding off these 65,000 human corpses, and it was just a desolate, dead, stinking, infested, black swamp area where nothing good lived in. It was just full of these crocs, snakes, mosquitoes and leaches. So, I think difficult jungle swamps are the hardest.
In one of the episodes, you were seen drinking your own urine. Have you ever fallen ill after such adventures?
I answer questions all day about sleeping in camel carcasses, drinking my own urine, eating goats’ testicles and squeezing elephant dung. And I don’t mind that, because it’s all fun. We did seven seasons of Man Vs Wild. I love doing things that empower others. To be able to bring that to TV makes me really happy. Part of survival is leaving your prejudices behind and doing whatever you need to do to stay alive. I do end up eating quite a lot of terrible things. I think the raw goat testicles were the first time I actually threw up after eating something. While shooting for Man Vs Wild, I’ve had frozen yak eyeballs after we killed this big yak in Siberia, a lot of live snakes, a lot of massive grubs the size of a child’s hand. You name it, the intestines from a camel, the fluid from the intestines of a camel, camel fat from its hump; it’s sort of a long list.
The Bear Grylls Survival Academy, which was launched in the UK in 2012, and has become hugely popular. You are coming out with a survival academy in China soon. Are you planning to open academies in other countries too, may be in India or other Asian countries?
The academy is becoming popular. The course is full of surprises. That’s the fun part that people love! Every man and woman should know how to light a fire without matches or lighter, make an emergency shelter, cross ravines, rivers and descend cliffs with minimal gear, right!? The Survival Academy is all about ‘what if’ situations. We have been expanding the academy ever since and have gone places with it. We’ll continue to evaluate further expansion on the basis of requirement and demand from other countries.
Lastly, is there any place you would wish to explore in India?
I’d love to film in India. There are so many wild places. There are some great jungles. It’s got everything — huge mountains and amazing deserts. It’s on my list. I spent quite some time in India before I joined the army. I went out there climbing, and up in West Bengal and all around Darjeeling. I love India. We were in Calcutta for a while and then we were with the Indian Army as well. It’s a place I really love, and I’m really looking forward to getting back there for a long time.