June 20, 2021

Born Survivor

Survival expert and TV presenter Bear Grylls OBE talks awe-inspiring adventures, peak escapades, and home schooling

He’s survived tsunamis, sharks, quicksand and sky falls in some of the most hostile environments on Earth. Jungles, deserts, mountains and mangroves… paragliding, ice climbing, base jumping, wrestling alligators, running through forest fires, free climbing waterfalls with apparent ease… the quest-list is endless. Eager to push his boundaries in new places and follow the path less trodden, he’s pushed himself to the limits planetwide. 

Wherever’s on your travel wishlist, you name it, he’s been there and got the t-shirt, overcoming hazardous hurdles along the way.

Boundless Bear Grylls has proudly led record-breaking expeditions, from Antarctica to the Arctic, and conquered challenges for countless charities worldwide. It’s more a case of where HASN’T he been in the name of adventure. His familiar face embodies the ‘Above and Beyond’ spirit, with travels for the latter taking him to the world’s first designated wilderness area, New Mexico’s protected Gila National Forest, and beyond. Grylls gears up to rise to the challenge wherever he goes. “Adventure has always been in my DNA,” he says. 

Grylls’ appetite for adventure began at early age. “My biggest inspiration is my dad, a former royal marine commando and politician, and always an adventurer at heart,” he tells me. “My earliest adventure memories are of climbing with him on the sea cliffs and sailing around the Isle of Wight, where he taught me the fundamentals of adventure; keep moving towards the mountain before you, even it is scares you, respect and humility mean more than wealth and status, and above all, never give up.”

“Life is all about that tenacity and dogged determination to keep going despite the overwhelming odds. This is the key for any survival situation, as well as for life in general”

The foundations established, by 18 he’d helped develop mountaineering and martial arts clubs at Eton College, learnt to skydive and mastered the martial art of Karate. After leaving school, and a spot of train surfing in India and hiking in the Himalayan mountains of Sikkim and West Bengal, the ardent adventurer studied languages at uni (Spanish and German) before becoming a soldier in the British Special Forces, serving with 21 SAS and honing his skills.

What lights the fire in Grylls’ belly? “Life is all about that tenacity and dogged determination to keep going despite the overwhelming odds. This is the key for any survival situation, as well as for life in general,” he says. “I’ve had to work hard all my life at goals, and that has kept my inside ‘effort’ muscle strong and trained. It was my late father who inspired me to keep going, have big dreams, and to see failure as stepping stones to success.”

The seasoned traveller says his years surviving some of Mother Nature’s toughest challenges have taught him of the world’s unpredictability. “You can’t take the wild for granted, and it’s that volatility that’s the magic. Respect the wild and never forget, Earth does not belong to us. We belong to Earth.”

One of his closest shaves was on Mount Everest. “We had four climbers lose their lives up there during the three months I was on that mountain and I very nearly lost my life down a deep crevasse.

“I had a bunch of close calls on that mountain. No summit is ever worth a life but I look back on it hugely grateful to have survived it and hugely grateful for the friendships made. I will never forget that summit. Seeing the curvature of the world at the edges was amazing.”

Educating on what to eat should you fall out of a helicopter into a jungle, swamp or desert, he says: “It’s amazing what disgusting things you can stomach when hunger strikes! Eating berries out of bear poo was bad, but when eating out of necessity, you focus on the energy it gives, rather than the taste.”

With true grit, he’s also demonstrated turning a dead seal into a wetsuit, used a sheep’s corpse as a flotation device and sleeping bag, and shown how to survive sandstorms by sleeping ‘inside’ a camel carcass. “Survival is rarely pretty!” he says.

“You can’t take the wild for granted, and it’s that volatility that’s the magic. Respect the wild and never forget, Earth does not belong to us. We belong to Earth”

Grylls recently launched the world’s first Bear Grylls Explorers Camp on the UAE’s highest peak, Jebel Jais mountain. Courses cover everything from the ‘Bear’ necessities for beginners through to challenging hardcore explorers, including practical life-saving skills and extreme-weather survival though a variety of lessons training participants in dynamic, hands-on techniques. “The Camp is the perfect place to step out of your comfort zone, lose your inhibitions and really push yourselves to the limit in a safe, empowering environment!”

As for Britain’s biggest escapades, “You don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth to experience incredible adventures,” Grylls reveals. “Sometimes, the best things are found right here, at home…” His epic journey of discovery across the British Isles for ITV saw our own shores at their most spectacular, highlighting our many mind-blowing landscapes galore.

The world-famous adventurer’s home is actually afloat – formerly a Polar explorer’s houseboat he’s converted on the Thames. “London’s the most fun, exciting city on earth!” he says, and he’s soon making the leap to dry land, having recently bought a pad in Battersea’s historic Power Station where, ever the showman well known for his crazy, daredevil stunts, he’s enjoyed abseiling exploits aplenty. “We love the spirit of the place! They’ve created a brilliant dynamic community there, and we feel privileged to be part of it.”

Whether up a mountain, or down a dell, he and his crew often do Grylls’ outdoor wilderness workout when away filming. Lockdown adventures, meanwhile, saw the adrenaline seeker train daily with the veteran-run business he co-owns, Be Military Fit (BMF). “Oh, and home schooling… now that’s an adventure!”