Flash back to issue 189 – Interview with Bear Grylls


First of all, your name is unusual. Where did it come from? Do you come from a long line of American Indians and this is your spirit name?

It’s a nickname I was given as a baby by my sister- she said my real name of Edward was too boring!
I read somewhere that you were also called Monkey for a while and Bear seemed the lesser of two evils? Can you tell us more…
I didn’t use to like my nickname as a kid because it made me stand out but I look back and it could have been way worse! Monkey was because I climbed everything all the time at school.

Your father taught you to climb and sail, did his influence have a major role in the direction your life has taken?

He was a former Commando and climber. He taught me to survive and climb from a very young age but also that it was ok to have big dreams – and as a child my bedroom was covered in posters of Mount Everest. One day I vowed to climb the mountain somehow – an ambition my father and I nurtured together. It was as much about being close to him as anything else when I was a kid but it gave me skills that have lasted a lifetime.

You joined the British Special Forces, do you feel that put you on this path or was it just part of the journey and did that training help you to develop your survival skills?

I started to adventure as a young boy with my late dad – I refined a lot of these skills within the British special forces as a combat survival instructor with 21 SAS.The British Special forces also taught me to be able to look after myself and those around me when the chips are down and it is all turning nasty. It gave me a confidence in my own ability that I didn’t always have growing up.

After the accident you suffered during a parachute jump, what went through your head? How long were you ‘injured for?’

A parachute accident normally has pretty serious consequences, what happened?
I fractured T8 T10 & T12 vertebrae in a freefall parachuting accident in southern Africa. My recovery involved back braces and many setbacks but I credit it to the incredible care and attention given to me by the Armed Forces Rehabilitation clinic at Headley court in the UK, who looked after me and helped me get back to strength. Here I was given intensive physio, water therapy, stretching, exercising, counselling and encouragement.
My faith has also been a guiding force in many of my darkest hours and still is. The key thing to help restore me was setting small achievable daily goals which lead you towards the big goals…in my case climbing Everest. It was so crucial to my recovery having a clear focus and it lit a fire that sustains me whilst I was going through the long months of physical and mental rehab.

Did you not think about changing your lifestyle at that point?
I was told I potentially wouldn’t walk again, my choice was simple: give up, look down, be cynical and achieve nothing or stand up, take a risk, be determined, walk through the storms and at least give yourself a shot at success.
I know how lucky I was to be able to recover fully and for me it is all about the love & hope that both my family and my Christian faith gave me. I now practise yoga most days as a way of keeping my back strong for my life and I feel this is the key to what I do day in and day out. Sometimes it takes a knock in life to give us the drive to get up and start pursuing those dreams that beforehand are often just fantasies. My motto is ‘to live boldly, follow your dreams, take risks, look after your friends, & smile when the mountain is steepest.’
The TV series Running Wild is about to kick off in NZ it is getting some great press here. You have got some main line celebrities on that programme how did you coerce them to do it?
They tend to love the space and freedom of the outdoors, the chance to be themselves and to push and explore their limits a little. The wild gives a confidence that is unique and empowering and I love to see that emerge in people. Credit to them all for having the courage to throw themselves into it!

Were there limitations of what they were and were not allowed to do?
We geared the journey around what I thought the guest would be capable of but I always aimed to edge them towards their limits and to be beside them in those moments- that is how we grow: we get far out of our comfort zones, or comfort pit as I call it – Somewhere we should always aim to get out of as quickly as possible! Some of the guests hated me at times but at the end they all were invariably so proud of what they achieved.

Were you surprised at how good or how bad they were at surviving?
The all tended to have positive attitudes even if they lacked outdoor knowledge. That is why they all tend to be good at what they do: they are used to giving their all to what they do. That quality is key in the wild.

Eating a zebra, sleeping inside a camel, drinking the juice out of elephant poop, is there anything that stands out and you think to yourself, I am not doing that again?

Probably Frozen yak eyeballs in Siberia, bear poo in transylvania, camel intestinal fluids in the sahara, rat brain in the chinese jungles and snake skin urine in mexico- all were low points!
Are you getting at a point in your career when you’ve run out of crazy stuff to try? Have you not now done it all?
There are hundreds of challenges and places still on my bucket list that I’d love to complete, and this year is busier than ever racing around filming and adventuring- I feel super grateful for the chances I get to do my work and I never take that for granted.

Do you have any fears?
I remind myself that most fears are irrational – and I just get on with it! (That last bit is the real key.) But i am not great with cocktail parties to be honest! I find them quite awkward sometimes.

When working on the TV series do you ever feel under pressure to risk your safety?
The reality of a genuine survival situation is that it can be truly terrifying to be stranded and alone. But what I love is that hard places and tough situations also tend to bring out the best in people. I have learnt from filming so many of these adventures that we’re all more resilient than we believe.
I’m a believer that the adventure begins when things go wrong and a little bit of that is healthy!

No I don’t feel a pressure to push things for TV- I made that decision early on: listen to the voice inside and don’t be pushed when that voice speaks. We are a small crew and they always support me to decide on what we do and where we go. It is all down to developing a good wilderness judgement of where the dangers come from and leaving egos at home.

What’s the worst thing you’ve eaten?
In the wild the worst thing has been raw goats testicles! Truly terrible!I vomited in my mouth straight after!

Worst place you have been?
Black swamps of Sumatra where the tsunami hit- a desolate wilderness of stinking mud and crocs.

Most scared you have been have you ever felt you were in real harm’s way?
Either my free fall accident or when I climbed Mt Everest and fell 200 feet into an icy crevasse at an altitude of 19,000 feet. I should have died there. But my best friend Mick & a Nepalese climber were able to pull me to safety. i owe them my life and have never forgot that.

Do you feel as if you have dodged a few bullets? If so when?
The reality is that there have been so many sticky situations over the years from being pinned in huge white water rapids, to falling down crevasses – as well as a whole host of narrow escapes with sharks, salt water crocodiles and being bitten by snakes. I am so grateful to have survived many of these scrapes and am determined to stay alive for a long time now. Life is such a gift and I am so happy not to have died on many occasions!

Being at risk with this type of work, plus being away for such long periods how do you balance family life and your job?
It is the hardest part for me. But it means when I am home then I am home. I just make sure I prioritise family first and try not to walk too close to the line. I tend to film then get home and to say no to a lot of the fluff that surrounds the media world . The other key is having great support from my BGV management team who go to such lengths to support our adventures.

How do your three boys feel about dad eating dead zebra and sleeping in camels?
I once caught my boys trying to eat ants and trying to drink their own pee but I guess that’s to be expected!
My kids have watched so many Born Survivors over the years that they can be inclined to think they know everything! I try to tell them that you never stop learning and if you do then it is time to reevaluate your attitudes. We went to Zambia as a family recently and I found my nine-year- old Jesse was teaching the local guides how to survive a hippo attack. They started calling him Dr Livingstone!

Great adventures teach them not only great life and outdoor skills, but they also boost their confidence with a sense of knowing they can look after themselves when the chips are down.

How do you maintain the conditioning and fitness to face survival challenges?

I work out 5 days a week, short sharp intensive 30 minute workouts that are very core focussed and functional strength and movement. We run many gyms that provide this style of training and people love it as it gets them mega fit & lean without spending hours in the gym! See www.bgepictraining.com
For me his style of training is perfectly geared for adventure- functional, strength, cardio and yoga focussed.

There is a lot about Bear Grylls that people don’t know; the parachute fall and the records that you have reached as one of the youngest climbers to make the journey up Everest (Ama Dablam) which Sir Ed said was unclimbable, or traveling around UK on a jet-ski, or being the first person to power glide over the Himalayas – which one do you have more appreciation for? Why?
Climbing Everest was undoubtedly one of my proudest achievements. People often struggle with the attraction of risking one’s life on the freezing, icy faces of a mountain.It rests in the chance of that single, solitary moment on the top. It’s difficult to explain but that mountain definitely changed my life.

What does the future hold for Bear Grylls?
This year we are filming shows for NBC ITV CH4 Discovery and China which makes us busier than have ever been before. We always aim to keep the ethos the same across all our endeavors from TV, books to our BGSA Survival Academy: empowering, adventurous, and tickling the belly of danger enough to inspire people to get out there and follow their own dreams!

Cheers Bear

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