Wild at heart
Ben Fogle may support those who turn their backs on the rat-race, but the London resident’s own plans to live in a remote corner of the world remain on hold – for now. In the meantime, the adventurer tells Gemma Dunn he is grateful to experience the wilde
“HOW many of us fulfil our dreams?” asks Ben Fogle, pointedly.
“I’ve always lived my life to have no regrets and when I die I’d like to think, ‘You know what, I made a difference and I did everything I wanted to do.’ But so many people won’t necessarily have done that, and that’s really sad.”
We’re discussing the premise behind his hit C5 show, New Lives In The Wild, in which he travels the globe to meet people who have turned their backs on the daily grind.
“The world is quite angry right now, isn’t it?” Fogle, 43, continues. “It’s never been so divided – this kind of simmering anger that manifests itself on the internet, in social media, it’s so unhealthy.
“For me, the wilderness is very black and white – it’s going to either be rainy or it’s going to be dry, you’re either going to be cold or you’re going to be hot. It has an honesty to it that I think society has lost.”
Six seasons in and Fogle, whose TV career stemmed from his stint on the BBC reality show Castaway in 2000, is clearly thrilled about the series’ success.
During this run he will join another set of brave individuals who have chosen to venture down an alternative path, from Egyptian farms on the edge of the Sahara and the wilderness of Australia (don’t miss the moving story of Jim and Kim in episode one!) to the foothills of the Spanish mountains and even a floating island off the Canadian coast.
“The more places I go, the more I understand and also the more I want to ask,” says Fogle. “My inquisitiveness and curiosity has increased, [and] what’s really fascinating is the different reasons, the catalysts, that make people give it all up.
“I think so many of us dream of breaking free from the manic expectation in society. Now, more than ever, people are trying to earn enough money to be able to pay their mortgage or pay their rent and then have enough money to pay for the latest technology.”
“I’ve got this real problem with planned obsolescence – this whole idea that everything is made to only last for a year. Planned obsolescence is symbolic of why the wilderness is where we belong,” he elaborates.
“The simplicity of just picking fruits that are growing on the trees, of being able to plant your own crops, of not having a financial tie to other people and businesses and government – I think that’s another reason why so many people are embracing alternative lives.
“That’s what makes all these individuals happy, because they’ve achieved their dream, they’ve done it, they’ve walked the walk, they’ve done what many of us wish we were brave enough to do.”
But that’s not to say he’s encouraging the UK’s population to up sticks.
“If I did that I’d probably go back to the city to kind of have a little space to myself!” he laughs.
Rather ironically, London-born Fogle lives in Kensington with his wife Marina and two young children Ludo and Iona. Can he see himself jacking it all in and waving goodbye to the rat-race?
“Yeah, for sure! I’d love to give it all up and go and live in a wild remote corner of the world, [but] I’m very lucky because I get to do it through my work.
“We’re becoming more aware, especially in London, of the impact of the pollution all around us. I fear that within the next few years we’ll all have to wear masks, and that does worry me – I don’t know that I really want to bring my children up in that kind of environment.
“I’m almost being hypocritical if I’m extolling virtues of the wilderness and the simplicity of life and I’m still living in the city. I’ve been institutionalised myself – I can see through it, yet I’m still tied to it.”
His dream is to embark on an “expedition” with his children. Fogle believes kids should be encouraged to be adventurous and independent – in fact, he’s received a backlash for admitting his two are familiar with hunting knives and fire.
“I’ve said this many times and I feel even more militant about it – the health and safety obsessed mollycoddling society we live in now is ridiculous. It’s synonymous with this obsession with control – the state wants to control everything and parents want to control everything. It’s so unhealthy for everyone involved and if we just let go a little bit and if we just relaxed, a bit like what happens in the wilderness, we’d be in a much healthier place.”
Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild starts on C5 on Tuesday, October 17.
Ben Fogle, left, Kim and Jim on the Wilderness Island beach