Out of my com­fort zone

Ad­ven­turer Si­mon Reeve goes live in Ip­swich and Bury St Ed­munds

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

Vodka ter­ror­ism sounds like a bar in Ma­galuf. Si­mon Reeve calls it an oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard. “I’ve been held up by nut jobs, gangs and ter­ror­ists, but I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of sit­u­a­tions where peo­ple force booze down your throat,” says the best-sell­ing au­thor and broad­caster, who re­calls a par­tic­u­lar visit to the pres­i­dent of Moldova.

Ex­pect­ing a stiff chat with a bloke be­hind a desk, he wasn’t look­ing for­ward to it. In­stead, Si­mon found him­self learn­ing how to fish on the lit­tle lake be­hind the pres­i­dent’s hum­ble villa. Then out came the Moldovan co­gnac.

“He was con­vinced it had a huge fu­ture in­ter­na­tion­ally. He started crack­ing open bot­tles in the kitchen and he re­ally got me and the team quite prop­erly ham­mered. He was quite in­sis­tent, he was the pres­i­dent of Moldova for God’s sake, you’ve got to go with it.

“He was pour­ing glass af­ter glass. He only let us go be­cause his wife came back from the su­per­mar­ket car­ry­ing shop­ping bags and scold­ing him for not be­ing at work, and teas­ing the poor for­eign TV crew. That’s the most en­joy­able threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion I’ve been in.” Si­mon’s had more than his fair share of mis­ad­ven­tures on his trav­els to the most re­mote and ex­treme cor­ners of the planet these past 15 plus years. Not bad for some­body who’s big­gest am­bi­tion on leav­ing school at 17, with no real qual­i­fi­ca­tions, was to be a van driver. “I couldn’t even get a job do­ing that, I was com­pletely hope­less. I still have the feel­ings and fears I of­ten had when I was a mucked up lad. I was in a right old state and had no idea what I was go­ing to do with my life,” says the presenter, whose BBC se­ries have been broad­cast in more than 60 coun­tries.

Af­ter a list of short-term jobs – work­ing in a su­per­mar­ket, a jew­ellery shop and a charity shop – he sorted mail for a na­tional news­pa­per, and be­gan re­search­ing and writ­ing in his spare time. Af­ter find­ing two for­eign ter­ror­ists on the run in the UK, he be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing sub­jects like arms-deal­ing and nu­clear smug­gling, ter­ror­ism and or­gan­ised crime. By the age of 19 he was one of the pa­per’s youngest staff writ­ers.

A land­mark mo­ment in his early ca­reer was his first book, The New Jack­als: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Fu­ture of Ter­ror­ism, which pre­dicted the rise of a then un­known Al Qaeda. No­body took no­tice at first. Then Septem­ber 11 hap­pened and he found him­self pushed onto TV, which even­tu­ally led to dis­cus­sions about mak­ing se­ries for the BBC.

“There was bucket loads of luck in­volved in the ca­reer I’ve had since, be­ing al­most 30 and hav­ing my own hair and teeth helped,” he says self­dep­re­cat­ingly. He plays down his suc­cess of­ten dur­ing our chat, prais­ing the in­cred­i­ble work of ev­ery­body be­hind the scenes for mak­ing even a “mup­pet” like

him look pro­fes­sional. “TV’s en­ter­tain­ment, it’s all a bit shal­low. There was a lot of hard work as well and seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties when they arose. If I look at the lad I was it’s ex­tra­or­di­nary. I can’t re­ally rec­on­cile it.”

Grow­ing up, money was tight. His dad taught at a Lon­don com­pre­hen­sive school and his mum worked part time at a lo­cal hos­pi­tal. Hol­i­days were spent at the same place in Dorset every year, which he de­scribes as beau­ti­ful, cozy, clas­sic Bri­tish sea­side fare.

“We didn’t travel aboard when I was a kid. I went on one camp­ing hol­i­day in France but that was it. I didn’t get on a plane un­til I started work­ing. I’ve trav­elled to some­thing like 120 coun­tries now. The young me would be as­ton­ished that I’d get any­thing like this sort of job. The old me is still pretty amazed. Ev­ery­thing you do helps guide and shape you.

“I had a deeply unim­pres­sive back­ground and I’m the least ed­u­cated per­son on TV, I would’ve thought. I didn’t go to some sort of telly pre­sen­ters school, I’d been work­ing for a long time be­fore the telly came knock­ing at my door. Hope­fully it gives a bit of hope to any­one else who left their teens with­out any qual­i­fi­ca­tions that if you ap­ply your­self, and with a pre­vail­ing wind, you can get places in life.”

Now a renowned ad­ven­turer, he ad­mits he’s “slightly” ad­dicted to travel. “I’ve got an itch I en­joy scratch­ing. I love the thrill of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­where new, the peo­ple, the sights, smells, sounds and tastes, it’s all in­tox­i­cat­ing.” He’s laugh­ing, even though ‘travel’ has ne­ces­si­tated eat­ing ev­ery­thing from zebu pe­nis soup, to grilled squir­rel.

“I like to think the en­thu­si­asm I have for go­ing on these long, tir­ing but in­cred­i­ble jour­neys has re­ally helped in the years since be­cause they’ve had me back for re­peat gigs. I’ve made some­thing like 120 pro­grammes for the BBC alone, so I feel re­ally blessed.” Si­mon is also a WWF am­bas­sador, and win­ner of a One World Broad­cast­ing Trust award for out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to greater world un­der­stand­ing, and the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety’s pres­ti­gious Ness Award.

He ad­mits tak­ing risks, go­ing to ex­tremes to show us what’s hap­pen­ing around the world, its beauty and its ug­li­ness, never its beige­ness. He’s not fool­hardy or an adrenalin junkie though. “No­body who knows me would ever say I’m the bravest per­son. I’ve got into some very weird sit­u­a­tions be­fore I started work­ing on the TV. Maybe I’m a bit crazy for mem­o­ries, the ex­pe­ri­ences we bank from travel.”

He thinks there’s the risk we talk our­selves out of hav­ing ad­ven­tures, tun­ing into the voice of doom in the me­dia. The world is a much more wel­com­ing and safer place than he ever imag­ined be­fore he started trav­el­ling ex­ten­sively. Trust your in­stincts, take sen­si­ble pre­cau­tions or you’re not liv­ing the rich­est life you can. “We live in a coun­try where thou­sands of peo­ple are hos­pi­talised every year putting their trousers on in the morn­ing. We’ve just got to get things into per­spec­tive. Yes, there are risks go­ing on a jour­ney but there’s also a risk of just rot­ting or stag­nat­ing at home.” Si­mon is now em­bark­ing on a live tour, shar­ing his ad­ven­tures with au­di­ences through­out the UK, in­clud­ing in Ip­swich and Bury St Ed­munds. For all his strange and won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences, he says you’d have to be mad to not find stand­ing in front of a live au­di­ence, see­ing the whites of their eyes, in­tim­i­dat­ing. “I’ve done quite a lot of talks over the years but there’s still some­thing quite ter­ri­fy­ing about the idea of do­ing my first theatre tour. But I like be­ing pushed out of my com­fort zone, ex­pe­ri­ences where my heart has a lit­tle bit more of a tick, so I’ve got to man up to this chal­lenge,” says Si­mon, who’ll be shar­ing in­spi­ra­tional, funny and shock­ing anec­dotes and tales.

“I’m go­ing to be backed up by some be­hind the scenes footage I’ve been shoot­ing and no doubt there’ll be some pho­to­graphs wheeled out that will be hu­mil­i­at­ing for me, but I can live with it. It can’t be worse than go­ing into a prison in Hon­duras guarded just by a bishop, can it?”

‘Maybe I’m a bit crazy for mem­o­ries, the ex­pe­ri­ences we bank from travel’

NSee An Au­di­ence with Si­mon Reeve at the Ip­swich Re­gent, Septem­ber 29; Southend’s West­cliff Palace, Septem­ber 30; The Apex, Bury St Ed­munds, Novem­ber 7 and King’s Lynn Corn Ex­change, Novem­ber 20.

Si­mon Reeve in Mo­gadishu

ABOVE: Si­mon Reeve with guards in Mo­gadishu, the cap­i­tal of So­ma­lia, one of the most dan­ger­ous places in the world. So­ma­lia is still largely con­trolled by war­lords, but is recog­nised as an of­fi­cial coun­try by the rest of the world.

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