Two explorers are swapping their global adventuring for cosy evenings in Somerset theatres this month. SU CAROLL speaks to Benedict Allen and Simon Reeve ahead of their first ever theatre tours
Explorer Benedict Allen was relatively well known for his television adventures in six series of programmes for the BBC including Skeleton Coast, Last of the Men, Ice Dogs and Adventures for Boys: The Lost World of Ryder Haggard – the titles alone give you a sense of derring do.
But in November last year he became a household name when he hit the headlines for being lost in the jungle. Benedict had undertaken a solo expedition to Papua New Guinea to track down a community he had befriended 30 years earlier. When he failed to meet a flight home, people started to worry and then the world’s press got involved.
“I was looking for a lost tribe of people who were incredibly good to me 35 years ago and I wanted to see they were okay. Why not take a phone or a GPS in this day and age? Well, my feeling is that I’ve had 35 years’ experience of not doing that. I like to look locals in the eye and say we are on equal terms.
“For me it’s my way of exploring another country and it’s incredibly important to disconnect. We are all explorers by nature and there’s a huge amount to do out there.”
He will tell the story of his trip – when he also developed malaria – plus other adventures with never-before-seen material from his travels across the globe
in his first theatre tour Ultimate Explorer. He hopes it will prove interesting, but also instil a little bit of a sense of adventure in the audience.
“I feel very strongly that children should grow up as I did, cooking sausages on sticks,” he says. “We should be excited by every day and the planet and have small adventures. We need to have different interests in life; we are in such danger of being homogenised.
He continues: “We hear terrible stories about the natural environment being destroyed but we can all be inquisitive about the world and do something about it. The world is full of wonder and the job of an explorer is to communicate back, to speak to people and share those stories.”
TRACKING LIONS AND FUNNY FOOD
The BBC calls Simon Reeve “television’s most adventurous traveller” and with good reason. His fascinating programmes have taken viewers all around the world - Russia, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, Tropic of Cancer, the Equator and Burma.
While we can enjoy Simon’s take on a country’s history, people and environment from the comfort of our sofas, he has been dodging rockets on frontlines, hounded by the KGB, tracking lions on foot and having close encounters with some rather dodgy characters, many of them armed.
Now a theatre tour, An Audience with Simon Reeve, goes behind the scenes of his travels to discover how a 17-year-old who left school with no real qualifications became one of our most compelling programme makers.
“I have a slightly pathetic background and things got quite low for me when I was a
‘I feel very strongly that children should grow up as I did, cooking sausages on sticks’
teenager,” says Simon, who lives with his wife and young son in Moretonhampstead, Devon. “I was on the dole for a while and left school with no qualifications.”
After some dead end jobs he started as a postboy on a national newspaper and made himself useful in the office, expanding his role. He then started travelling and writing and has a career of fascinating experiences spanning 15 years.
Simon hopes he might instil more of a sense of adventure in us all. “We have quite a thin veneer of order in Britain,” he says. “It’s fine when everything works reasonably well until there’s a slight blip – like the first flurry of snow and the Co-op runs out of food. One of the big things to learn from travel, and one of the ways I try and understand the things I’ve seen, is how utterly privileged we are compared to the vast number of people out there.”
With all his dangerous encounters around the globe, how does Simon feel about facing a live audience on his first ever theatre tour? “The thought of it does become more scary as it becomes more imminent. The guy whose idea it was was was so confident and convincing. He said it would be fun. I’d had a few drinks and I signed an agreement. Then I thought, ‘what on earth have I signed up for?’
“I love chatting about what I’ve done and I’m hoping to inspire people to push themselves a bit. It’s easy for us to think that travel is all about getting on a budget flight and sitting by a swimming pool. We should take some chances – eat some funny foreign food and rack up some experiences.”
Benedict Allen is at the McMillan Theatre, Bridgwater on 14, Cheese & Grain, Frome on 26, Yeovil Octagon, 27 and Bristol 1532, 28 October. Simon Reeve is at Yeovil Octagon on 28 October.
Simon Reeve is coming to Yeovil this month
ABOVE: Benedict Allen with his friend Howard from the Hewa people of Papua New Guinea