Ed Stafford was bitten by the bug for adventure from an early age as a Cub and then Scout. Four years as an officer in the Devon and Dorset Regiment can only have sharpened his appetite for adventure, and after leaving the army he undertook an incredible two-year expedition to walk the entire length of the Amazon. Aired on television as Walking the Amazon, it was an adventure described by another legendary explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, as “truly extraordinary” and has been celebrated with an array of awards and Guinness World Records. He has been commissioned for several shows for Discovery Channel since 2012 and Sorted’s Martin Leggatt caught up with him between filming for his new show First Man Out.
You’re in the Guinness Book of Records for your epic Amazon expedition and received loads of accolades. When you set out, did you think it would be that big a deal to people?
I think I did realise that it would be a big deal to people, because so many people told me, “That’s impossible, you can’t do that, you’ll die.” That really annoyed me, and I felt that I wanted to prove people wrong in many respects. However, I also knew that in order to be noticed and build a name for myself, I had to do something that had never been done before.
I took along my own camera to document the experience because I wanted to show people how challenging it was, and I thought it would make for a good story. The challenge wasn’t all about having my name in the papers, although I managed to carve a TV career out of it – and that wasn’t by accident. That side of it did appeal to me. But, deep down, I wanted to prove that I could do something outside of the ordinary. As a result of Walking the Amazon, it’s given me a career that I love.
What kept you going? That you were doing it for charity?
The scale of the challenge and the satisfaction that would come from completing it was obviously a massive pull. And charity was always at the forefront of my mind, as I knew so many people had supported various causes, and there’s always that thought that you don’t want to disappoint others by throwing in the towel.
Does Cho [Gadiel Sánchez Rivera, a Peruvian adventurer and Ed’s companion on his Amazon adventure] still accompany you on your adventures?
Not any more, no. He came back with me to the UK for a while after Walking the Amazon, and he stayed with my mum. Now he lives in Pucallpa, Peru, and has a baby with an indigenous Shipibo woman.
You’re married with a son. Does that make you think twice about going off on adventure?
Obviously, you now think more about other people, and my family are the most important thing to me. When I used to set off on adventures, I would do so without any hesitation or properly thinking about particular dangers or repercussions. Now I know that I have to come back for my family, so it has changed my perspective on that front.
After becoming a father, the temptation is to stay at home more and be with the family, but it’s been great fun filming for the latest series. I think having a family now makes filming for Discovery Channel more meaningful as I’m providing for Laura and Ran by doing what I’m doing. I believe that a family is like a harbour – it’s where you are safest and where you can rest and recover. But a ship isn’t built to stay in its harbour.
Your wife, Laura, is an explorer in her own right, and now you have a son. What are the odds on him following in his parents’ footsteps?
It’s a clichéd answer, but he can honestly be anything he wants to be as long as he’s happy. I suspect that he’ll amount to quite a lot more, and I’m not so much of a hippy that I don’t want to see him succeed financially and in business.
Is that something you’d encourage?
I’ll definitely encourage him to embrace the outdoors and he can have his own adventures, make mistakes and become a fuller and more rounded person as a result. More importantly for me is that he’s at peace inside and if he’s confident, humble and retains his sense of humour when things go wrong, everything else will slot into place. The last thing he needs is pressure to perform – life is to be grinned at and enjoyed.
Do you think you’ll ever stop and lead a less exciting life?
Things do change naturally as part of having a family. Nowadays, whenever I’m in the country, I make the most of the downtime and love spending my time at home surrounded by Laura and Ran and catching up with my friends. I don’t think I’ll ever lose the urge to travel, see new places and learn new things. It’s more likely that I will just naturally slow down as I get older, the same as everyone. But that won’t stop be from doing what I love.
What can you tell us about your new show for Discovery, First Man Out?
First Man Out is a ‘survival-off’ between the best international survival experts in incredible and remote locations. I face a different expert each episode and they have all been humble characters so far, who genuinely want to push themselves and learn and grow, so it’s been a very positive experience for all involved.
Is there an unfulfilled adventure out there for you?
There’s still so much more of the world I would like to see. Ultimately, the adventures I can’t wait for the most are the ones I’d like to take my son, Ran, on, with his mother, of course. I’d love to show him the Amazon and tell him stories I have from my experiences there.
What’s next for you, Ed?
The next show with Discovery is the focus at the moment. In terms of the future – more kids, more adventures, more fun, but also more relaxing and enjoying what we have achieved so far.