Adventurer and TV presenter Bear Grylls on his upcoming live tour, how he’d like to expand his family, and why he thinks low-fat diets are a waste of time…
By Tiffany Hart
His brave escapades on TV have made him an international star, and now Bear Grylls is set for his biggest challenge yet – a live show. From 7 October, the adventurous star will be touring with Endeavour around the UK. Here he reveals what to expect, how he’d like to expand his family, and why he thinks low-fat diets are a waste of time…
How are you going to bring the outdoors into an arena on your live tour?
This is why I am so excited about this show and so proud of Endeavour. It is an ambitious project because it’s never been done like this before. It came about because we were filming in the States and had a day off in Vegas, went to see Cirque du Soleil and thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to bring some of these elements of aerial acrobatics, along with some of the new technology you can do? With 3D mapping you can make whole arenas come to life, and become jungles or mountains. Then celebrate some of the greatest stories of endurance and feats of human spirit triumphing over crazy adversity… Combine all these elements to really take people on a journey that will move them and inspire them. That was the vision and the whole thing has grown and grown. It’s the start of a global tour. We’re starting off first of all in the UK in October. It will be amazing. Out of all the things we’ve ever done, I think I’m more excited about this than anything else ever, because it’s up-close and personal, although they are big spaces, these arenas! There’s something special about live shows. I know it will make people feel like they’ve conquered the world at the end of it. I am excited about it.
Is it going to be like a real-life Hunger Games?
Yep. We’re using a lot of the space in the arena. We’ve been testing a lot of the technology in Pinewood [Studios]. It is amazing what you can do. It will be quite a scary and gruesome experience, parts of it, for people, because it’s so close-up and visceral. You’re actually inside it sometimes. At the end of it, it’s meant to be very uplifting. At the end of the day, it’s a show. Yes, it’s entertaining, but my goal is always to do something that six months on you’re still feeling: “Wow, that was amazing.” You’ll love it.
What do you put in place in terms of safety?
I have got another team dealing with that. I’m focused on making it as scary and as exciting and as dramatic and as terrifying as I can. Then we do have another team of people saying: “All right, we do have to manage a few things.” You’ve got to be over eight years old. It’s a fun experience for people. When you see and hear close-up some of the stories of what people have been through, and come out the other end, it’s inspiring. That’s why I believe the show will make people cry as much as it will amaze them at the end. It’s moving when you see real, raw, human courage.
Was there anything you want to do but the insurance company said it was too expensive and risky?
I’ve become a master of working our way around these sort of things. We’re always ambitious and like to push boundaries as much as we can. Occasionally there’s a bit of pushback. The most pushback we had was from the secret service with the Obama one. Apart from that, we generally get these things through. For the live show, the goal is to push the boundaries, which is why we’re swinging ropes on top of people and all these sorts of stuff. It’s going to be fun.
What did you want to do with Obama that you weren’t allowed?
There was a long list. And when we started off it was like: “Woah, this is going to be hard” but we had a few days with the secret service beforehand and once they trusted us, and saw how we worked, they relaxed. Their job is to keep him absolutely safe, but in the end we found a good middle ground.
What would you say to those who think faith is for wimps?
Christianity is the wildest ride I have known in anything – and with probably the most radical call to love and adventure that there is on this planet. Jesus, the heart of the Christian faith, certainly was no wimp – he survived 40 days in the desert with no food, for starters. And in the way he lived, he was always hanging around with the prostitutes and the tax collectors and having parties and banquets, and ultimately was tortured to death. Ditto so many of the great Christian men and women through the ages. David, Daniel, Joseph, you name them. Courageous, wild, fierce at times. But I always find myself drawn to that sort of character, not the kind of fluff that we like to box as religion. The smiley Sunday pious folk I find much harder to deal with because it makes me feel inadequate. Jesus never does that. There were many accusations wielded at Jesus – wimp was never one of them.
Gordon Ramsay said that his son Jack has been inspired by your shows and now wants to join the Royal Marines.
Good for him. I know Jack; he’s a cool young man and would make a great Royal Marines officer. I do a lot with the Royal Marines as an honorary member. The spirit of the commander experience is all about courage and determination, selflessness, cheerfulness in adversity. Those four qualities are right at the heart of what Endeavour is about, the TV shows that we try to do, and Jack – if he likes our shows – will love the ethos of the Royal Marines, and I’m sure he’ll do really well.
Is it easier to be a marine than cope with Gordon as your dad?
He’s not going to have a problem with [a] drill sergeant shouting!
You have three boys. Would you like to expand your family?
We’ve got to keep practising! The greatest joy in my life is our three boys. I’d love lots, lots more. The great thing about nature is you can’t always force it your way.
Are you actively trying?
That’s a private one.
Have you any tips on keeping young boys entertained?
I think kids just want to mess around and have fun together. It doesn’t have to be spectacular or expensive, it can be throwing a pillow around.
What is your next TV project?
We are in the middle of filming Running Wild season three for NBC at the moment, then we’re doing a big new ITV series, which is taking, one-on-one, celebrities away on an adventure but with UK stars rather than US ones. I can’t say who yet, but it’s amazing. Then we’re doing another series for Chinese TV, then back on The Island. Lots happening. The live shows are taking the most time in rehearsals. Our TV stuff keeps going, but I’m so excited about bringing these stories and experiences live, I think it’s going to be something special. We haven’t done it ever on that scale before, so we’re fired up about that.
Can you see yourself doing more live and less TV in the future?
I love it all, but all they are [are] shop windows for really showing those values and what spreads inspiration best, whether that be the medium of books or TV or live shows. The values we try to promote are always the same, about encouraging people to get out there and really live their adventures. You’ll sit through Endeavour and by the end of it will be like: “Right, I’m going to conquer my world.”
As someone who promotes a healthy, active lifestyle, what did you think about recent reports that we should eat more fat and ditch low-fat diets?
I’ve been saying that for a while. It’s one of the greatest cons, low-fat things. Nature knows best and we should always be aiming for whole foods. That’s the goal. If it appears in nature, it’s generally going to be good. If somebody has had to make it, it’s probably bad. I think that’s a good rule of thumb.
Are you strict with stopping your sons eating too much processed and sugary food?
I’m quite strict with myself because it’s my job and I need to be fit and strong for it. Shara [his wife] is quick to say: “Everyone’s got to live their own things as well, so don’t be too hard.” You can only live your stuff. Shara loves eating healthily, and all the boys have grown up eating healthy. It’s amazing seeing our kids devouring broccoli. I never touched a vegetable until I was 18. It was a different time. All the delicious stuff was high fat, sugar and salt. Vegetables were stewed to death and stank. It’s been a journey for me, how to make healthy food delicious. My kids get it. They’re much smarter than me. It’s much more natural for them.
What would you call your job title if you had to fill in a form?
It’s hard to give yourself a label without it sounding pretentious. Dad, maybe? Lover of adventure, people and life.
Would you like to turn your experiences into an animated show, which younger children could watch?
It’s a brilliant idea. We have so many brilliant ideas, but that one is in there – an animated TV series for kids. We’ve got to pursue that one. Good idea. I love it.
Will you get time to work on a new idea?
We’ve got seven separate TV series that we own and host around the world, so there’s a lot of juggling and happening. We’re focused, and part of being focused and being efficient is about learning what not to do. We’ve got a brilliant team and that’s such a big part of it. I look at Endeavour and I could never have put this show together on my own. It’s been a monster. We’ve learned to partner with the best people, and you know it’s going to be good. I spoke to one of the technicians at Pinewood yesterday, who are invariably hard to please. He went: “You’ve got a winner with that.” That’s all I need to hear. If he’s happy, I’m happy. They’ve worked on Bond!
Could you take the live show outdoors to a festival like Glastonbury?
No, I think there’s something cool about the arenas. You can’t escape. The adventure really is immersive. The technology works so well. It can be quite daunting. You really feel you’re in this jungle and it’s all happening around you. The lighting and sound is all around.
Out of the Darkness
By Ali Hull
When the time came for converted prisoner Anthony Gielty to apply for parole, he was not short of good advice. It included, “Don’t go and tell them you’ve met Jesus and you’re all better now.” As another prisoner pointed out, “Loads of people have tried that and it doesn’t work.”
But that gave Anthony a huge problem. Because it was Jesus, and only Jesus, who had transformed him. And he really couldn’t say anything else, because of that transformation. As he said to his mates, “I am not going to tell them it was their ‘cognitive skills’ or their ‘anger management’. I will be telling the social workers doing my reports that Jesus has given me a new heart.”
“Good luck with that,” was the reply.
His mates were right, though. When Anthony met the social worker responsible for assessing him, she was less than impressed with his conversion story. But he stuck to the story – because it was and is wonderfully and gloriously true.
Tony Gielty (he stopped being called this and reverted to Anthony, when his life changed) was, at 17, one of the nastiest pieces of work you could have had the misfortune to meet, and many of those who did meet him profoundly wished they hadn’t. Once off the streets and into prison, after an attempted murder using a samurai sword, he brought terror to prison staff and his fellow inmates. Nothing they did or said made any difference. A drug dealer from inside of prison, he had plenty of money, and the most comfortable lifestyle you can buy behind bars, making a clear profit of £1,000 a week. But he was being eaten away from the inside by paranoia and hatred. “I started to have Valium smuggled in as my inner world was completely chaotic and full of pain. I began to take serious amounts – sometimes more than 50 pills in a weekend.” It didn’t help, in fact it made him worse, and he would forget what he was doing. “I would have flashbacks of walking into the cells of other prisoners in the morning while they were just waking up, and putting blades to their throats, threatening to kill them for this or that. I was losing it completely.”
Faced with a prisoner who was a menace to himself and everyone else around him, the Scottish Prison Service were going to have to reach for their last resort. “The prison authorities had exhausted every avenue with me, in their endeavours to get me to change. I now saw with chilling certainty that my options had run out; there was no other road for me than that which the prisoners called the Ghost Train.” This, he knew, would destroy him: “It consists of continuous solitary confinement for years on end. A prisoner is taken from prison to prison and held in each establishment’s Segregation Unit for three months, before being moved to another solitary unit. This is done to ensure the offender has very little time to settle into a routine, making it more difficult for them to plan any disorder or disruption. I had witnessed the chilling aftermath in the lives of others who had undergone the Ghost Train. They were the prisoner wandering the exercise yard alone, like a wounded animal desperately trying to keep up with the pack.”
Knowing he had no other option, and following the advice of another violent criminal, Tony Gielty asked to see a priest. This was not the option the prison officers wanted or had any faith in, but they agreed.
As Tony remembers, “When Father John MacFadden came to see me, there was something deeply disturbing about the man, and something I couldn’t work out, it was his stare that unsettled me most. He didn’t look at me in the same way countless prisoners and prison officers would look at me. It really troubled me. For years, I had been looked upon as an animal. Indeed, I believed I was an animal and convinced I could be nothing else. Yet there remained an approachable kindness in his eyes – eyes that were not telling me I was subhuman.”
And that meeting was the start of a new life. Soon Tony was reading his Bible, going to prayer meetings, talking to the chaplains and studying the lives of the saints. But he was also still dealing in drugs. The day was fast approaching when he was going to have to choose to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, or to slip back into criminal ways. And there would be a crisis.
Having been moved to a prison where he had few contacts, Tony had been able to pursue his new interest in faith, and for six months, he had not been involved in any fights. The prison authorities were delighted. As one of them said, having called him in to the supervisor’s office, “Whatever you’ve been doing, it’s working. No stabbings or slashings; nothing – not even a scrap.” But there was a reason for their delight. Tony had left behind a friend in a previous prison, whose behaviour was causing concern. Would it be a good idea, they asked, if this friend was moved to the same prison as Tony – “Then perhaps some of the good things that are happening in your life might rub off on him.”
Did Tony want this? “Here, I had peace for the first time in so long. Matt’s arrival would undoubtedly bring an unspoken pressure to conform to the old ways. I did not need reports filtering back to Edinburgh that I was a ‘Bible basher’. But I realised my past would not be outrun. Matt would bring his attitude with him – the same attitude I was slowly losing – and with it would come the old mentality, the old rules, then shortly after that, new troubles.”
And Tony was absolutely right. He was still bound by a code of conduct that said, you stick up for your own – and Matt was one of them. Not long after Matt’s arrival, there was a fight, and Tony was involved. Soon Tony was back in solitary confinement, raging against God for allowing this to happen, after all Tony had done for him, in believing in him.
And then Tony had a spiritual experience that shook him to the depths of his being. Reading the book of Amos, he realised that his faith, to that point, had not gone anything like far enough. In fact, he believed that his drug dealing and other behaviour, while professing to be a Christian, had actually made him unforgiveable. “I was convinced that God hated me and was sending me to hell … but I vowed that though God was just in sending me to hell, his son Jesus was so beautiful, so good and so wise, and that even though I was damned, he deserved everything I could offer him with my life.”
After three days of fasting and praying, still in solitary, convinced that he had left it too late, Tony came to a point of realising that there was mercy left for him – but that he needed to respond. He asked the prison officers to take away the trendy clothes that his drug dealing had bought him, and to provide prison-issue clothing. He asked that his cell be stripped of the fruits of his trading, and he got rid of the mobile phone that controlled the traffic of drugs into the prison. He got himself ready to face the mockery that he knew he was going to face as soon as he was taken back to mix with the other prisoners. This time, there was going to be no half-and-half life – handing out Communion while high on cannabis.
Prison might not have provided the impetus for real change, but having changed, it did give Anthony, as he was now called, the opportunity to catch up on his education, and he seized it with both hands. He also became a listener, there to help other prisoners who were going through difficulties, and he threw himself into the fellowship available with other prisoners who had also become Christians. The change in him was clear for all to see, and people reacted in different ways – in fact, he says, some reacted in more than one way. “Lots of prisoners continued to see me as a weirdo, but many would also come to my cell and we would pray. Often hardened cons on my wing would make their way round just to ask me to say a prayer for their families. At times, Muslim inmates would harass me in the exercise yard, where they could be seen, but then would come back when they could not be seen and ask questions about Christ. They would ask me to pray for them, when their mother was sick or a family member was in trouble.”
Having got out of prison, he wanted to get back in again, to talk to others. “I wanted to see people come to know Jesus, to know that God is real. I wanted to give them hope, that no matter how dark their lives might be, Jesus is able to overcome that darkness – as he overcame mine.”
So – with a message for prisoners – what was stopping him? “I kept being refused entry into prisons because of how violent my previous prison record was – 15 months in solitary, attacks on inmates and officers, being reclassified as too dangerous even for a prison known for violence. Opportunities to speak with others in the same situation as I had once been kept being cancelled. Chaplains would get clearance from governors, things would be put in place, and then the officers responsible for prison security would ensure I was refused entry. So this prompted the idea for a book.”
And the book, Out of the Darkness (Monarch), is not just to help him get back into prison. “I was desperate to present the mercy of Jesus Christ to the reader, so that others trapped in hate may find a way out, and those facing hopeless situations may be encouraged to seek God. Too many of my friends remain trapped in drug abuse, or have been imprisoned or even killed, written off by themselves and others.”
Life has not been plain sailing in other ways since Anthony finally walked free from prison. Initially, his family struggled with him – he was simply not the same person they had known, and while that was good in many ways, it was not easy. And he needed, as all newly released prisoners do, to find new friends, and a new source of income that was not linked to crime – while all the time being tempted by the many contacts he had. These, the many leaders in the drug trade, didn’t believe that the star dealer they had worked with for so long could really mean that he was turning his back on the money in order to start a new life. Just one more deal?
However, when Anthony finally went to Bible college (ICC in Glasgow), he not only gained a degree, he met, fell in love with, and married Anna. When they set up home together, and she got pregnant, it seemed all was set – and then the baby, Louis, was born at only 24 weeks, very premature. Louis battled through and then their second child, Peter, was also born early, at 23 weeks. Again, the couple were faced with weeks in hospital as their baby son fought for life and they prayed. Finally, he was allowed home – but there have been many readmissions since. These experiences with his sons have fed his faith, Anthony says: “Their little journeys into this world have deepened my appreciation of the sanctity of human life, and reminded me that life is life, no matter how small and vulnerable. My boys have me continually celebrating the goodness of God in their little lives, and the smallest of their achievements generates so much praise.”
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