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.