Sept. 7: In his new series, Bear Grylls battles avalanches, barbecues, tarantulas and relies on his own urine in such increasingly inventive ways that his bladder really deserves mention in the credits.
He has, however, a confession to make about his antics in hostile places: “People are used to seeing me dropped in and charging off, when sometimes the most sensible thing to do is to take no risks, stay where you are, and wait for rescue — but that would be a really bad TV programme.
“So I like to preface everything by saying, “Only do these things if you’ve got no other options.’ These shows are about the worst case scenarios.”
Grylls has always struck me as the nervy show pony when compared with the calm and plodding man of the forest that is Ray Mears. Given the choice between heading for a freshwater stream or draining the fluid from an iguana’s eyeball, Grylls knows which makes for better television.
While Mears has revealed that he used his bushcraft skills to help police to track Raoul Moat, one imagines that the Grylls approach might have been to dive out of a plane in a wingsuit and arm-wrestle the fugitive to the ground.
The new series, Escape From Hell, is vintage Grylls, combined with some horrifying real-life stories: imagine a Boy's Own version of the Michael Buerk programme, 999. The case studies include a pair of Frenchmen who almost starved to death after 52 days in the Amazon rainforest; the teenage backpacker lost in the mountains; and the sheepish British scientist, armed with nothing but minibar snacks, whose short walk from his hotel turned into a nightmare ordeal in the Malaysian jungle.
To celebrate its launch, Grylls, 39, invited journalists for “an experiential day” of survival training; “hell” in this case being a wet field near Cheltenham racecourse, about seven minutes' walk from a five-star country house hotel.
With us was Dave Pearce, the consultant with 25 years' experience in the British Commandos, whose job on the programme was to ensure safety on set, checking that there were no rocks beneath water where Grylls jumped, and capturing the tarantulas and other fauna Grylls is seen spearing and eating on screen.
Is Grylls concerned that younger viewers might injure themselves while copying his stunts? “I do sometimes worry about that. If you're making TV, there’s always going to be that sort of risk. Obviously I don’t want kids to do dangerous things but I get many people writing or emailing to tell me they got out of a difficult situation by remembering something they had seen.”
Escape From Hell will be broadcast on the Discovery Channel across Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and West Asia. “He is our Chuck Norris,” says the man from German Playboy, one of around 30 journalists who have travelled from as far as Colombia, Japan and Malaysia to spend two hours making fires and nettle tea with the presenter in the hostile environs of the Cotswolds.
“Survival is gritty, muddy and it always stinks,” says Grylls, smearing mud on our faces, to the alarm of the girl from Vogue. He hands out cord and tarpaulin to build shelters and cotton wool to start our fires. “Humans have known how to do these things for millions of years but we don't know how to do it anymore.”