Adventurer and survivalist Ed Stafford on what it takes to live life consistently off the grid
- Published 19.05.20, 12:22 AM
- Updated 19.05.20, 12:22 AM
- 6 mins read
Adventurer and world record holder Ed Stafford is used to life off-grid in some of the most hostile locations on the planet. He pushes himself further in two new shows on air on Discovery, Discovery HD and Discovery Plus App — Man Woman Child Wild (to beam today, 11.20am) and First Man Out Season 2 (Saturdays, 8pm). While his wife and two-year-old son join him in the single-episode show, the 41-year-old has to race against another expert survivalist to get out before his rival can in First Man Out.
Where was Man Woman Child Wild filmed?
We were just off the west coast on the main Island in Sumatra. We spent a few days with the Ment Awai tribe and then three weeks on the island.
Whose idea was it to take your two-year-old son Ranulph along?
It was mine.
And what did your wife say to that?
(Laughs) She was fine. Laura is more adventurous than me. She had led a kayak expedition down South American rivers. The project got delayed as she got pregnant again. She was ready to live on an island in that condition but the project insurance would not cover that. Ran was 20 months old when we finally went to the island. If we went at the original time he wouldn’t have been walking. Now he could run around, explore the sea, the cliff.... Of course, we had to be more cautious but we got more out for the show because of it.
Having a baby around must have been risky. You could hardly childproof everything on an island!
Yes, we didn’t know how we were going to cope. We are used to being in the wild, but having a baby would be different. So we went to live with the Ment Awai tribe of Sumatra to learn how they look after their children. They don’t consider their environment to be dangerous as it is their home. Their parenting is based on being very aware and not letting their children get into a situation where they are in any danger. Still we had an evacuation plan. A team with two doctors was on standby, ready to jump into a boat and reach where we were on the island should anything go wrong and take us to a hospital on the mainland. With all that in place, it turned out to be much safer than a holiday in the Maldives, I imagine! (Laughs)
Did you carry any food for your child on this expedition?
We took some fresh drinking water for Ran because he was at such a minor age. We had a big bunch of bananas for him that lasted for about five days before they started to get too brown. Looking back, it was definitely the right decision.
Did you have a cameraman to record the footage?
Normally, I film it on my own. But as I had my wife and kid along, occasionally, they did send a boat with the cameraman if we were doing something that was particularly difficult. Nobody wants a child to come to any harm. Still, about 90 per cent (of the footage) was self-filmed. We were exhausted at the end of the project, having to child mind or film or simply survive all the time.
You mentioned plans for a longer season of Man Woman Child Wild. Can you manage with two kids now that you are expecting your second child?
We’re actually expecting child 2 and 3! It’s twins. We would love to evolve the concept of Man Woman Child Wild into a family survival show but that can’t happen for about two years now due to the ages of the twins. We are expecting them in July. Nothing is ever certain, especially nowadays, but if Discovery suggested it, I know Laura and I would jump!
As for the other show, where all did you go for the shoot of First Man Out Season 2?
Everything was shot in China. It was such a privilege to get access to some really remote areas of China with extraordinary variety — high altitude swamps and deserts, snow-capped mountain ridges and vast subterranean cave systems. It’s such a huge country and there was no shortage of space!
What is the basic idea of the show? Are you airdropped in the middle of nowhere and you compete with someone to come back into civilisation faster than the other?
Essentially, yes. The idea was conceived in order to add mental pressure and time pressure. A survival experiment where you just sit around and take your time to whittle a spoon isn’t realistic as you’d likely be wanting to get to help or safety and the clock would be ticking. By adding a competitor, it totally changes the feel of the show and it becomes far more intense.
Which episode was the toughest to shoot?
The high-altitude episode shot against Ky Furneaux was physically the hardest episode. Even to get to the infil point (the start) there was a climb of about 700m vertically and after about 100m, the drone operator had to turn back. We went to Plan B, which was for the director of photography (DoP) to fly the drone. But as we reached the top, the DoP showed symptoms of pulmonary edema and was escorted off the mountain. In order to get aerial footage of the beginning of the race, I had to take the drone off myself as I was the only other qualified drone operator! In short, even getting to the beginning was tough, and the relentless cold weather and altitude meant that things didn’t get easier!
What kind of competitors are you up against in this season?
Ky Furneaux was a Hollywood stuntwoman-turned-survival guru from Naked and Afraid. Josh James is a Kiwi bushman from Kings of the Wild. Will Lord is probably the leading authority on flint knapping and primitive skills. Wu Xinlei was a former Chinese soldier in the French Foreign Legion — a total wild card who I knew nothing about. Finally,
Matt Wright (aka the Juggernaugt) was a boat captain and survival expert from Naked and Afraid who was picked to face me in the coastal episode in the South China Sea.
How long did it take to shoot an episode?
It varied. Seven days of filming and a couple of days of pick-up shots, aerial shots, drone shots, etc. There were a couple of episodes in the rainy season which took longer. Everything was slippery and muddy and we were very slow. There was another one in the largest high-altitude marsh land in the world, Zoige Marsh, which was a slow and difficult drain. It was a battle of minds as it was not a beautiful location but just a big endless flat bog.
If you can pick anyone you fancy in the third season as your opponent in an episode of First Man Out, who would you pick?
Bear Grylls, of course. Bear is the undisputed biggest name in the world of adventure and survival and I’d be crazy if I didn’t want to take him on head to head. My guess is that he’d probably turn the offer down, but you never know — perhaps if we somehow did it to promote global scouting, then he might bite!
What do you pack in the bag when you set out on an expedition?
It depends where I’m going! If it’s China, then there is no point taking a knife or lighter as they get removed from your bags at the airport. Luckily, from all the time I’ve spent surviving with nothing in Marooned, another show I did for Discovery, I can cope without most things. As long as I have my passport, debit card and phone, I can go anywhere and do anything.
You hold a Guinness World Record for walking the length of the Amazon!
It was my first major expedition. I had spent seven years doing conservation expeditions for a charity and I realised that I had spent a lot of time in the jungles — in Borneo and central America — but I had never been to the Amazon. I wanted to do something I could look back on with pride. I realised no one had walked down the Amazon before and calculated that I could walk 4,000 miles in a year, but I had grossly underestimated it. It took me three years and four months.
You are a survivalist but usually you do that in the wild. With a pandemic at our doorstep, what survival strategies can you share?
I have spent a lot of time in isolation. That can be mentally very unsettling, not having any connection with other people. Though this is a completely different situation, I’d say use the telephone or the Internet to connect with family or friends. We have dinner every evening with my elderly mother who is there on the laptop at the end of the table. She stays alone but it gives her a chance to feel connected. We are lucky that we are in the countryside and we can go out in the garden. If you are trapped indoors all day, go to the rooftop and get some sunshine. This may sound paradoxical but it is also important to get some time away from family even if you love them, to gather your thoughts and come back in.