Exclusive Interview with Daniel Raven-Ellison
With the cold weather slowly retiring for the year, it’s about time we all dusted off our walking boots and got back outdoors. In order to give us the boost we needed we interviewed adventurer, and one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers, Daniel Raven-Ellison.
How did you get started in exploring?
I think we all have the ability to explore and learn from the moment we are born. We just make the choice if we want to or not. So, for me, I have been outdoors and loved exploring the natural world since childhood.
You have taken part in lots of projects. Do you have a favourite?
Last year, to celebrate National Geographic’s 125-year anniversary, I was lucky enough, with my son, to be invited to take part in 125 challenges across the UK. We completed adventures all across the twelve main regions of the UK which varied massively, from gorge walking to mountain biking.
The project made me realise how important it is to make adventures accessible to all.
Can you tell us more about the National Geographic Emerging Explorer?
Each year National Geographic select a few people who are working in the field of exploration to become their Emerging Explorers. The great thing about this is that it doesn’t just have to be what you would expect as an ‘explorer’, it also takes into account scientific exploration as well. I was selected due to my work on the Mission:Explore project.
Could you tell us more about the Mission:Explore project and how it works?
Mission:Explore is a series of books, events and a website that encourages children to explore, play and learn outside. It gives them ideas about how to use the outdoors for fun. For example, one mission may be to get across your park without being spotted by a squirrel.
At the moment we are really focusing on working with schools and parents. Many schools would love to incorporate more outdoor activities into their teaching but the curriculum can make that difficult. Mission:Explore can be used as a tool for teachers to encourage parents to take children outdoors and complete different missions in their spare time and on the weekends.
You mentioned before your favourite project was the 125 challenges for National Geographic. What was your favourite memory from this trip?
One thing that stands out to me is when me and Seb (my son) were canoeing in the Shetland Islands. The water was choppy and we had to manoeuvre rocky areas, which is always risky. As we were making our way up the river we discovered a sheep stranded on some rocks, and after we pulled it into the boat my son held onto it the whole way we canoed back to shore.
To me this really highlighted how for kids, exploring and adventure is all about the stories. For Seb it was not: ‘look how amazing I am for completing all these adventures’, it was: ‘I saved a sheep.’
The overall favourite memory of that trip is that when we started, Seb was pretty much afraid of the dark, spiders and terrified of heights. One of the first tasks we did was walking a cliff edge, and Seb was understandably very scared. However, the instructor was amazing and put him at ease straight away. By the time the nine months were over, Seb was the one rushing to the world’s largest zip wire. His confidence had grown immensely and he had faced his fears that’s a memory I will never forget.
Do you have any big plans for 2015 ?
In 2014 I walked the height of Mount Everest using only stairs in London buildings, which allowed me examine and explore parts of the city and visit areas I never had before. This year I plan on doing more conceptual exploration and look at habitats in the city and how diverse they can be. I am also working extremely hard on my campaign to make London a National Park city.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Like I said before, seeing my son face his fears. He is now very confident to hold spiders, play in the dark and go up to large heights. I know with projects like Mission:Explore we can help build this confidence for other children too.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
It’s ok to fail!
What is the best advice you can give budding explorers?
The media tends to focus on these adventurers who go to extremes and often injure themselves to conquer these amazing feats. Although these are inspirational people and what they achieve is amazing, it’s not realistic. What’s important to look at is what’s aspirational and practical, and doesn’t injure yourself. Start small, be comfortable but push yourself to do what you want to do to have happy and memorable experiences.
What is one piece of equipment you could not explore without?
What activities do you enjoy in your free time?
I really enjoy dancing – as you can see, I’m always moving!
How do you stay motivated?
My work is fun and enjoyable, so that helps, but mainly I stay motivated by knowing that I’m doing things that will help people benefit from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. The great thing is that I am far from alone in this work. There is a thriving and growing community of people who are driven by the same aims. Being part of this movement is both rewarding and motivating.
As Daniel mentioned, his main campaign this year is his petition to make London a National Park city. He says that our cities are highly ecologically diverse and there’s so much potential to improve all the green spaces so more people can engage with them.
For more information on Daniel’s campaign and to sign the petition click here.