Exclusive Interview With Adventurer Simon Reeve
Adventurer Simon Reeve has already done more and been to more places around the world than most of us can even dream about. From uncovering an Al Qaeda terror cell while working on his local newspaper to having a book adapted into an Oscar-winning documentary, that’s just the start of Simon’s incredible adventures.
Related: Exclusive Interview with Kate Humble
We were lucky enough to chat with Simon about his upcoming stage tour and BBC show, as well as other fascinating tales from his travels, including being interrogated by the KGB, the weirdest things he’s eaten, and his favourite parts of the UK.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming tour…
The tour is pretty extensive, intimidatingly so, and it fills me with terror! I’m mainly going to be talking about the journeys, adventures and people I’ve met on my travels. I’ve had some incredible encounters with remote indigenous communities… former slaves who are now great leaders, people who have absolutely nothing but share everything. They have been very inspiring and humbling to spend time with.
I’m keen to pass those stories on to people and talking about my own somewhat pathetic background and hope that will encourage other people to travel the world and have adventures.
I don’t come from a wealthy family who travelled a lot. I come from a very ordinary background and had a very difficult time at school and left without any real qualifications. I went on the dole and was turned down for almost every job I went for.
Give us a teaser of the things you’ll be talking about. Weren’t you arrested for spying by the KGB?
There will be a good few travel tales involved – I’ve had plenty of strange and extreme experiences!
Arrested for spying by the KGB was a very weird experience for a bloke from Acton in London, but we were pretty banged to rights because we were crawling through bushes trying to film a secret Russian military base!
All of a sudden then there was a squeal of tires and literally blokes in trenchcoats started running towards us. It was too cliched to believe! They took us away to the KGB headquarters and questioned us.
Things weren’t looking too good for us until one of our local producers turned up at the headquarters in the middle of the night. I’d earlier been chatting about how my family’s only claim to fame is that my mum reckons we’re very distantly related to architect Sir Christopher Wren, and our producer knew this and turned up banging on the door and said ‘you cannot arrest this man, he’s related to the Queen of England and you’ll bring terrible shame on the country.’
The KGB guys came down to the cells, apologised and released us into the night and gave us KGB cap badges as a souvenir!
I’ve had some very weird and wonderful adventures. I’ve walked through minefields, tracked lions on foot, been adopted by headhunters in the jungles of borneo, even taught to fish by the president of Moldova!
I think we live in a time where people can travel almost anywhere and do almost anything. I just hope I can encourage people to push themselves out of their comfort zones and get out there and do things because this is a wonderful time to be having adventures and experiences outdoors.
We can’t stay glued to screens, we have to get up and actually do things because there are such opportunities out there.
Are there any places you haven’t been that you want to go?
I think i’ve been to about 120 countries, but there are loads of places I’d love to visit. I’m from Acton and still remember the crushing feeling of being on the dole month after month after month, and so I don’t take it for granted. I’d love to go to West Africa, Japan, New Zealand. I’d love to explore more of North America, and I haven’t seen a lot of Central America. There’s a lot of places I haven’t been and you’re making me salivate just thinking about it!
What are your favourite places right here in the UK?
I haven’t spent enough time exploring our island but it’s good to remember how beautiful it is. I have had the fortune of travelling the planet but these islands are definitely top 5 most beautiful places on Earth for me. I adore Devon, the Lake District, Peak District, and hilly and mountainous areas like the Highlands.
We often take the UK for granted and need constant reminders how amazing it is. We should be exploring what’s here on our doorstep.
Yes the weather isn’t as predictable as we would like but there’s no excuse for not having the right kit. It’s pretty cheap to kit you and your family out with decent walking boots and clothing to enjoy anything the British climate to throw at you and still get out there and see it in all four seasons. It’s a joy and a privilege and people should be required by law to do it more often because it’s so life enhancing!
Am I on message for Winfields?!
Ed: We didn’t even have to tell him to say that!
What items can’t you be without when you’re away?
I always take a card or drawing from my son. Sometimes that can be tough as I always miss him when I’m away. I also take little torch, a multi tool like a Leatherman, a small tool called a Gerber, flapjacks, and a steel water bottle so I don’t have to keep buying plastic bottles. That’s important to me, realising the impact of our adventures on the environment.
I also take a desire to push myself to try and do things that get me out of my comfort zone. That’s where the best memories and experiences are to be had.
Whether you’re travelling Lancashire or Liberia, knowing a bit more about the place you’re visiting makes it a much more interesting experience. Obviously some people just want to sit on a sun lounger and soak up some sun and I understand people want to do that, but getting out and about, trying weird food, climbing mountains and swimming wild in a river are all really exciting things to have in your memory banks and sustain you through life.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten on your travels?
I quite embrace it actually. It’s definitely part of the TV presenter gig to be the idiot in front of the camera trying the strange foreign food, but I really like doing it. It’s very rarely awful, it’s usually OK and sometimes delicious, but more importantly it gives you such strong memories of the place and a story to tell as well.
I’ve eaten penis soup in Madagascar, buffalo poo in South East Asia, roasted sheep’s eyeballs in Saudi Arabia, and BBQ rat in more countries than I’d like to remember. Not everyone lives in a place where nice red chunks of meat are sold in cellophane.
They eat what crawls and scampers and slithers in the forest, not just the meaty bits, all of it because they’re poor. Doing that helps you remember how lucky you are and also helps understand their world as well.
Try the funny food a bit more often. Don’t eat in restaurants with pictures of the grub outside. Got to the quirky restaurants. Try these things, test yourself, and make sure you have stories to tell as a result.
Tell us about your upcoming BBC show about Russia
It’s a 3 part TV series travelling across the world’s biggest country. We start in the far east where very few outsiders go called Kamchatka, and we were helicoptered to the top of a volcano 3km above sea level at minus 30 degrees. It was an utterly extreme and extraordinary place, breathtakingly beautiful and the perfect place to start the vastness that is Russia.
We travel from east back to the west via many encounters with wonderful and eccentric Russians. We had a few run-ins with the Russian security people who were harassing us and detaining us, and I spent a long day behind bars, but they were stupid enough not to take our phones off us so we filmed some of that.
We met such a good cast of craxy characters from a guy who runs a lion park to the incredible reindeer herders who live in temps down to minus 50. We went to tough parts of the country, and hopefully it makes for a fascinating show!
A massive thank you to Simon for taking the time to speak with us. ‘Russia With Simon Reeve’ starts on the 28th September on BBC Two at 9pm.