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Simon Reeve: "I never realised just how beautiful Ireland really is"

His day job has seen him dodge bullets, perch in a drug den and, recently, narrowly avoid a bolt which was lobbe in his direction. But you won't find him complaining, as Keeley Bolger discovers

Published 21/11/2015

Simon Reeve
Simon Reeve

TV adventurer Simon Reeve's travel relics take some beating. As well as a sword from the Dayak tribe in Borneo, previously used to behead people, he recently added a "really heavy bolt" to his collection.

"It was thrown in my direction during a minor riot that happened after the July 12 'marching season' in Belfast," explains the presenter with a bemused chuckle.

"Luckily it missed me, but it would have ripped a giant hole or at the least knocked me out, it could have done some nasty damage. It's a nasty thing to be chucking around. Naughty, naughty, naughty, I would say."

Like the sword, the bolt is kept at a safe distance from Reeve's four-year-old son Jake in the family's home in "the middle of nowhere" in Devon, which he shares with wife Anya, a TV camerawoman.

While the grisly souvenirs are tucked away on a shelf, the memory of his recent amble around Northern Ireland and the Republic is fresh in his mind.

As personable and chatty off screen as he is on, Reeve delved into the region's culture, beliefs and history for his new BBC Two documentary, Ireland With Simon Reeve.

"It came as a shock just how beautiful it is," he says. "I feel a little bit ashamed. I travel for a living and I didn't realise."

As always, Reeve doesn't judge the situations he encounters, but he was acutely aware of his duties when discussing the Troubles on the trip.

"I didn't live through that situation," says the London-born 43-year-old.

It didn't affect my immediate family. I wasn't an oppressed Catholic, I wasn't a Protestant, fearful of the tide of change, so it's very difficult to judge from outside.

"The responsibility is a big one and I'm sure we haven't met it completely, but we did try."

The son of a maths teacher, Reeve spent his teens as a post boy in a newspaper office, before working his way up to becoming a reporter.

He went on to write several books about terrorism, which led to TV spots, and he consequently landed work as a BBC presenter, making travel documentaries exploring the natural and human world.

There have been series on the Indian Ocean, Australia, the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, as well as the Equator.

Next up is a programme on Greece, due early next year, where he was given great vats of olive oil as a gift.

Despite being in his early-40s, Reeve is regularly described as "boyish", a phrase presumably used partially for his wide-eyed enthusiasm, but also for his youthful appearance. So is his stash of the Mediterranean staple the secret of his fresh-faced looks?

"It's very extensive plastic surgery and industrial quantities of Nivea," he says with a laugh. "Just pile it on your face!"

Although he is rarely approached for pictures ("Brits are too cool for that"), the presenter did have an unusual encounter recently.

"Someone tried to stop me in the swimming baths for a picture, when I was trying to dry myself and my son," he reveals.

"I thought that was probably about as inappropriate as it gets. There were no negative vibes coming off them, they were just a bit pleased, so I tried to hide my son behind me and push him back into one of the lockers.

"When you've got a child with you, it's funny how protective a person can get. I go a little bit Viking when I'm with him, in terms of looking for danger and trying to protect the boy."

A tight family unit, Reeve's wife used to travel with him as a camerawoman before Jake was born.

"She is neglecting that part of her life so she can instead raise a cheeky four-year-old," explains the presenter, who counts "good strong tea" and Radio 4 as his travel essentials.

"The advantage of that is that she knows it's not a jolly. The disadvantage is she knows they [the trips] are amazing, so me ringing up and saying, 'I'm so tired', doesn't go down very well. There's a slight tension down the phone ..."

But when his day job has seen him dodging bullets in Mogadishu and entering drug dens in South Africa, it's no wonder the family's holidays are a little less intrepid.

"Most of my time is spent looking for some method of play for my little son, and plotting how I'm going to get him in the water or out of the water," says Reeve, who has circumnavigated the globe three times.

Wherever he is, though, he carries the spirit of adventure. "When I'm on holiday, I do try to think: 'What is the craziest thing on this menu?' It's not usually eyeballs or penis soup, I grant you, but I still try the funny foreign food, whether I'm in Ireland or an island off Indonesia.

"Wherever it is, try some funny food, because it's memorable and life's short. Use your holidays and adventures to rack up memories that will carry you through life.

"There are very few better ways to have extraordinary experiences that linger forever than travel - and travel now, because you have opportunities at the moment that our ancestors could have only have dreamt about."

A self-confessed "city boy", he is keen to pass on this wanderlust to his son.

"I was moved out into the country by the missus, but the big reason is for his majesty Prince Jake to have a good start in life, and I think that's what we're trying to give him," says Reeve.

"He's cheeky but innocent, he doesn't know the world. And as he becomes a boy and finds his way out into it, I want to be there holding his hand."

Ireland With Simon Reeve begins on BBC Two tomorrow, 8pm

Belfast Telegraph

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