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Simon Reeve: 'We are part of a wild planet, life is boring without creatures'

BBC Two's Arctic Live presenter Simon Reeve talks to Sarah Marshall about polar bear ambitions and why filming moved him to tears

Published 26/10/2016

Ice cold: presenter Simon Reeve enjoyed his time in the Arctic
Ice cold: presenter Simon Reeve enjoyed his time in the Arctic
Presenter Simon Reeve

Australia, Indian Ocean islands and the Caribbean - Simon Reeve usually travels to hot places. But his latest BBC documentary, Arctic Live, sees him venture north to a far more chilly destination.

The TV presenter and author set off to the Arctic earlier this year, visiting remote areas in this vulnerable, icy wilderness, to find out what life is really like on top of the world, and how climate change is drastically reshaping the region.

Soon, these segments will run alongside a live broadcast from Churchill, Canada, where Reeve, as well as co-presenter Kate Humble and cameraman Gordon Buchanan, will be witnessing the gathering of polar bears in Hudson Bay as they wait for the sea ice to freeze.

As Reeve's first foray into cooler climes, the project required careful preparation.

"I had to buy lots of new kit," he says, confessing to frantically stocking up on heat pads and merino neck warmers.

But his first experience of the Arctic region earlier this year wasn't quite what he'd expected.

"It is quite chilly in the Arctic, but during the summer when we filmed, I needed lashings of sun-cream rather than layers of wool."

From extreme landscapes to weather-beaten communities, the London-born broadcaster anticipated a hostile reception all round during his journey. But Reeve, (44), discovered quite the opposite was true - particularly in Murmansk.

"Russians are made of a grit that us softies in a centrally-heated part of the world have lost. There's a brief shell of formality to them," he says, describing villagers in remote Salekhard and Vorkuta. "But once that cracked, it was tough for us to get out of places. People kept reaching for a bottle or a story.

"We have so much driving us apart politically, and yet we're so connected through culture, humour and quirks."

Punk music proved to be a unifying force too, he reveals, recounting his time spent with the Polar Wolves motorcycle gang in Vorkuta. "For weeks, they'd been telling us, 'We'll get 50 bikes to do a mass ride and the ground will shake'. We got there and there were three bikes.

"Some of the men stripped off and jumped on stage to thrash out some heavy punk. It was hilarious. There were posters of the Pistols and Johnny Rotten, and a Union Jack was flying."

Many of the communities Reeve met hope to exploit changes in our climate, which is opening up new opportunities for mining industries and fishing. But slowly, they are realising the implications of changes happening right before their eyes.

"My personal view is that we're living in a time of consequences; stuff is happening to our planet that's measurable and visible," says the presenter.

"At 656,000sq miles and on average a mile thick, the ice sheet is vast in a way we can't understand. Seeing it from a chopper, extending beyond the curve of the planet, was a genuinely emotional moment.

"Scientists reckon a trillion tons has melted in the last five years, and if that continues then sea levels could rise by seven metres. That's a planetary changing event."

Struck by "nature's awesome powers", he admits he started sobbing. "Words failed me, but emotion didn't. You want to shake everyone by the shoulders and say, 'Look at the wonder of our world. Wake up to what is possible'."

Speaking about the forthcoming live section of the show, he explains: "I'll be at base in Churchill speaking to local residents, but I'm going to put out a strong plea to go and see bears. They are pretty magnificent.

"I miss stories from the past, when we had dramatic wildlife around us that could make us feel that we're part of a wild planet," adds Reeve.

"Life can feel pretty boring without majestic creatures."

Arctic Live airs on BBC Two from Tuesday, November 1 to Thursday, November 3 at 8pm.

Belfast Telegraph

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