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My biggest challenge: Ben Fogle on the loss of his child

By Gabrielle Fagan

Published 07/11/2015

Ben Fogle with his wife of 10 years Marina
Ben Fogle with his wife of 10 years Marina
Ben Fogle in his New Lives in the Wild TV show

Ben Fogle has beaten mental and physical obstacles, but nothing prepared him for the blow of losing a child. He tells of life following the terrible tragedy.

It takes a lot to rock Ben Fogle. The man has endured and survived countless perils and hazards on his travels around the world, from man-eating crocodiles to a flesh-eating diseases, but the loss of his third child took him into uncharted territory.

"When something like that happens, it's a reminder of our mortality. I've taken on big challenges over the years, like rowing across the Atlantic in a tiny boat, and you construct a sense of immortality, but then you experience what we went through and it shakes you to your core," says the adventurer of the trauma 14 months ago, when his wife Marina suffered a stillbirth nearly 33 weeks into her pregnancy and almost died.

At the time, he was away in Canada to celebrate his grandmother's 100th birthday and flew back to London not knowing throughout the 10-hour flight if either his wife or his baby son - the couple named him Willem - had survived.

He and Marina (38), who have two children, Ludo (6) and Iona (4), had bereavement counselling and the panic attacks and anxiety Fogle (42) suffered in the months that followed the tragedy in August 2014, have largely gone. They will not try for other children because of the risk to Marina's health.

"We all deal with grief in our way and we've found ways of carrying on. I don't have the anxiety I used to and, although you will never forget, you kind of move forward. It makes the children you have doubly precious," he says.

The devastating experience has proved a spur for the TV presenter, who in the last year has managed to work on no less than six television series and produced a book, his seventh, Labrador: The Story of the World's Favourite Dog.

It's a breed particularly close to his heart - he met his wife while walking his dog, and the addition of a new Labrador puppy to the household shortly after their bereavement was a comfort in painful times.

"I like to immerse myself in work and I have always used writing as a refuge. That book was part biography, as well as focusing on our simple but rewarding relationship with dogs and the comfort they bring us.

"When suddenly your focus changes, you see the years going by and it's an extra reminder that you don't want to live life with any regrets. After last year, it's become even more relevant to me. I'll probably slow down for a bit soon though, so I have a little more time to enjoy life instead of racing from one thing to another."

There's no sign of that yet as he's back on screen presenting the fifth series of Channel Five's New Lives in the Wild, and using his charm and empathy to bond with those who've pursued alternative lifestyles.

"In the developed world, we've tried to close the door on the wilderness and construct a comfortable existence, where we minimise risk, but we've ended up dominated by a technology driven, 24-hour lifestyle. Over the last few years, there's a fast-growing group of people looking to regress and turn back the clock," he says.

The escapees from the rat race he meets include a woman who left her marriage to live off-grid in a house made from straw in Pembrokeshire, a family who nearly lost everything establishing a smallholding in Devon, and an American living on Fair Isle, the most remote inhabited island in the UK.

"It's not been easy for any of them and their bravery and resilience is inspiring. We so love to stereotype people in this country - I can relate to that myself as I've experienced it. By taking on challenges over the years, I've tried to show people I'm not just some 'posh boy' and that there's far more to me."

He's certainly done that since he first found fame in 2000 living on the remote Hebridean island of Taransay for BBC reality series, Castaway. For the past 15 years he's faced huge physical challenges, from trekking the Sahara to crossing the Antarctic, as well as forging a presenting career on programmes ranging from Countryfile to Harbour Lives.

Fame and fortune notwithstanding, he still nurtures a dream of turning his back on it all and recently pinpointed an uninhabited Scandinavian island where he hopes to set up home. However, it appears unlikely currently that he could spend a year in any one place without getting itchy feet - he seems to spend his life in perpetual motion with frequent absences from home.

"My being away a lot does put a strain on family life and our relationship, but Marina and I have been married for almost 10 years now and it's always worked for us," he says.

"I'd rather spend more time with her, but it's what my job entails. I proposed just after I'd rowed across the Atlantic, so she's always been very pragmatic about it - she knew she wasn't marrying an office worker.

"Although I have a family depending on me, I still like to test myself and want to carry on coming home with fantastic memories and stories for my children which can open their eyes to the world.

"Although I couldn't bear it in the past when they pleaded with me not to go away, nowadays they accept it. Really, I think the latter's healthy and shows they're secure."

Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild UK starts Thursday, November 12 at 9pm on Channel 5

Belfast Telegraph

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