Bear Grylls on the bear necessities for becoming a hero
He's known for his adrenalin-fuelled adventure shows, but Co Down-born Bear Grylls deems Mission Survive his most challenging yet. As the celebs line up for the second series of the programme, he talks to Gemma Dunn about unlikely champions and living a low-key life
Who would you like to be stranded on a desert island with?, has always been a divisive question; but what if you traded the terrain for the South African Bush? For the seven celebrities taking part in the latest series of Bear Grylls' ITV adventure show, Mission Survive, I would hazard a guess the fearless survival expert will come up trumps.
Pitting his skills-set against Mother Nature, the 41-year-old, from Donaghadee, who has carved a name for himself through high-octane TV series Man Vs Wild, Born Survivor, Running Wild, and The Island, is back with a new, 12-day mission that's set to test the physical and emotional limits of those taking part - and there can be only one winner.
Making up the expedition team are actor Neil Morrissey, Dancing On Ice judge Jason Gardiner, actress Michelle Collins, West End star Samantha Barks, former England captain Stuart Pearce, actress Chelsee Healey and England footballer Alex Scott.
Swapping the treacherous Costa Rican jungle of series one for the scorched plains of Africa for the new series, Grylls reveals he's excited to have upped the ante a year on.
"This series ramps up considerably in terms of the terrain, the length of the journey, the pressures they're under, the limited amount of gear and food they've got, and the psychological edge that runs through every single episode," he says.
Keen to stress that Mission Survive isn't just a physical show, he adds: "It's not about how fit, or strong, you are - look at last year, Vogue Williams won and you never would have called that on day one. Unlikely heroes emerge.
"This series was a tough one, because not only are you at altitude, you've got huge distances to cover and brutal wildlife.
"They went through it and that's why I develop such a huge bond and respect for those that were there by the end."
With an unpredictable landscape, among all else, it's not an easy ride; but Grylls insists applications for the show are at an all-time high, citing "people want to be tested".
"They want to know what they're really made of when push comes to shove," he says.
"We cast it carefully, because we want a cross-section of regular people; we want those who want a challenge and to find out something about themselves. That can be inspiring, but it can also be ugly at times."
But, he explains, watching it from the comfort of your armchair is a whole other ball game.
Of the celebrities' preconceptions, he says: "They all think they're going to be great. It looks romantic on TV, but it's a bit like watching a boxing match and, as (Mike) Tyson said, 'Everyone's got a strategy about how to fight me, until I punch the s*** out of them'. I'm paraphrasing, but he's right; and the wild is like that.
"I'm very honest with them early on. I say, 'This is going to hurt, but the pain won't last forever and, if you keep going, the pride will stay with you forever'. But not everyone can do it."
From being suspended by rope from a helicopter to clinging to sheer cliff faces, the wild is unforgiving; and there's no room for ego.
"Even with (Barack) Obama (the outdoor enthusiast took the US president into the Alaskan wilderness in an episode of Running Wild), I still treated him like a man. We're on this journey and we'll go and do it together.
"As my dad used to say to me, 'Whoever you are, everyone puts their trousers on one leg at a time' and it's like that with Obama. He's just a regular guy; he's a family guy and he's actually a really humble guy.
"It's the same with Mission Survive; I don't care whether you've got Baftas, you've got to work hard and look after each other. I'll judge you on your actions, attitudes and words."
Would he like to see David Cameron covered in mud, tapping into his warrior spirit? "It would be great to do one with him!"
Despite his fame and successes, the former special services soldier laughs as he states that, at home, "no one's a hero".
Speaking of his three boys with his wife of 16 years, Shara - Jesse (13), Marmaduke (10) and Huckleberry (3) - he says: "They're like, 'Oh dad, banging on about spirit and determination'. But I never tire of all of that; I love it."
As for following in his wild footsteps, he quips that, despite their adventurous spirit, "they've got more brain cells and will probably do something a bit more sensible".
Discussing the criticism he received last year for sharing a picture of Jesse on a rock, waiting to be rescued by the RNLI, the star is strong in his belief that stripping risk out of kids' lives does them a disservice.
"I don't apologise for exposing my kids to some great adventures; nobody cares, or loves, or protects, my three kids more than me. But do you know what? There will always be the health and safety brigade."
Refusing to be swallowed up in the world of showbiz, Grylls prefers to live a "regular, normal, low-key life back home".
"If Shara was hearing this, she would be raising an eyebrow right now and going, 'Really?'
"We have a healthy amount of danger and adventure at home, because I've got three boys and they love that, but I'm not sure she particularly enjoys all of that. It would be a bit exhausting if everybody wanted that in the family."
So does he miss his sense of anonymity?
"It's such a small price to pay. There are so many people who really have a tough time, you know, and really work for a living. I climb mountains and do what I love.
"I'm so lucky; I'm always aware of that."
Mission Survive, ITV, tomorrow, 9pm