Ben Fogle: 'This health and safety society we live in is just ridiculous'
The adventurer-turned-presenter Ben Fogle supports those who turn their backs on the rat-race, but his own plans remain on hold. By Gemma Dunn
How many of us fulfil our dreams?" asks Ben Fogle, pointedly. "I've always lived my life to have no regrets and, when I die, I'd like to think, 'You know what? I made a difference and I did everything I wanted to do'. But so many people won't necessarily have done that. And that's really sad."
The adventurer-turned-presenter's dogged admission isn't without reason: we're discussing the premise behind his hit Channel 5 show, New Lives In The Wild, in which he travels the corners of the globe to meet people who have turned their backs on the daily grind.
"The world is quite angry right now, isn't it?" Fogle (43) continues. "We're reading it all the time; it's never been so divided and this kind of simmering anger that manifests itself on the internet, it's so unhealthy.
"For me, the wilderness on one hand is very black and white: it's going to either be rainy, or it's going to be dry, you're either going to be cold, or you're going to be hot.
"Sometimes, it's easy to interpret it, but it also just has an honesty to it that I think society has lost and that's what's really appealing."
Six seasons in and Fogle, whose TV career stemmed from his stint on the BBC reality show Castaway in 2000, is clearly thrilled about the series' success.
During this run he will join another set of brave individuals who have chosen to venture down an alternative path to everyday life, from Egyptian farms on the edge of the Sahara Desert and the vast wilderness of Australia (don't miss the moving story of Jim and Kim in episode one); to the foothills of the Spanish mountains and even a floating island off the Canadian coast.
"The more places I go, the more I understand and also the more I want to ask," reasons Fogle, who earned his broadcaster chops on such shows as Countryfile and Animal Clinic.
"My inquisitiveness and curiosity has increased and what's really fascinating is the different reasons, the catalysts, that make people give it all up."
Above all else, the unifying trait, he notes, is the supreme happiness of everyone he meets.
"I think so many of us dream of breaking free from the manic expectation in society," he begins, passionately. "Now, more than ever, people are trying to earn enough money to be able to pay their mortgage or pay their rent and then have enough money to pay for the latest technology.
"I've got this real problem with planned obsolescence, that everything is made to only last for a year. So, Apple only produce a phone that lasts for one year and then they will upgrade it. Planned obsolescence is symbolic of why the wilderness is where we belong."
London-born Fogle lives in his own urban retreat in Kensington - a house he shares with his wife Marina and two young children, Ludo and Iona.
Can he ever see himself jacking it all in and waving goodbye to the rat-race?
"Yeah, for sure. I'd love to give it all up and go and live in a wild remote corner of the world, but I'm very lucky, because I get to do it through my work.
"We're becoming more aware, especially in London, of the impact of the pollution all around us. I fear that, within the next few years, we'll all have to wear masks and that does worry me, because I don't know that I really want to bring my children up in that kind of environment.
"But I'm almost being hypocritical if I'm extolling virtues of the wilderness and the simplicity of life and I'm still living in the city. I've been institutionalised myself, so I've got an error in that I can see through it, yet I'm still tied to it, if that makes sense?"
His big dream is one day to embark on an "expedition" with his children, but not before they're ready. He's clear that the choice is up to them.
But Fogle is not one to shy away from discussing his belief that children should be encouraged to be both adventurous and independent - in fact, he's previously received a backlash for admitting his two are familiar with hunting knives and fire.
"I lacked confidence as a child, mainly because I was so hopeless at academia. So, for me, all those failings led to a massive feeling of inferiority and what gave me my confidence was independence when my parents sent me to boarding school.
"I've said this many times and I feel even more militant about it: the health and safety-obsessed mollycoddling society we live in now is ridiculous. We have to let children get out, get messy and bruise their knees. They have to learn by experience."
- Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild, Channel 5, Tuesday, 9pm