I want my children to enjoy the wilderness and not be afraid, says Ben Fogle
Adventurer Ben Fogle believes the great outdoors is more important than school when it comes to parenting. He talks to Gabrielle Fagan
TV presenter Ben Fogle travels the world for adventures and physical challenges, but when he gets home, he's not looking for a bit of peace and quiet. Instead, he wants his children to go wild.
"I know the virtues of travel, the outdoors and animals," says the presenter of Channel 5 series New Lives In The Wild, who has two children, Ludo (10) and Iona (8), with his wife, Marina.
"Adventure is what has made me and I want them (his children) to love it and the wilderness too. I don't want them to see it as a dangerous, frightening place," says the 45-year-old, who's determined to pass on the skills for coping in a outdoor environment to the youngsters and get them to share his love of adventure.
"For me, the most important place to learn is not the classroom, but the outdoors and nature.
"If they're open to life, new experiences and new people, are happy in the world and have a spirit of adventure, that to me is more important than academic achievements."
"We've been teaching them basic bushcraft skills - like foraging for food, making a fire and how to put it out safely - since they were young.
"They've had whittling knives for working with wood for a long time.
"They get cuts and bruises and get stung by bees or whatever, but that's all about experiencing and learning."
Fogle, who found fame in 2000 living on the uninhabited Outer Hebridean island of Taransay for the BBC reality show Castaway, has gone on to conquer an impressive list of challenges, including reaching the summit of Everest, trekking the Sahara, crossing the Antarctic and rowing across the Atlantic.
"I've learnt so much from the things I've done and I want the children to learn about life and how to live it," he says.
"Those experiences don't have to be in far-flung spots - we go out a lot in the British countryside as well. It's all about exploring."
What sort of father are you?
"I like to think I'm as good a dad as I can be. I'm hands-on, quite fun and never lose my temper.
"It's acknowledged that there's an increase in 'helicopter' parenting these days, with people hovering over their children and almost trying to control them and wrap them in cotton wool.
"I don't believe in that. We need to loosen our grip and let them grow, adapt and learn. I encourage our kids to get outdoors, get muddy, wet, eat yucky food and mess around. They need more of that sort of stuff to grow as individuals."
What sort of childhood are you giving them?
"One with lots of fun and adventure, which is what I enjoyed growing up.
"One of my best recent memories was seeing the children taking part in The Little Welly in Oxfordshire (a massive obstacle course), where they got covered from head to toe in mud, and so did we.
"We're lucky enough to travel a lot around the world - we've taken them to Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
"Nothing gives me more pleasure than introducing them to new places, people or animals, seeing things through their eyes and watching them get inspired by something.
"Both Marina and I want them to be exposed to life and live it to the full. I can't wait to go on a big adventure with them, maybe the North Pole."
You first found TV fame in 2000 on Castaway - how will you celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show next year?
"I'm taking Marina and the children away to an island where we'll have a complete break from technology. We won't go for a whole year, but it will be a good length of time for a proper break. I can't wait."
Do you let the children use social media?
"They can use the iPad, but we don't make it readily available. They have to ask for it.
"I don't see children getting anything from social media, apart from anxiety, jealousy and FOMO (fear of missing out).
"My daughter told me off the other day for being on my phone. That made me feel very guilty, so I know it can't be just 'do as I say' - I have to lead by example.
"We'll eventually give them each a phone, but it will only have a phone and text facility. For peace of mind, I'd like to know they can get in touch with us. I was so happy recently when I packed Ludo's bag for a school trip away because it was full of old-fashioned card games, rather than the technology that so many kids are addicted to."
How do you cope with being away from the children when you're working abroad?
"The excitement and anticipation of being reunited with them again keeps me going during the long absences.
"I think about them all the time and I took their favourite cuddly toys with me when I climbed Everest in May last year.
"I make sure that, when I'm home, I'm with the children all the time.
"I walk them to school, pick them up, take them to their friends and sports fixtures and take them out as much as I can.
"I've realised it can be hard for Marina when I return from a trip because I want to have fun with the kids and entertain them, but she's the one who's had weeks making sure that they do the right things and have a routine.
"We make sure she instigates fun things as well as me when I'm around, so there's a balance in the parenting."
What about the risks of going to far-flung, exotic places with the children?
"I wouldn't ever let them take unnecessary risk or expose them to illness. As a parent, I take more care of them than I do of myself.
"This summer, the children and Marina are joining me in Ecuador in South America and after that we'll spend rest of summer in America.
"Before we go away, I'm definitely taking the children to the doctor to make sure they're up to date with their vaccinations and armed with the facts and relevant medication."
Ben Fogle has teamed up with Sanofi Pasteur to encourage holiday-goers to seek travel health advice from a healthcare professional before going abroad. For further information on travel health, visit www.smarter-traveller.co.uk