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Bear Grylls - the world's most controversial adventurer

Bear Grylls
(Image credit: Unknown)

What sort of shape are you in?

When I’m home I train six days a week. I do circuits, running, yoga and climbing. Lots of bodyweight stuff. I’m not very good with gyms, but I train hard for an hour and a half a day. When I'm filming I improvise by doing things like pull-ups on trees.

How did you become an adventurer?

It’s the only thing I’ve been any good at. I’ve done all this stuff since I was a kid. I grew up climbing and my job in the army [Grylls was in the SAS] was all combat survival. The job I do now is like the Special Forces arm of TV, but instead of bad guys chasing us it’s bad animals.

Are you surprised that you don't have more TV competitors?

I’m amazed nobody has done this kind of programme before. Every day I meet people who are better skydivers, better climbers and better survival people than I am. I’m a jack of a lot of trades and not really a master of any of them. I have significant self-doubt about it all and I’m amazed that they want me to do it.

Why do you think people watch?

Half of it is entertainment, seeing people suffer. The other side is that it encourages people to get outside and not lose the skills that it has taken man thousands of years to hone. We live in a techno age, and that’s great, but the natural world is amazing. To lose the skill to conjure up fire in a thunderstorm is sad.

You’ve done lots of memorable things. What sticks out?

I wrestled an alligator in a recent show. The advisors said don’t go for anything bigger than 4ft. On the last day of filming I came across this seven-footer. I was in waist-deep water and it was smashing around. I got behind it, where it’s most vulnerable, and pinned it down. I stuck the knife in and there was blood everywhere.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

I’ve jumped on top of a 17ft man-eating tiger shark, but it’s often the little things that catch you out. When you’re doing a big snake encounter halfway up a rock face and you’re hanging on with one hand, you know you’ve got to get it right – and you do. Nerves and fear are there to sharpen your senses. I live with fear so much. I’ve learned that it’s there to make you get through those big moments.

You’ve eaten some dodgy things. What was the least pleasant?

A few days ago I ate bear poo. I came across a big brown bear in Transylvania. It was 20 yards away but didn’t see me, then it went and there was a huge steaming pile of crap. It was full of berries and seeds. You could wipe off the turdy bits and eat the berries. I’ve also eaten camel intestines, yak eyeballs, goat’s testicles and live snakes. It’s part of survival. I’m not doing it because I love it.

Do you always keep it down?

I was filming a show in Zambia and I ate a pulsating maggot grub. It was fat like a sausage. It was writhing and you could hardly hold the thing. It obviously had some bacteria in it that gave me diarrhoea. I was doing a waterfall climb the next day and halfway up, I was holding on with one hand and undoing my trousers with the other, crapping into the air.

What are you scared of?

Heights and rooms full of people I don’t know very well. I hate going to drinks parties and things like that. I just find it a bit awkward.

You’ve taken criticism for misleading viewers about your survival exploits. Has the criticism hurt?

I accept that what I do is in the public arena and you have to take the rough with the smooth. Ray Mears has been endlessly giving me a drilling in the press, but I think there are so few of us doing this, we need to look after each other. I’m not hiding a secret loathing. It’s always easier to come out fighting, but you’re just adding fuel to the fire. I’ve never wanted to be famous or in the press a lot. I just want to get on with my job.

How would you cope with a desk job? For one of your shows you joined the French Foreign Legion. What was that like?

I did it with a pretty ragged bunch – ex-boxers, bouncers and street fighters. But they all fell by the wayside. The guys who came through weren’t the fittest or the strongest, but they had something that drove them. I see that so many times on high mountains. The rewards don’t go to the toughest or the most brilliant or the loudest, they go to the people who quietly want it. People who can put up with the shit day in, day out. It’s about being persistent and not giving up. That’s what I depend on. I’m not a natural athlete – I have to work on it so much. The discipline to train when you don’t feel like it, that’s what separates people in life. If you’re always led by your feelings, that’s when life goes wrong. That’s why people have affairs, become overweight or smoke. It’s all about being led by feelings rather than having a clear goal.

How would you cope with a desk job?

Very badly. I behave like a kid most of the time and would be jumping around the office not getting any work done. People would probably find me very amusing for about an hour, but then I’d go mad and they’d probably kick me out. But that’s not on the menu, God willing.

How do you conquer fear?

I’m not immune to it. I feel it more than most people. But I’ve learned that it either beats you or you use it. I use it.

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