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You could say that this TV presenter/writer/adventurer is rather well traveled… as roving correspondent for a glossy magazine, assignments took him to East Timor, the Falklands, Japan, Nepal, Zambia and beyond the Arctic Circle. He’s traveled extensively throughout Latin America, as well as to far-flung and exotic destinations such as Fiji and Tahiti. Closer to home, BBC’s Castaway 2000 saw him marooned on an uninhabited Scottish island for a year and marked the birth of his broadcasting career.
Daredevil explorer, Ben Fogle, talks to Angela Sara West about his relentless, often highly-precarious travels, and his unexpected, new-found love for cruising.
His appetite for adventure has seen him tackle some of the most hostile environments on earth. He’s survived extreme climes, tropical diseases (requiring chemotherapy) and being bitten by a rabid dog. From racing across the punishing Antarctic to the South Pole and swimming with crocodiles Down Under, to running marathons in the Sahara desert, climbing volcanoes and flying fighter jets… who’d have thought this adrenaline junkie had a fear of heights?!
Fronting TV programs including Wild in Africa, Extreme Dreams and New Lives in the Wild, Ben films extensively abroad and, as a special correspondent for NBC News, he reports from all over the world. “I travel weekly for work and most of my filming commitments are overseas. I spend a great deal of time in the USA for NBC. From Mongolia to Scotland to Abu Dhabi… I never tire of travel. Each trip brings fresh experiences, new people and different cultures. I’m very lucky to do what I do.”
During his gap year, Ben helped at an orphanage and turtle conservation project. “I have very fond memories of my gap year. I spent time in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. I went for a year and stayed for three! They were some of my most formative experiences and my time in Latin America changed both my outlook on life and its course.”
Ben’s numerous epic challenges include rowing across the Atlantic with Olympian, James Cracknell, setting the British pairs record. What motivates him to attempt such feats? “Learning and discovering. I like to push my own boundaries, both mental and physical,” he says, and reveals he keeps fit by running wherever he can. “It’s a great way to discover new places, to get lost in a city. I have run just about everywhere in the world.”
Good pals with the Royals, he’s even walked on the wild side with them, tracking lions in Africa. “I was very lucky to spend time in Botswana with Princes William and Harry, and was enormously lucky to go to the Royal wedding!’
Ben also took part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. “It was extraordinary and such a privilege to be a small part of. It was like being in a film… the crowds, the parties, the atmosphere… the weather! My most memorable moment, out of sight of the Queen, the cameras or even the public, was 20 boats spontaneously singing ‘God Save the Queen’, while a lone army drummer tapped on his drum, water dripping from his nose. Stirring stuff…”
Ben’s European escapades include paragliding over the Italian Dolomites and skating across Sweden. “I’m fluent in Spanish and French and a huge fan of Europe. It offers a rich and diverse mix of landscapes, history, food and cultures… from classic Southern Europe’s beautiful ports and gastronomy, to Northern Europe’s smorgasbord of architecture, which is hugely underestimated… I’m outdoorsy and it’s fantastic. The fjords, seen from a height, show a different perspective, and were a highlight for me. I’ve also scuba-dived all over the world but the high point remains diving between the tectonic plates in Iceland.”
As Celebrity Cruises’ Destination Expert, Ben set sail to create some unique European shore excursions. “I share Celebrity Cruises’ passion for fantastic destinations and my ‘Great Adventures’ offer an eclectic mix of culture, history, famous sights and wildlife, often off the beaten track. Adventure is anything out of the ordinary… a little bit different. I like alternative travel, tipping it on its head, and enjoy revisiting places and seeing them from a different perspective. I love taking the road less traveled.”
These opportunities to enhance port-of-call visits include triathlon-themed trails in Croatia (biking/swimming/sea kayaking in the Adriatic), a wildlife encounter snorkeling with Norwegian salmon, a Sicilian gastronomic tour and a speedy RIB (rigid-inflatable boat) ride through the Stockholm archipelago. “Whether discovering a destination through food, nature, architecture or cultural heritage, I hope they help people to explore and get out of their comfort zone. Seeing a place through the eyes of a local makes for an immersive, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, magical experience.”
He admits that, as an adventurer, cruising seemed a strange choice for him. “I first went to Malta, Sicily and Naples, then across land to Positano on the stunning Amalfi Coast. I didn’t think cruising was for me as I stereotyped it… I thought it was for a much older demographic and was all about the ship, but I was really surprised by its diversity, the fact that I could find escapism on board, little corners to disappear to… I thought I wouldn’t enjoy being on a ship as, rather than being up high, I like to be close to, or even IN the water, touching it, tasting it… But I loved seeing the majestic coastlines, immersing myself in different cultures from one day to the next and not being at the mercy of the ship.”
Ben says cruising takes you to cities you wouldn’t usually visit. “In a time-poor age, you can maximize your time by sailing through the night, then maximize shore time, getting a real taste for a place and some fantastic photography. Photos are evocative and a great way for me to remember places, especially as I travel so much. I usually use the camera on my iPhone. I’m also inspired by literature on my travels.”
He has also taken his young children cruising. “It’s important for me to share the world with my family. Cruising from Southampton’s great if you have kids. It’s a joy to bypass airports. I know all the tricks for fast-tracking at airports but it’s a different story when you take youngsters! Boarding at Southampton’s a joy, with your rooms right there, nannies and kids’ clubs, pools, lots for children to do… Celebrity Cruises cater well for kids, while my wife and I enjoyed the spa! There’s a good balance on board. A cruise makes for a great family holiday.”
His earliest holiday memory? “Going to Canada, where my father is from. I spent every summer there from the age of one. Happy, happy memories of swimming, fishing and building camps on the Canadian lakes.”
He says his favorite things to do on holiday are relax, read and catch up on sleep. Hotel or villa? “Villas, with friends, are fun! My parents have a holiday home in Florida. I’d love to buy a property overseas, preferably in Portugal where my wife and I got married. Somewhere on the Costa Do Sol…”
As a keen horseman, where does he head to divulge in this passions? “Riding is good anywhere but the Brazilian Pantanal and Namibia remain highlights.”
For pure escapism, Ben heads to Cornwall, the Outer Hebrides or Austria. The destinations still on his wish-list? “Space, Madagascar and Easter Island… in no particular order.”
With the whole world his playground, Ben recommends Italy for food, Iceland for night life, New Zealand for wine, Botswana for a warm welcome and Bolivia for culture. His favorite hotels include Oxford’s Malmaison, Portugal’s Hotel Farol in Caiscais and Antigua’s Carlisle Bay, while his favorite restaurant is one of the world’s most celebrated, Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner at London’s luxurious five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park.
Ben has plenty of travel tips. “Pack light. I only ever travel with hand luggage. I don’t think you can travel as frequently as I do if you have travel bugbears… I often fly twice a week. You have to sit back and embrace the whole thing. The more relaxed you are, the more you’ll get from the experience. Assume the journey is all part of the adventure. To avoid jet lag, switch your clock to the time at your destination as soon as you board the plane and stay awake until night time.”
He says travelling has taught him patience and resourcefulness. “I got caught in Ethiopia during Iceland’s volcanic eruption. To get home, I ended up flying from Addis Ababa to Beirut, then taking a boat to Italy, where I got a taxi to Paris and then Eurostar. It took three days and cost me a fortune, but I made it home two weeks ahead of everyone else stuck in Egypt.”
His favorite airlines? “British Airways and Air New Zealand. Air Kenya has to get a mention, too.” He’s also a fan of travel guides. “Playing it by ear can be fun, but research definitely helps to enhance an experience.”
Finally, with all this travelling, does he worry about his carbon footprint? “I do, and I try to offset it as often as I can!”
Ben’s highly-acclaimed series Through Hell and High Water won a prestigious RTS award and he has also written six ‘Sunday Times Bestseller’ books. Further details can be found at: www.benfogle.com. Ben’s ‘Great Adventures’ for Celebrity Cruises: http://www.celebritycruises.co.uk/onboard/shore-excursions/ben-fogles-great-adventures. He is an ambassador for WWF, Médecins Sans Frontières, Tusk, Centrepoint and the Prince’s Trust. He is also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and patron of The Royal Parks Foundation.