RISING You clearly love being in the wild – but why do you chase adventure and risk?
BEAR GRYLLS ‘I think it’s always important that we challenge ourselves and my experiences in the wild have definitely made me do just that. We are wired so that we thrive in adversity and rise to big challenges. It’s how society has progressed so fast. I also believe we are a bit like grapes: it’s only when we are squeezed can one see what we’re really made of – we have to test ourselves when under pressure.’
RISING Most people only ever experience adventure second hand – how do we make the leap to real life?
BG ‘A big part of that is taking the first step. Lots of people hesitate or ponder over bad scenarios, when really the process of starting is the most difficult. It’s like having to make a speech in front of a room full of people – the fear leading up to it is much worse than the reality.’
‘My father was always behind me when it came to encouraging me to take risks’
RISING You’ve faced a lot of risk in your career – what are the riskiest environments?
BG ‘I would always say that if you’re on dry land, most of what we term ‘risk’ goes away. You need to ensure you drink enough water and eat enough food, as well as staying away from predators, but everything else, including shelter, is within your own control, and that should mean you can plan, strategize, assess risk properly and survive. Where that begins to change is when you move away from dry land. If you’re on water, for instance, your survival depends on the vessel you are in, assuming you are in one! And if you’re in the air, then immediately you have a force going against you – gravity.’
RISING So how do you adapt and where are the biggest risks?
BG ‘So, for me, the risks are being on water or in the air, and you have to engage a completely different set of survival skills in those instances. The skills are uncommon to those we have to utilise in everyday life because they are environments that are foreign to us, and more importantly, when things do go wrong, you need to be able to adapt to the challenges very quickly.
‘So, in the context of taking risks, I would probably say parachuting was one of the biggest, because you are relying on something out of your own control, and that was one situation that didn’t turn out well for me. Through a bunch of other times where it’s almost gone very wrong, what I’ve learned is you emerge out the other side with greater understanding of your own strengths and limitations, and that is a huge reward.’
RISING You’ve been trained for many survival situations – which are the most challenging?
BG ‘I think survival comes in many different forms, and my SAS training taught me that to survive in war-torn environments where you are under threat of being shot, is by far the most dangerous environment. I think Sir David Attenborough said something very similar – if he was trekking through Uganda, would he rather come up against a wild animal or a hungry, confused, suspicious soldier carrying a weapon? He said it would be the former!’
‘Alistair Urquhart survived airstrikes, time underground and the nuclear bomb – that’s extreme survival’
RISING Who would be the ultimate survivor from that kind of situation?
BG ‘I think real heroes are those who have escaped these sorts of conflicts, so I’d probably say someone like Alistair Urquhart, who served with the Gordon Highlanders in Burma. He survived airstrikes, time underground and the nuclear bomb. That is extreme survival!’
RISING What’s the most important fieldcraft skill?
BG ‘The absolute best fieldcraft skill to embrace is lack of fear. I know you’re talking about physical skills, but unless you have your mental capabilities tapped and cemented, there are no physical skills that are going to get you out of trouble. Survival is in the body only as a secondary emotion; you’ve got to hone those skills in the mind first if you are to get out of trouble. My father was always behind me when it came to encouraging me to take risks. To fail was to learn, because the best way over our fears is through them!’
RISING Where is the most humbling wild place on earth you’ve been to?
BG ‘Everest was a big dream for me ever since I was a young boy climbing and being taught to climb by my Dad, so that was definitely a huge thing for me to achieve. And after my parachuting accident, I had serious doubts it would ever happen, so that was humbling and extremely emotional.’
RISING What has been the most surprising lesson you’ve learnt in the wild?
BG ‘I’ve learned that there aren’t many atheists in the death zone of Everest, or in lifeboats. I just don’t meet many people who have been through incredible experiences and come out of it totally without faith. I don’t find many people like that. It’s easy to be totally self-sufficient on an island when things are going well on your own, but the wild and life isn’t always like that. So, my faith is important.
‘When I got to about 16 my Godfather died, who was like a second dad to me. And I remember saying a prayer asking God to be with me, and really that is a prayer of salvation. That was the start of my faith there. But it has been a lifelong journey to realise that faith isn’t about religion and church; it’s about being held and being loved and about finding home and about finding peace, and that is a continual journey. There is a lot of struggle and doubt within that journey, but through it all I do believe that we are held if we put our hands out.’
RISING How have you learnt through life to deal with the doubters – those who say it can’t be done?
BG ‘There will always be doubt and, you know, that’s fine. Doubt comes from fear, and it’s natural to be fearful when you’ve experienced parachute failures to being caught in rapids, or chased by sharks and crocodiles. My method to overcoming this is to try to focus on the good times; on the times it worked out. And I always say to the crew: “You only get it wrong once.” If there is doubt when you get moving, then stop and we’ll reassess. No ego, no false hope – we’ll find another way round it. Think about it: it’s actually about getting it right rather than wrong.’
WHAT NEXT? Read the RISING guide to the essential survival skills you need to learn, now! https://www.therisingman.com/categories/movement-fuel/articles/these-royal-marine-survival-skills-will-keep-you-alive-in-an-emergency