Ben Fogle has made adventuring in the wilderness his career. He has climbed Mount Everest, rowed across the Atlantic, skied to the South Pole, and even crossed Oman’s portion of the Empty Quarter. Along the way, the English broadcaster has also written a number of bestselling books, and been appointed by the United Nations as its Patron of the Wilderness. Fogle’s latest outing with BBC sees him visiting some of the world’s most remote locations for the seventh season of Where The Wild Men Are. The documentary series looks into the lives of various people who have turned their backs on “organised” society to, essentially, eke out a living in isolation. To most people, visiting and staying with these people would be as extreme as it gets. For Fogle, however, it’s all in a day’s work.
You featured very diverse individuals in the seventh instalment of Where The Wild Men Are. What were some of your biggest takeaways from them?
The biggest takeaway is really our attitude to life. I think a lot of people go through life with hunched shoulders feeling that the weight of the world is on their back. People like Annalisa in Sweden, however, show that you can achieve extraordinary things when you have hope. Courage is another important factor – these are folks who are brave enough to take financial and social risks to drop out of society. You won’t do such things otherwise.
How did you strike a balance between providing entertainment with the more profound issues that these people spotlight, such as sustainable living and mental resilience?
I think the key to all the programmes I’ve made over the years is combining all of those things. When I climbed Mount Everest, the message was partly about human endurance and what we’re capable of, but it was also a celebration of the landscape and a reminder of what we stand to lose if we don’t do something about it.
In the same way, Where The Wild Men Are is a mix of different messages. Most of these people live quite sympathetically. They have their own self-imposed rationing. They live by the sea but they won’t exploit and take every single fish they can. They’ll take what they need, when they need it. I think we can all learn quite a lot from these very simple messages.
Was it a challenge to portray these individuals “fairly”, considering that the audience’s first reaction would likely be to view them as mere curiosities?
There are too many shows that just laugh at people, and I’ve always tried to stay clear of that. The whole beauty of Where The Wild Men Are has been to celebrate and to champion people. I’d like to think that everyone watching it will see that I let the viewer make their mind up by trying to remain completely impartial.
How does this series tie in with the rest of your work – and your identity – as a champion for preserving the wilderness that Earth still has?
I think that the series gives people an opportunity to see individuals who have a really caring relationship with the natural world, and to better understand cause and effect. We mostly live in cities, so we are very disconnected from the environment and our impacts on it. Because of this, we don’t understand the effects of choices like overusing water, throwing things away, or upgrading the things we already own. With this series, however, you will see first-hand the impact that you have on the landscape around you. It gives the audience an opportunity to live a more sympathetic life vicariously through other people.
What other lenses do you think the public can try to view our wilderness through, to better appreciate nature and the importance of preserving it?
Television is obviously a great tool for education, and there are also plenty of books to read and people to meet. Even if you live in a highly urbanised area, you’ll usually still have access to parks, so there are ways that you can interact with nature and the natural world. I’d say it’s about getting out and experiencing it first-hand, and just trying to see what it is we’re trying to preserve.
Given all that you’ve seen, what do you think are some of the most pressing concerns for the planet right now?
We’re living in extraordinary times with a global lockdown due to the pandemic, and this has actually had a positive impact on the environment, with clearer skies and more wildlife. Even insect populations are increasing. It’s given us a glimpse into what we can have when we live more sympathetically. Now, I’m not saying that a lockdown is how we should continue life, but I think what it has shown us is that actually we don’t need to consume or travel as much as we do. Maybe we just need to think a little bit more about our needs versus our wants.
As a seasoned adventurer (for lack of a better word), does anything still faze you?
I am still a bit scared of spiders! I don’t think I’ll ever become used to giant tarantulas, which I seemed to encounter quite often on Where The Wild Men Are. But I’m pretty good, to be honest. I’ve already overcome my problem with vertigo, so maybe I just need to go and spend some time with a family of spiders.
Season 7 of Where the Wild Men Are premiered on 26 May on BBC Earth, and is also available on BBC Player.