What do you get when you combine the world’s greatest living explorer, the youngest person to row the Atlantic solo, a man who has reached the summit of Everest 11 times and Ben Fogle? Answer? A fine evening of chat and an ever-so-slightly overawed Ben Fogle.
“I feel incredibly privileged that my name is even uttered in the same breath as those great adventuring heroes,” he says of the In Conversation event taking place on 9 September in Edinburgh. It’s true that Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who has traversed Antarctica on foot; Olly Hicks, who has crossed the Tasmania Sea and Atlantic by oar; and Kenton Cool, who was the first to complete the triple crown of the summits of Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse in a single trip, can muster an incredible range of adventures – and stories, of course – but Fogle can more than hold his own.
In the 15 years since he first appeared on our TV screens “marooned” on Taransay in the Outer Hebrides in BBC show Castaway, Fogle has rowed the Atlantic (partnered by Olympian James Cracknell), completed the gruelling Marathon des Sables and raced to the South Pole, among many other challenges.
“Crazy, isn’t it?” he says. “I blink and suddenly realise what I’ve packed into my life. It seems incredible. It seems like someone else’s life. I sometimes think I’m going to open my eyes and I’m going to be in one of those pods, getting up to milk the cows and wandering along the beaches.”
Fogle has been to some of the world’s remotest places, jumped out of planes, cycled across the Rockies and swum with wild crocodiles, yet that year on Taransay has become a touchstone.
“It changed everything,” he says. He reels off the countries he’s been to this year alone and it sounds as though he’s speed reading the index of an atlas. And yet, it’s to the Outer Hebrides that he goes if you push him to name his most “monumental” adventure. “Every single hour seemed to present something new that I’d never experienced or seen or heard before. I can’t explain enough how much I loved living on that island and how much it changed me as a person.”
Two of Fogle’s books have the word “accidental” in the title – The Accidental Adventurer and The Accidental Naturalist – and it’s true he never had a plan. But it’s also true that this gives him a unique insight into not only who can be an adventurer but also what counts as a suitable challenge. “I really am an everyday person,” he says, “there’s nothing extraordinary about me apart from I’ve got a bit of dogged determination, a bit of enthusiasm and I’m an optimist. I’d love people to think, if he can do it, so can I.”
He has, he says, genuinely lost count of the number of people who have come up to him to tell him that they’ve rowed the Atlantic, or been to the South Pole. “Honestly, it happens about once a week – we’re talking all ages and backgrounds and both sexes. It makes me so happy.”
With two young children, Ludo, four, and Iona, three, and a third on the way, the toughest challenge Fogle faces is balancing a life of adventure with his young family. “I do struggle with it. I have huge guilt now. Huge. I hate being away from my children and I feel terrible when I say goodbye to them. As soon as I see my son getting upset, of course I question whether I should be doing what I’m doing. On the positive side, I then get to come back from these extraordinary journeys and share the stories with them and they love hearing the tales of swimming in the Amazon and seeing jaguars in the jungle and being in the desert.”
The four adventurers who will share their stories have, Fogle says, quite different backgrounds apart from one thing – “Olly Hicks, Sir Ranulph and I failed all our exams,” he says, sounding pleased. “We didn’t achieve much academically but adventuring was something we were comparatively good at. I hope hearing us tell our stories will be inspiring and uplifting and perhaps people will leave thinking that they want to do something. I don’t mean climbing Mount Everest or rowing an ocean, but maybe just getting out and enjoying their backyard.”
• Ben Fogle, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Olly Hicks and Kenton Cool will be at The Hub, Edinburgh on 9 September at 8pm. For tickets, £16, see www.thelittleboxoffice.com/theblackgrouse