Author Interviews
12:08 pm
Sun June 10, 2012

Bear Grylls on Family, Faith And Drinking Pee

Originally published on Mon June 11, 2012 6:31 am

Survivalist Bear Grylls has been an almost inescapable figure on the Discovery Channel for years.

His show Man vs. Wild has a global audience of millions and peaked as the highest-rated cable show in the U.S. But in March, Grylls and the Discovery Channel parted ways over a contract dispute.

He's currently taking some time away from television, developing ideas for a return, and spending time with his wife, Shara, and their three young sons, Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry.

In the interim, he's written a memoir. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz spoke to Grylls about his life, his childhood, and of course, his love-affair with the wilderness.


Interview Highlights

On the creation of Man vs Wild
"Textbook survival tells you to stay put. Stop. Wait for rescue. Don't take any risks. But there'd been a whole host of survival shows like that and I didn't really want to do that. I thought, if I'm going to do TV, I'm going to do the stuff that I love doing. You know, if you've got to get down this waterfall and all you've got is your shoelace and this vine, this is a cool way you can improvise a harness, and let's get on and do it!"

On why he craves adventure

"I love it. From a young age, I'd climb with my dad when I was about 5 or 6. At that age, it was the same deal. I didn't necessarily like being cold and scared up a rock face, but I loved hanging out with my dad. And I think I developed a belief that the wild brings people together. And I've always loved that. I love the small team we film with. We've had the same small crew of four of us for seven seasons of the show. They're best buddies. And I have the same dynamic with them that I had with my small team of SAS soldiers when I served with the British special forces. You're in difficult places. You're under pressure. But you need to look after each other and you create real strong bonds."

On drinking his own urine on the show:
"It's funny to become known for things like that. Those sort of moments aren't particularly fun, whether you're drinking the fluid from elephant dung or camel intestinal fluids or yak eyeballs or drinking your own pee. I think viewers quite like it when I'm suffering or eating or drinking something horrible or really up against it in some quicksand or whatever. I've definitely learned that those are the viewer's favorite moments. My favorite moments? Where it's all going swimmingly, the sun's out and I've got a fire going and a nice snake on the barbecue."

On the controversy surrounding accusations that elements of the show were staged or embellished — including that he stayed in hotels during filming
"I think any show, when it starts to do well, you get the old missile sent your way. You know, I think I've definitely made mistakes. I wrote pretty honestly in the book about one night where I sneaked back to my family. I'd been away for a few months and I was filming somewhere near the U.K. and they came. I'd finished production a day early and just sneaked out to the see them and that became a whole big story. You know, I think sometimes you look back and you think, 'I so would have done things differently.'"

On his faith:
"Faith is personal if it's to be real. And I think things that are personal are sometimes hard to talk about. And I think Brits are especially bad at that. But I've definitely learned over my life through a lot of difficult times — whether it's military stuff or losing people on big expeditions on high mountains — I've definitely learned it takes a proud man to say he never needs any help. I'm not that man. I do need some help sometimes. And my faith has been that to me. It's been a real quiet strength and a real glue to our family, as well. For me to be able to climb big mountains with a person I feel has made these mountains is a huge privilege."

On spending time with his family, away from TV
"I try to remind myself that a lot of my solider friends are away for proper lengths of time. I'm only going away for a few weeks here, a few weeks there. But over seven years, it's been a lot of time abroad filming. But I love it. I was in last night — I just got back — and was in a bath with the three boys. Lots of bubbles. Lots of rubber ducks. And Shara going, 'If all these people could know how ridiculous you really are.'"

"Somebody said to me the other day you have to wear tighter underpants — that's the key to getting a girl, apparently. So, there you go. That's another good survival tip for you."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Survival expert Bear Grylls has been a nearly inescapable presence on the Discovery Channel for many years.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN VS. WILD")

BEAR GRYLLS: My name is Bear Grylls. I've served with the British Special Forces. I've climbed to the summit of Everest and crossed the frozen oceans of the Arctic.

RAZ: His show "Man vs. Wild" drops the ex-British Special Forces soldier into some of the world's most hostile environments.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN VS. WILD")

GRYLLS: Now, I'm in the French Alps. Now, I'm in Iceland. Now, I'm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The truth is, textbook survival tells you to stay put, stop, wait for rescue, don't take any risks. But there've been a whole host of kind of survival shows like that, and I didn't really want to do that. I thought if I'm going to do TV, I want to do the stuff that I love doing. And, you know, if you've got to get down this waterfall and all you've got is your shoelace and this vine, this is a cool way you can improvise a harness and do this. And let's get on and do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "MAN VS. WILD")

GRYLLS: I'm going to paraglide into this wilderness. A camera crew will follow me.

RAZ: The show peaked as the number one cable program in the country with a global audience of millions. But in March, Bear Grylls and the Discovery Channel parted ways. He's currently taking a break from television spending more time with his kids and developing new ideas for a return to TV in the U.S. And in the interim, he's written a memoir. I spoke to him about his life, his childhood and how he got his name.

GRYLLS: Well, I was christened Edward. And then my sister, at about a minute old, said it's the most boring name in the world. I'm not going to have a brother - I've been waiting so long for a brother called that. So that became Teddy, and then Teddy Bear pretty quickly, so...

RAZ: And on the show, Bear Grylls is anything but boring. A warning now, though, if you're squeamish, you may want to tune out for the next 30 seconds or so.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN VS. WILD")

GRYLLS: In northern Mexico, I was walking through the sand dunes on the edge of the Laguna Salada (unintelligible).

RAZ: One of the most memorable moments on "Man vs. Wild" was the now famous scene where...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN VS. WILD")

GRYLLS: I need to pee, and I don't want to waste that, so what I'm going to do...

RAZ: You had a snakeskin around your neck.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN VERSUS WILD")

GRYLLS: ...is use this snakeskin...

RAZ: You stored your own urine in that snakeskin and then drank it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAN VS. WILD")

GRYLLS: And I'm not expecting this to be particularly appetizing. I'm all for cocktails, but snake innards and pee...

RAZ: It's difficult watching. Difficult to really watch you do it.

GRYLLS: Right. And it's funny if you get become known for things like that. You know, those sort of moments aren't particularly fun, whether you're drinking the fluid from an elephant dung or camel intestinal fluids or yak eyeballs or drinking your own pee. It's all going to be - I think viewers quite like it when I'm suffering or eating or drinking something horrible or really up against it in some, you know, quicksand or whatever.

I definitely learned that those are the viewers' favorite moments. My favorite moments where it's all going swimmingly, the sun's out and I've got a fire going and a nice snake on the barbecue.

RAZ: I want to ask you how you - about how you got there. Because you essentially, for years on television, put yourself in positions where most people would not live, would not be able to live through, would not survive. And yet you seem to crave it. You need it. Can you explain why?

GRYLLS: Well, I think it's more that I love it. You know, from a young age, I always climbed with my dad, when I was about 5 or 6. And at that age, it was the same deal. I didn't necessarily like being cold and scared up a rock face, but I loved hanging out with my dad. And I think I developed a belief that, you know, the wild brings people together.

And I always loved that. I love the small team we filmed with. If I look at "Man vs. Wild," we've had the same small crew, four of us, for seven seasons of the show, and they're best buddies. And I have the same dynamic with them that I had with my small team of SAS soldiers when I served with the British Special Forces.

You know, you're in difficult places. You're under pressure, but you need to look after each other, and you create real strong bonds. And that's always been my draw to the wild, I think.

RAZ: Bear, after you finished school, you decided to join the military. You actually went into the British Special Forces, the famed SAS. I mean, you describe this camaraderie that you found there. Did you know that that was what you were looking for?

GRYLLS: Well, I think my dad had been a Royal Marine commando and, you know, I always loved that in him when I was growing up. I was always pretty amazed. You know, but every boy wants to do one step better. And, you know, the SAS, I suppose, was the pinnacle, and I think it gave me at a young age a confidence that I didn't necessarily have and, you know, obviously, gave me a lot of the skills that I've gone on to use.

And - but it also gave me some of the best friends in my life. And I look back on those days and, you know, they were definitely hard work but a real kind of sense of pride at a young age that it gave me that I'm super grateful for.

RAZ: I was curious about part four of your book. It's called "Faith," which is not something unusual to find in a book written by an American but less common in Britain. I mean, in your country, people don't openly talk about faith, admittedly, as they do here in the U.S. How much a part of your life does faith play?

GRYLLS: Well, you're right. Faith is personal, if it's to be real. And I think things that are personal are sometimes hard to talk about. And I think Brits are especially bad at that. But, you know, I've definitely learned also over my life a lot of difficult times through, you know, whether it's military stuff or losing people on big expeditions on high mountains.

And, you know, I've definitely learned also over my life a lot of difficult times through, you know, whether it's military stuff or losing people on big expeditions on high mountains and, you know, I've definitely learned it takes a proud man to say he never needs any help. I'm not that man. I do need some help sometimes.

And my faith has been that to me. It's been a real, like, quiet strength and a real glue to our family, I think, as well. For me to be able to climb big mountains with the person I feel has made these mountains has been a huge privilege. And it's a real, as I said, like a backbone that's run through a lot of these adventures in my life.

RAZ: I have to mention, Bear, that the show did come under fire a couple years ago after some reports that elements of the show were staged, right, that you had stayed in hotels, and there were receipts. And you actually address this in the book. What was that about? What happened?

GRYLLS: Well, I think, you know, any show, when it starts to do well, you know, you get the odd missile sent your way. You know, I think I've definitely made mistakes, you know, and I wrote pretty honestly in the book about one night where I sneak back to my family. I've been away for a few months, and I was filming somewhere near the UK and they came.

I finished production a day early and just sneaked out to see them, and that became a whole big story. And, you know, I think sometimes you look back and you think, you know, I so would have done things differently. And I think the best response is to quietly get on a day job and do it well and try and sort of, you know, have humility about that.

And the job for me was always about trying to empower people through what we do.

RAZ: I remember when I would spend, you know, months at a time in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan as a reporter. The first thing I would want when I would return to the U.S. was a hamburger - In N Out burger. What's the first thing that you want when you're back in civilization?

GRYLLS: Well, you know, the real struggle for me, if I'm honest, is being away from my family a lot.

RAZ: Yeah.

GRYLLS: And I've got three young, wonderful young boys. I try and kind of remind myself a lot of my soldier friends who are away for proper lengths of time, you know, nine months at a time. And, you know, I'm only going away for a few weeks here, a few weeks there. But over seven years, it's been a lot of time abroad filming.

And, you know, I love it. I was - and last night, I just got back and in a bath with the three boys, lots of bubbles, lots of rubber ducks and Shara going, God, if all these people could know how ridiculous you really are. And I'm thinking, but you know what? This is just heaven.

RAZ: Yeah. You have - I mean, your wife is just completely outnumbered.

GRYLLS: Well, somebody said to me the other day, you've got to wear tighter underpants. That's the key to getting a girl, apparently. So there you go. That's another good survival tip for you.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: Would you ever encourage any of your young sons to do what you do?

GRYLLS: Yeah. You know, they love adventure. My dad always used to say to me you've got to follow your dreams and look after your friends along the way. And I try and say the same things to them. Their mum says that it can't involve a one-in-six chance of not coming home like Everest does or - but they've got way more brain cells than me. They're going to do something much more important, I think.

RAZ: That's Bear Grylls. His new autobiography is called "Mud, Sweat, and Tears." He was the host of "Man vs. Wild" which aired here in the U.S. on the Discovery Channel for seven years. Bear, thank you so much.

GRYLLS: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.