Published On: Mon, Nov 4th, 2019

Ben Fogle: I want my children to fall off their bikes – I want them to fail

Admittedly, taking to the road for an “epic cycle” with best pal, Olympic gold rower James Cracknell, and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins isn’t your average day out on two wheels. Such a trip would be especially poignant for James, who suffered lasting brain damage after being knocked off a bike by a petrol tanker in 2010 during a coast-to-coast ride in America. “We don’t know quite where yet – but we are looking into it,” explains Ben. “Getting back on a bike really would be a big thing for James given what happened to him and we would have to take it sensibly, but I know he could do it.” 

Ben, who admits he lives a “nomadic life” out of a bag, constantly travelling for work, is talking about the ninth series of his Channel 5 show, New Lives In The Wild, meeting people who have gone “off-grid” to live in remote locations around the world. 

While he isn’t quite ready to quit the rat race himself, Ben and his wife, Marina, 41, are moving out of London with their two children, Ludo, nine, and Iona, eight, to a period cottage in leafy Henley-on-Thames. 

But the broadcaster and professional adventurer, 45, who found fame as a contestant on the BBC’s reality TV show Castaway 2000, living on the remote Scottish island of Taransay for a year, sees the attraction of leaving modern life behind.

“People are being overwhelmed with social issues, political problems and economic problems – and this notion of giving everything up and going to live off-grid and to have a simpler way of life is quite attractive,” he explains. 

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Ben meets Annalise who lives in the wilderness with her son Nico (Image: Renegade Pictures)

“This idea of simplifying your life is really quite something. I met a Swedish single mum called Annalise who is living in the wilderness. Her dilemma is finding enough wood to make a fire to keep warm. 

“I think it is incredibly brave. I was there in the summer and in the winter it is a very different proposition with snow and cold and ice. I did live off grid 20 years ago when I lived on an island for a year for Castaway but would I do it with my family?” 

Ben likes the idea but worries about the effect of such social isolation on his family. 

“Who are their children are going to be friends with and who they are going to play with and what social skills will they develop? In fact, in this series, there are two kids I visited in Panama with their parents and they live really remotely and they have no interaction with other children whatsoever. 

“I think viewers will be slightly surprised to see their lifestyle and I will leave it up to them to decide whether they approve or not. That is what holds me back a little from doing anything radical like going to live in a mud hut with Marina and my children.” 

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Ben Fogle believes children should learn to fail so they have the building blocks to success (Image: Renegade Pictures)

One of his particular bug-bears is the ubiquity of social media and its impact on our mental health. “It’s not a surprise that the mental health epidemic is affecting so many people because we can’t escape this bubble from being on our phones and tablets,” he says. 

“I think we are becoming more obsessed about getting a certain amount of likes on our Twitter and Instagram accounts rather than actually living a proper, real, honest and organic life. For me, spending time with people who have stripped back their lives is what I find nourishing. 

“One of the most fascinating individuals I met on this series was Dan, a former professional photographer. He lives in a little Hobbit house in Oregon and his life couldn’t be simpler. 

“He has one pair of shorts and one T-shirt and one pair of shoes and literally he has scaled his life back and he is probably the calmest and happiest person that I have ever met in my life.” 

He laughs: “When I spend time with people like Annalise and Dan, I always come back planning to change my own approach to life. I come back with a spring in my step, thinking: ‘Right that is it, we are going to change our whole lifestyle’ and within a couple of hours I get swept up in the tides of materialism and consumerism. 

“We have lost this idea of need over want and do we need something or do we want something. I hold my hands up, I am part of the consumer thing. I look around my house and it is full of stuff and I go to the shop and I see a new jacket and think ‘I really, really want that, but do I need it?’” 

As a father, Ben is keen his two children should be exposed to the real world as they grow up – including online. 

“We are becoming too clinical. I would like my children to set their own boundaries as if they were near a sheer cliff,” he says. 

“I think we are entirely risk averse but that is detrimental to growth because, if you haven’t risked failure or humiliation, then you can’t really ever achieve proper success in my mind. 

“For my children, I want them to fall both metaphorically and physically and it sounds harsh but I want their bicycles to crash – that is part of growing up. 

“If you bring up your children with this notion that everything will always be good and, and try and shield them from nastiness, then it is not a true reflection of life and for me I want them to grow up with honesty.” 


Mr Fogle says children who learn to fail are better equipped to deal with life (Image: Getty)

He added: “Ludo has asked me, ‘What are these things that you don’t want us to see?’ And I have said it is people being horrid to animals and videos of people being very cruel to other people so they are slowly starting to understand.” 

In 2014, Ben and Marina had a stillborn son at 32 weeks, Willem. The couple keep his memory alive by supporting charity Child Bereavement UK. 

They have been incredibly open in talking about the issue of stillbirth and raising public awareness. But it has not been easy. 

“I climbed Everest for Willem and he obviously loomed large out there and when I thought of him – I just kept on going,” Ben says. “But we all have ups and downs in life and we all have things that happen to us and obviously Everest was such a big challenge and that was quite poignant. 

“In general, I don’t think we talk about things enough because we are British and we have a stiff upper lip. I think we need to get back to this slight middle ground of open conversation of taking risks of agreeing that different people will have different opinions and less toxic conversation.” 

Ben would like to make more changes to his life, but for the moment he’s planning to buy an electric car to reduce his environmental footprint. 

“But I am not one of those people who is going to stand outside and heckle people for not living a greener life,” he laughs. 

He has been asked to appear on Strictly Come Dancing before, but has never had the time to commit to the BBC’s prime-time autumn show. 

He was supporting his friend James Cracknell on this year’s series – but wasn’t entirely surprised when he was kicked off in week one. 

james cracknell

James Cracknell was kicked off Strictly after one week (Image: Getty)

“We have been to weddings together and I have seen his dancing. At one a few years ago, James and I both won the prize for the worst dancers so I knew his dancing was bad as mine,” he says. 

“I went to the studio with mixed thoughts about how well he was going and he was either going to absolutely storm it or the complete reverse and there was definitely going to be no middle ground. 

“We had a couple of drinks after he got kicked off and he isn’t a sore loser – contrary to news reports and he took it in great spirits and I can’t reiterate that enough.” 

Having worked with Emma Thynn – Viscountess Weymouth of Longleat safari park, he was rooting for her to win but the 33-year-old was voted off the series last night. 

In the meantime, he’s busy writing a children’s book, promoting his new series and planning adventures to come. 

He adds: “The world is so polarised and there is just a lot of angst right now so it does get me down a little bit. 

“But nothing that a run or a hug with your children or spending ten days living in a woods in Sweden can’t get rid of!” 

  • Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild airs Tuesdays at 9pm on Channel 5. 

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