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Bear Grylls: ‘I’m a very proud Irish citizen. Since Brexit, the connection has saved the day’

The adventurer says school doesn’t always equip young people for dealing with anxiety but resilience can be developed

“Bear” joins the call. The simple tag leaves little doubt to the identity of the user. Few others can join a Zoom call under their first name and need no further introduction.

His camera springs to life and a somewhat rugged man smiles back at me. Bear Grylls is calling from a cabin in the Swiss Alps. “We run away here quite a lot,” he tells me. “I like hiding away.”

The 49-year-old is outside on a rustic wooden deck. There are blue skies and snow-capped mountains behind him, and he has a blanket around his neck for warmth.

“I’m wrapping up,” he says. “I’ve been in the river, so it’s been cold.” How very Bear Grylls.


To those of a certain, still relatively youthful generation, Grylls needs no introduction. In the mid-2000s, he found fame as a fearless adventurer when he hosted Man vs Wild (or Born Survivor as it was known in the UK). The TV show saw him dropped into inhospitable places with a camera crew to demonstrate how to survive when help isn’t coming. Think climbing mountains, escaping forest fires, hacking through dense jungles and crossing deserts; all while surviving off snakes, creepy crawlies and all sorts or creatures. His website claims the show has reached an estimated 1.2 billion viewers.

Ever since, many children and young people around the world have been captivated by his daring adventures.

Grylls, whose real name is Edward Michael Grylls, dropped out of university to join the British army at the bottom of the ladder. After initially failing the rigorous entry trials, he went on to serve for three years with the SAS. When he was 23 he became the youngest British person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest, only a couple years after breaking his back in three places in a parachuting accident.

Determination and a refusal to let failure get him down appear to be his standout characteristics. He completed the first unassisted crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean in an open rigid inflatable boat. He led the first team to circumnavigate Britain on jet skis, raising money for the RNLI. And he set a world record for the highest ever open-air formal dinner party, in a hot-air balloon at 7,620m (25,000ft). The list goes on and on.

In his mid-20s, soon after marrying his wife, Shara, both their fathers died within weeks of each other. Family is important to Grylls, who has three teenage sons. So too is resilience, the message of his new book, Mind Fuel for Young Explorers: Simple Ways to Build Mental Resilience.

We’re human. We’re fragile. But we’re not designed to be on our own. We’re designed to be connected to the Almighty, in whatever form you name it

When he’s not off gallivanting, Grylls is a prolific author. I read he has authored more than 90 books and asked him to tot them up including the new one. “I think this is actually like 106,” he casually says. “But bear in mind a lot of them are kids’ books. My friends are always quick to point out that a whole bunch of them were colouring-in and join the dots,” he laughs.

His books have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. Despite his many intimidating achievements, he’s quick to play them down.

He previously told an event in Dublin, the Pendulum Summit in 2020, that he had an Irish passport.

“I’m a very proud Irish citizen,” he says. He lived in Donaghadee, Co Down, until the age of four.

Grylls’s maternal grandmother, Patricia Ford, was an Ulster Unionist Party MP for North Down and the first Irish woman to take her seat in Westminster. (Constance Markievicz was the first to be elected, but refused to take her seat). Ford was an “inspirational lady”, according to Grylls. Her father, an the MP Walter Smiles, died in the sinking of the MV Princess Victoria in 1953 during a storm off Larne Lough.

“They could see it from our house,” Grylls says. “They could see the lifeboats being launched, and the ferry went down just a few miles off the coast. In a flurry of all the media stuff, she ended up taking over his seat.” She served as an MP for two years. Grylls’s father, Michael, was a Conservative MP for nearly 30 years, and was described as an ally of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

“I’m very grateful for the [Irish] connection,” he says. “Since Brexit it’s saved the day, to be honest.”

The adventurer has twice filmed in Ireland: first with an episode of Man vs Wild in 2008, and later Running Wild with Bear Grylls in 2016. The first saw him dropped off the coast of Donegal, scale up sheer cliffs, traverse a bog and eat a sheep in that grizzly way he’s known for. The second saw him team up with Friends actor Courtney Cox for an escapade in Co Kerry.

“We made Man vs Wild always for a US audience. As far as they’re concerned, I was in the most wild, remote place on the planet. We used to call it the land of fire and ice or something. But those of us with Irish connections know that you’re never really far from a farm or a road over there. It’s just such a beautiful part of the world. There’s some of the biggest sea cliffs in Europe on the west coast. It was really fun for me to do one over there . . . But it was a lot of bogs, a lot of sheep and a lot of avoiding the farm tracks.”

Having a ‘never give up’ spirit conquers everything. It just does

Nowadays he spends his time between Switzerland, where he often paraglides, a private island off the coast of Wales, and a life lived on the road: shooting television shows, giving speeches and working in his roles as honorary colonel with the Royal Marines Reserve and chief scout in the UK.

His new book is aimed at helping 10- to 14-year-olds build mental resilience. Through a series of bite-sized stories, Mind Fuel for Young Explorers aims to stir young people into action. Be it through thinking exercises, simple at-home activities or reading inspirational quotes, Grylls seeks to uplift.

“So much of modern life is about being prepared,” he explains. “It’s trying to be on the front foot, where so much of life is trying to push this on to the back foot. There’s more anxiety, more struggle, more uncertainty. From that combination of social media, climate change, war . . . And school doesn’t always equip young people that brilliantly for dealing with those sorts of things. It deals with the academics and a bit of sport, but how do you develop strong mental resilience and fitness for the battles of life that are gonna come?

“So the book is really simple, practical, fun, and designed for that age to be accessible for young people. To try and get on that front foot. The goal of Mind Fuel for Young Explorers is to help people be prepared.

“Ultimately, having a ‘never give up’ spirit conquers everything. It just does. You look at the great stories through history. The rewards in life don’t always go to the most talented or the sportiest or the cleverest. The rewards go to the dogged and determined, and I think in this modern world you need resilience more than ever. The genius thing about resilience is it’s not a God-given gift. It’s not like being good at sport or academics. Resilience is a muscle, and we develop it by failing and keeping going.

“We’re like grapes: when you squeeze, you see what we’re made of. That’s the human spirit. Adventure happens when things begin to go wrong . . . It’s what I loved in Man vs Wild in the early days. It’s why that show was original. Because it was always about worst-case scenarios. What do you do when you’ve got nothing? I mean, textbook survival says sit still, take no risks and wait for rescue, but what happens if rescue isn’t coming? . . . Life is the same: you can have a plan, but you can get hit sideways. You’ve got to be prepared.”

Grylls co-wrote the book with Will van der Hart, an Anglican priest and codirector of The Mind and Soul Foundation, a Christian mental health charity. Grylls – who is not shy about his faith – says he starts each day on his knees: saying sorry for things he gets wrong, giving thanks for his blessings and asking for strength for the day ahead. “You know, my faith isn’t much more complicated than that,” he says. “I don’t go to church a huge amount.”

“On our own we’re never going to be very powerful. We’re human. We’re fragile. We’re weak. But we’re not designed to be on our own. We’re designed to be connected to the Almighty, in whatever form you name it. Whether it’s this universal force of love or whatever label you give to it. I find that embodied in the life of Christ, just because, for me, he’s everything I hoped a God would be.”

He will soon start filming some new programmes, yet to be announced, and in April he’ll tour Britain for seven nights with his Never Give Up tour, featuring family-friendly stories. Grylls is still that gung-ho explorer who delighted audiences almost 20 years ago – and he seems to have gained a lot of humility along the way.

Mind Fuel for Young Explorers: Simple Ways to Build Mental Resilience is published by Hodder & Stoughton

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