Interview: Simon Reeve

Image Credit: BBC/The Garden/Piers Leigh

Interview: SImon Reeve

Simon Reeve Embarks on Epic Journey: Exploring Earth’s Last Great Wildernesses in his new BBC Show

Simon is no stranger to pushing boundaries and venturing into the unknown. His latest adventure, however, takes him on a journey unlike any other – deep into the heart of Earth’s remaining wildernesses. In his new BBC Two series, “Wilderness,” Reeve embarks on a four-part exploration of the Congo rainforest, the Patagonian ice fields, the Coral Triangle, and the Kalahari Desert.

We met up with Simon Reeve in the wilds of the ‘Southbank’ in London to find out more about the trip, the challenges and triumphs of his epic expedition, the stunning encounters with nature and the communities he met along the way.

From navigating the treacherous swamps of the Congo alongside Baka pygmy trackers to enduring the brutal winds and freezing temperatures of Patagonia, each location presented its own set of obstacles. In the Coral Triangle, the sheer abundance of marine life was awe-inspiring, but also confronting, given the threats posed by climate change and overfishing. And in the Kalahari, the unforgiving drought conditions highlighted the critical role these vast drylands play in our planet’s climate system.

What is wilderness? Does it even still exist?

“I think everyone’s got their own image and definition, or idea of it. There’s nowhere totally untouched by humanity. There are plastic particles at the bottom of the ocean, at the top of our highest mountain. So obviously, the entire planet has been impacted by human beings. But I think for this, we were going for areas where the impact of humans is low, That’s how we define it, It’s our choice in interpretation really, but large areas where there’s not much presence or impacted of modern humanity, industrial humanity, and where nature still makes the rules. “

“We were consciously trying to make a slightly different series. We’re trying to mix elements that haven’t always been put together in TV programmes, even in wild areas, with landscapes, wildlife, and the human beings who live there. We weren’t ignoring the fact that people live in wild areas, there are people living in wilderness areas (some of them even wear football shirts) We’re not trying to exclude them from the shots. We’re talking to them and asking them their stories.”

“We really needed to learn about the places we’re going to in this series, I think it’s just about the most important series I’ve ever made. Because we are highlighting areas of the planet that I knew next to nothing about. I think most people, almost everybody watching will know next to nothing about, but they are fundamentally connected to us.”

“Unless we know about these areas, unless we care about them, we will ultimately lose them. It was really important to us that we incorporated that issue, and it wasn’t just a glossy travelogue. Hopefully, we are showing a bit of light and shade in the programmes. It’s absolutely critical to me personally that we give the context to the journeys and the places. In whatever form, these areas are under threat from the wider impact of humanity from the risk of humans encroaching into them. Us learning about them, and starting to respect them and care for them.”

What preparations did you have to make?

“I thought it was a good idea for myself, and I perhaps persuaded other people on the team as well, into buying weight vest. So I was running around bloody Devon, wearing a 15kg weight vest to get ready for this journey.”

“We knew it was going to be physically very taxing and nobody wanted to be that person who let down the team or undermine the project by being too shattered and knackered for us to go forward. The Patagonia episode was one of the most knackering things I think I’ve ever done. Thank God we all trained for it.”

What were some of the challenges you faced

“There was a moment, I went off, I got separated from the rest of the team. I’m literally running through the bloody Congo jungle, trying to catch up with Bonobos wielding my iPhone, which failed at the crucial moment. There was a moment where I was entangled in vines, and I couldn’t get my arm forward. There were a couple of bonobo about 30 metres ahead of me, that came back 10 metres towards me to sort of look at me here. I was trying to get free looking at our cousins, and they’re looking at me, so I’m literally an alien landed on their planet. I thought this is just screwed here. This is just ridiculous, I cannot get free of the vines. I thought we wouldn’t be able to get the footage of them. But luckily other people had a more positive outlook, I was freed, we caught up, and the bonobo stopped and we were able to film!”

Any scary moments?

“There were some proper moments of fear and panic. Perhaps the most bizarre one, was in the water off the coast of New Guinea. As you do, we were jumping off a fishing platform, in a very remote part of the planet, a very remote part of Indonesia. We were swimming and filming with whale sharks, whale sharks that are the size of a small single decker bus, for goodness sake. They are enormous creatures, and they don’t like jumping on human beings. So they should be a safe creature to be in close proximity to.”

“We were with an amazing local fishermen called Nurdin, who was feeding buckets of tiny fish to these whale sharks. So the whale sharks were doing something they don’t do anywhere else, perhaps in the whole world… They were staying in one place and feeding and gorging on what Nurdin was chucking into the water. As a result, they were behaving a bit unpredictably!”

“They’re bloody-great creatures that are whirling and turning on a dime. Suddenly it felt a little bit like being on a skid pan, while a bus was doing donuts! You’ve got these enormous creatures, turning very rapidly around you. There was a moment there, I thought, right, okay, this was this was not the safest thing to do! We’d stopped filming, I was still trying to get close to them. And one of the whale sharks bloody collided with me. It’s not, as I had previously thought, soft and rubbery, it’s like getting hit by a tonne of concrete. It smashed into my leg, and I had a scar across my leg for a proper month and a half, which of course I was very discreet about and I haven’t shown anyone! That moment, where as this whale shark began its attack path, as it started to collide with me, I thought, holy crap, this could end very badly, I’ve been an absolute dick!”

“I was very lucky to get away with not breaking anything serious, to be honest.”

“There were also moments in Patagonia as well, with Puma’s. They might sound like Lions much, much smaller cousins, but actually, these are serious carnivores! They’re an apex predator across South America, the big cat of the Americas.”

“We were right there with large hungry carnivores who view anything on two legs or four as a potential lunch. That also felt we might have pushed ourselves a bit too far. Luckily, the Pumas were dead set on going ahead and they stopped and we could look heroically sensible rather than foolishly stupid.”

Has your viewpoint on travel changed over the years? Does travelling lots make you cynical?

“I think my cynicism has softened over the years in many ways. I haven’t got the best memory to be honest, which does make me a better traveller as a result. I’m like the goldfish going around the bowl, with every lap being a new experience. I don’t remember this bit, this is amazing! So even places I may have previously visited still feel fresh and new to me. Hopefully my wide-eyed enthusiasm trumps and middle-aged cynicism. But it’s definitely in there, I’ve got to be honest!”


%TNT Magazine% Simon Reeve diving with whale sharks 443136 scaled

Image Credit: BBC/The Garden/Kelvin Morris

%TNT Magazine% Simon Reeve on the Grey Glacier in Patagonia. 443125 scaled

Image Credit: BBC/The Garden/Jonathan Young

%TNT Magazine% Simon Reeve with Conservationist Adams Cassinga in the Congo rainforest 443108 scaled

Image Credit: BBC/The Garden/Piers Leigh

Now all the ailments have heeled and the mosquito bites stopped itching, has it given you confidence to push even more and visit some of the places you may have dismissed in planning for this trip?

“I think we’ll see what the reaction to the show is before we look at anything, either people will see it as a success, and everyone will think it’s a brilliant idea, or they will point at me and say it was all my idea, and it was crap.”

“I think personally, this was a really big push, and we went to some of the most remote parts of the planet and we got out safely, and that’s a big win. So hopefully that makes us more confident to go to tricky and wild places again.”

“I would love to do it again. Maybe people can be persuaded or blackmailed into doing it again! If you’re not able to, despite all the harshness and insect bites, that you are one of the luckiest people to be in that situation, and experience these places, then something is seriously wrong.”

Do you have to work hard to control the narrative, does it tend to unfold organically in front of you?

“It’s not scripted, it’s natural and based on real experiences. But I guess I am constantly looking at potential areas of narrative or have an idea of the sort of elements I want to explore. Often things are very unpredictable, so you have to adapt. Like the experience with the Bonobos, it was really down to luck. I was just crawling along, I did try a bit of mirroring. You see me muppetly trying to scratch my head like they were and appearing to be not much of a threat.”

Do you have a favourite moment of the series?

“I would say I had a thousand favourite moments, but specifically when we were in Patagonia, and we spotted a tiny little Puma cub on the ground through the binoculars, that was a spectacular moment to see a young big cat in the wild. We got round the side of this hill, these Puma’s came over the top and there was a moment where a giant female Puma was silhouetted against the sky, and she looked so majestic, that honestly I would have offered myself up as lunch to her. If she had taken me, I would have said, fair enough, this is an ok way to go. I will never forget that moment!”


All four Episodes of Simon’s Wilderness Series, is now available on BBC iPlayer.