TV's Ben Fogle: Why I want my children to go wild

TV's Ben Fogle: Why I want my children to go wild

British TV presenter Ben Fogle travels the world for his adventures and  physical challenges, but when he gets home, he’s not looking for a bit of peace and quiet. Instead, he wants his children to go wild.

“I know the virtues of  travel, the outdoors and animals,” says the TV presenter of Channel 5’s series New Lives In The Wild, who has two children, Ludo, 10, and Iona, eight, with his wife Marina.

“Adventure is what has made me and I want them to love it, and the wilderness too. I don’t want them to see it as a dangerous, frightening place,” says the 45-year-old who’s determined to pass on the skills for coping in a natural, outdoor environment to the youngsters, and get them to share his love of adventure.

“For me, the most important place to learn is not the classroom, but the outdoors and nature. If they’re open to life, new experiences, new people and happy in the world, and have a spirit of adventure, that to me is more important than academic achievements,” explains Fogle, who’s teamed up with Sanofi Pasteur to encourage holiday-goers to seek travel health advice from a healthcare professional before going abroad.

“We’ve been teaching them basic bush craft skills – like foraging for food, making a fire and how to put it out safely – since they were young. They’ve had whittling knives for working with wood for a long time. Of course, they get cuts and bruises, get stung by bees, or whatever but that’s all about experiencing and learning.”

Fogle, who found fame in 2000 living on the uninhabited Outer Hebridean island of Taransay, for the BBC reality show Castaway, has gone on to conquer an impressive list of challenges, including reaching the summit of Everest, trekking the Sahara, crossing the Antarctic, and rowing across the Atlantic.

“I’ve learnt so much from the things I’ve done and want the children to learn about life and how to live it. Those experiences don’t have to be in far-flung spots, we go out a lot in the British countryside as well, it’s all about exploring,” he enthuses.

What sort of father are you?

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The grin on her face is never bigger than when she’s sitting on her beloved Daddy’s shoulders. During those precious weekends @benfogle is around, Iona sticks to him like a limpet, clutching his big hand in hers, clinging on to him as if her life depends on it. She won’t let me near - we’re not allowed to hold hands, hug or - heaven forbid - kiss. If we breach her ‘rules’ she squawks with fury and like an angry typhoon leaps between us. When he’s around she doesn’t want anything to do with me, batting me away in annoyance. But I know, when he’s gone, she’ll come crawling back to me, hungry for cuddles and affection. I’ve learnt not to be offended when I’m callously spurned for a better model, but I’ve accepted that it’s her way of coping with a Daddy who is not around as much as she’d like. And really, I love watching that relationship bloom, even if I get left out. Although Storm, my dog, remains like my shadow, come what may.

A post shared by Marina Fogle (@marina.fogle) on

“I like to think I’m as good a dad as I can be. I’m hands-on, quite fun, and never lose my temper. It’s acknowledged there’s an increase in ‘helicopter’ parenting these days, with people hovering over their children and almost trying to control them and wrap them in cotton wool.

“I don’t believe in that. We need to loosen our grip, let them grow, adapt and learn. I encourage our kids to get outdoors, get muddy, wet, eat yucky food, and mess around. They need more of that sort of stuff to grow as individuals.”

What sort of childhood are you giving them?

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A true 21st century girl. I love that my children are very much seen AND heard. I love that my daughter can wear shorts instead of a dress to school, “because it’s easier to do cartwheels”. I love that her dreams to be an archaeologist are realistic. I love that she’s not expected to be obsessed with fairy tales and princesses but instead can spend her weekends pushing herself physically and mentally. I love that while she always has dirt under her nails, that her hair is often unbrushed, her knees are grazed and her clothes grass stained, her ambition and dreams shine from her eyes and no-one tells her she can’t. I know our world isn’t perfect, I know gender perceptions are not always equal and I know not everyone has the opportunity that some do, but still, life for girls is very different to what it was 100 years ago and I think we should be proud. Thanks @thelittlewelly for giving these children the opportunity to live childhood like it should be lived.

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“One with lots of fun and adventure, which is what I enjoyed growing up. One of my best recent memories was seeing the children taking part in The Little Welly in Oxfordshire [a massive obstacle course] where they got covered from head to toe in mud, and so did we!

“We’re lucky enough to travel a lot around the world – we’ve taken them to Africa, the Middle East and Caribbean. Nothing gives me more pleasure than introducing them to new places, people or animals, seeing things through their eyes and watching them get inspired by something.

“Both Marina and I want them to be exposed to life and live it to the full. I can’t wait to go on a big adventure with them, maybe the North Pole.

Ben Fogle and his son Ludo (Doug Peters/PA)
Ben Fogle and his son Ludo (Doug Peters/PA)

“At the moment, they absolutely love doing everything we do – if we go on a long walk they’re up for it, and they have no qualms about diving into cold water, because we’re doing it and we’re their inspiration. We ski, climb mountains, sail and try just about everything and anything. They just accept that’s what they do – that may of course change when they’re teenagers!”

You first found fame on Castaway – how will you celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show next year?

Ben with his dog on the island of Taransay (Ben Curtis/PA)
Ben with his dog on the island of Taransay (Ben Curtis/PA)

“I’m taking Marina and the children away to an island where we’ll have a complete break from technology. We won’t go for a whole year, but it will be a good length of time for a proper break. I can’t wait.”

Do you let the children use social media?

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Selfie #selfie @patagoniaeurope

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“They  can use the iPad, but we don’t make it readily available. They have to ask for it. I don’t see children get anything from social media apart from anxiety, jealousy and FOMO.

“My daughter told me off the other day for being on my phone. That made me feel very guilty, so I know it can’t be just ‘do as I say’ and I have to lead by example. I try to ensure I’m not on the phone or texting when they’re around.

“We’ll eventually give them each a phone, but it will only have a phone and text facility. For peace of mind, I’d like to know they can get in touch with us. I was so happy recently when I packed Ludo’s bag for a school trip away, because it was full of good old-fashioned card games, rather than technology that so many kids are addicted to.”

How do you cope with being away from the children when you’re working abroad?

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I pass through airports weekly. Usually they are merely portals to and from work, but arriving at Heathrow this morning to be met by my beautiful family was different. The excitement on Ludo and Iona’s faces as they raced through the crowd to hug me was unforgettable. Something about this adventure has changed me. It has been an important reminder of the essence of life. A reminder to hold those you love close to you. Perspective can be a useful tool. It brings meaning to life and ensures you take nothing for granted. It has been surreal to sit in the garden with family and friends and watch the Royal wedding. A young couple embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. It has been a day of celebration and optimism through the marriage of Harry and Meghan. It feels like a good day to be home. #everest2018

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“The excitement and anticipation of being reunited with them again keeps me going during the long absences. I think about them all the time and I took their favourite cuddly toys with me when I climbed Everest in May 2018.

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A year ago today, I woke from a restless sleep, my phone buzzing urgently. I knew this phone call would have a huge impact on our lives. It was Ben, calling from Everest...the top of Everest. In the weeks and months before the climb my heart beat a little faster and those snatched moments we had as a family, those times when his arms were wrapped tightly around me as we fell asleep, seemed so precious. I knew all too well of the dangers of his undertaking. I had devoured Into Thin Air a decade before and while, back then, I was enthralled by the adventure, the risks were just too near for me. He told me, though his sobs, that he had reached the top, that it was the most beautiful view he’d ever seen and the hardest thing he’d ever done, that he missed us and would be home soon. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I know plenty of families face risks not dissimilar to the one that Ben took last year and not a day goes by when I don’t think of what some have to go through on an ongoing basis. Not least the families of the Sherpas who guide, fix the ropes and launch rescue missions. Everest season is now in full flow. To all those on that mountain, I’m thinking of you. Oh and he took Ludo and Iona’s favourite toys to the top - this is our favourite photo! #everest @benfogle

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“A lot of parents now work very long hours and while some may be around more than me, work can make it hard for them to be ‘present’, even when they’re at home. I make sure, when I’m home, I’m with the children all the time. I walk them to school, pick them up, take them to their friends and sports fixtures, and take them out as much as I can.

“I’ve realised it can be hard for Marina when I return from a trip, because I want to have fun with the kids and entertain them, but she’s the one who’s had weeks making sure they do the right things and have a routine.

“We make sure she instigates fun things as well as me when I’m around, so there’s a balance in the parenting.”

What about the risks of going to far-flung, exotic places with the children?

“I wouldn’t ever let them take unnecessary risk or expose them to illness. As a parent, I take more care of them than I do of myself,” says Fogle.

“This summer, the children and Marina are joining me in Equador, South America, and after that, we’ll spend rest of summer in America. Before we go away, I’m definitely taking the children to the doctor to make sure they’re up to date with their vaccinations.

“I think my greatest achievement is avoiding most of the typical illnesses you can encounter abroad, like malaria, although I was unlucky enough to get Leichmaniasis [a potentially life-threatening condition transmitted by the bite of a species of sandfly].

“It’s incredibly  important to check the risks are and make sure you’re up to date with vaccinations, and armed with the facts and relevant medication.”

Ben Fogle has teamed up with Sanofi Pasteur to encourage holiday-goers to seek travel health advice from a healthcare professional before going abroad. For further information on travel health, visit smarter-traveller.co.uk

- Press Association

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