Simon Reeve on the Mediterranean: ‘I didn’t realise quite how extreme a region of the world it is’

Simon Reeve on the Mediterranean: ‘I didn’t realise quite how extreme a region of the world it is’

Australia, Burma, the Tropic of Cancer … Simon Reeve has been on some epic journeys.

For the presenter’s latest documentary series, he heads to the Mediterranean – the birthplace of Western civilisation, which attracts more than 300 million tourists a year.

As a region once again at the heart of global conflict, and with some bonkers experiences thrown his way, the trip took the 46-year-old seriously by surprise.

Here’s a taste of what to expect from BBC Two’s Mediterranean With Simon Reeve: the first episode takes us from Malta, along the coast of southern Italy and on to Albania, while the second starts on the island of Cyprus, before heading across the sea to Lebanon and on to Israel and Gaza.

Here, the author and TV personality, who lives in Devon with his wife Anya and seven-year-old son Jake, takes us through his memories of the Med, what he learned along the way, and life with his family.

On inspiration for the series

For a long time the Mediterranean was seen as a bit of a backwater, and not as exotic as other parts of the world. It’s obviously been in the news more recently and I started thinking about what a journey around it would offer. I knew it would give us strong stories, a great adventure, there would be tales of history, and conservation and there would be some drama as well, but I didn’t realise quite how extreme a region of the world it is.

It’s only really when you start travelling around it that you get that fuller sense of how closely chaos can exist to normality, how close poverty is to the wealth of Monaco. This is a sea that laps the shores of the south of France but also the Gaza Strip. This is a sea with the conflict of Libya just to the south of the beaches of Sicily. It’s extraordinary, the proximity.

Reeve in Italy’s anti-smuggling police’s helicopter, as they escort cocaine to be destroyed (Craig Hastings/BBC/PA)
Reeve in Italy’s anti-smuggling police’s helicopter, as they escort cocaine to be destroyed (Craig Hastings/BBC/PA)

But I think the key thing about the Mediterranean is that there’s probably nowhere else on the planet where quite so many different cultures have mixed and mingled and sometimes come into conflict.

On bonkers experiences while filming

I was completely stunned by the power and control of the mafia in Calabria, which is a mafia called the ‘Ndrangheta. Going into their territory with Italian special forces guys who said to us, ‘This is not the territory of Italy, this is the territory of ‘Ndrangheta’, that was an astonishing feeling.

On his shock over the north-south divide in Cyrpus

Cyprus was such a good example of why the Mediterranean is so interesting. You’ve got an island that is divided by an enormous ramshackle buffer zone, separating conflicted communities and this is within Europe!

As a continent, sometimes we have the cheek to try and tell other parts of the world that they’ve got to behave in a certain way… Nicosia is still divided, for goodness’ sake. And it’s divided in such an extraordinary way, with oil drums and barbed wire and checkpoints. It feels like a throwback to a completely distant past.

We’ve got to resolve these conflicts and it stuns me that the European Union, the most powerful economic bloc in the world, hasn’t managed to help the communities involved to resolve that crisis. It’s astonishing.

One what we can learn from his journey

It’s important we remember how close suffering is and how much a part of so many people’s lives it is, if only so we can feel more fortunate about our own existence. We are very privileged on these islands and sometimes people forget that.

We’re not really taught, and we don’t perhaps fully understand, what the Mediterranean is: what a key sea it is, how important it’s been historically, how close we are to it, how connected we are to it.

On his own family holidays

[My son] is very keen on Greece, like his mum, who’s obsessed with Greece. And he loves going to Denmark – my wife’s half-Danish so we go to see the in-laws.

He’s starting to ask about going a bit further but we do have a very large dog who we love very much, and you can’t go jetting around the world forever when you’ve got a dog who’s basically your other child.

Reeve in the Scandola Nature Reserve, Corsica (Johnny Crocket/BBC/PA)
Reeve in the Scandola Nature Reserve, Corsica (Johnny Crocket/BBC/PA)

On getting emotinal while filming

These journeys are all very affecting and I’m not somebody who doesn’t react to them – I get very emotional about the places we’ve been. And when we see something beautiful as well, I want to give someone a hug. Jonathan and Craig, the cameramen, they’re sick of me constantly coming in for a warm embrace!

On dealing with the ‘celebrity’ tag

I’m still very anonymous, honestly. There’s nothing I can’t do and it’s only when you get to silly levels of fame and you start getting the head that goes with it that people can’t do things. If you just behave normally and not like a total tit, frankly, then you can do most things, even if you’re a telly type.

On life in the countryside

I still get to go back to London fairly regularly for work and family and friends. But I love being out in the countryside and actually we find it much more sociable than people in the cities realise, and we’ve got a bit more space so people can come and stay with us. Not many people have that in the big city.

Reeve at the ruins of the Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya (Eric McFarland/BBC/PA)
Reeve at the ruins of the Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya (Eric McFarland/BBC/PA)

On his never-ending passion for travel

The biggest reason for me to travel is not for the places, it’s for the people. People are constantly changing and there are more than seven billion incredible stories on this planet so how anyone could get tired of travelling and hearing them, I just don’t know.

On where he’ll explore next for TV

I don’t get to pick where I want to go, I’ve got to discuss it and put an argument forward for it. I’ve got some ideas – there are still areas of the world I would love to visit. The world is changing dramatically and rapidly and I find it all, everywhere, absolutely fascinating. If viewers and the Beeb will have me, I’m probably up for it. It’s tiring, but it’s amazing.

Mediterranean With Simon Reeve starts on BBC Two on Sunday October 7.

- Press Association

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