I am fully expecting to find Bear Grylls in defiant mood when I speak to him. Today’s headlines have seen the urine-swigging, snake-wrestling survivalist taken to task – again – by the Daily Mail and co for what they see as his casual attitude to safety, namely not putting safety helmets on his sons during a recent paraglading escapade.
The DM quotes him saying, "I know how to do it safely", but instead, it’s a surprisingly philosophical Bear on the phone.
“I have no ego. One of the dangers of being well known is that people assume you’re going to get everything right,” he starts. “We all live and learn.
“I always drift the wrong side of the health and safety line, we’re always learning.
“I probably should have made sure they had helmets on. There’s never been a law before, but there you go. I’ll know next time.”
On the wider debate of safety versus adventure, a glimmer of the Bear we recognise begins to come through.
“If you strip risk from children, you’re keeping them safe, but you’re not empowering them. It’s about managing risk, not eliminating it, and that way you teach them.
“There are no fewer visits to the A&E department if you strip away the empowerment, and you’re also stripping away the fun.
“Anyway, risk and danger always come from the left field, from things you can’t legislate for. God willing, I keep my children safe. I never get complacent.”
Empowerment is the backbone of Bear’s latest series, ‘Breaking Point’, which sees him taking ordinary people with crippling phobias far beyond their comfort zone, and helping them tackle these fears through what we would generally term aversion therapy, for instance, heights, enclosed spaces, OCD and… yes, spiders (see our clip below). Bear refers to it instead as “wilderness therapy, sometimes nature knows best”.
“It’s based on the belief that sometimes the best way to deal with a phobia is to work through it,” he says. “They’re just monkeys on your back, and when you look at them, they fade away.
“It was a powerful thing for me to see those transformations. We didn’t always get it right first time, but the end result was really moving. If I can help other people live without their prisons, what a privilege.”
Bear isn’t infallible himself. He counts among the monkeys on his own back a fear of sky diving, following an accident that nearly cost him his life and found him strapped for months inside surgical braces.
“Ever since the accident, it’s been hard for me, but I still do a lot of it,” he reflects. “When I’m in the plane, the people I’m with know I have a problem with it, and they push me out.
“I’m NOT not scared of anything, but I know the only way through is to do it.”
Which makes sense, if you happen to be Bear Grylls, I suppose. I ask him to explain why he needs to do all this. Like that other great adventurer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bear is far less comfortable analysing it than he is getting on with it, but he has a game go…
“I quite like that edge. I grew up with my mum and dad telling me the comfort zone is not a good place to be. It’s like water, where it goes bad and you stagnate. I don’t think of it as a comfort zone, but a comfort pit.
“I just like it. I’m not great at everything, but I’m good at being outdoors, and I love it. And I like being focused and testing myself.
“I don’t want to end my life with perfectly preserved body, I’d rather go bumping and screaming, and with a thousand bruises to show for myself.”
Talking of bruises, finally, does Bear still have the giant water slide from his Welsh coastal home to the sea that caused so many tuts among the Daily Mail readers when he had it installed, or has he bent to their views on that, too?
“It’s still there,” he says happily. “We’re not selling tickets. No one else has to go on it. It’ll stay.”
Bear Grylls: Breaking Point is on Discovery Channel (Sky 520, Virgin 211) on Wednesday evenings.