Ben Fogle

Renaissance man

1 August 2013

Ben Fogle is a busy individual. Adventurer, presenter, journalist - since appearing in the reality TV show Castaway in 2000, his career has gone stratospheric. Today, he has a CV, and workload, that makes dizzying reading. But any career forged in the outdoors will, at some point, face the challenge of the weather - even if that means dealing with conditions that are simply too good.

It's rare for people in the UK to be blighted by particularly clement weather - but this is exactly what Ben had to deal with when filming a new documentary called Harbour Lives. The series examines the lives of people living and working in and around Poole Harbour (Europe's largest natural harbour), from the wealthy residents of Sandbanks, to the fisherman that do battle with the sea every day.

"I met several fishermen who told of near death experiences when they were caught in storms and dragged overboard in nets. Unfortunately, our filming coincided with a heatwave, so people watching the show might think they lead a pretty idyllic life. The reality is very different."

A series about a harbour town on the Dorset coast may seem like quite a departure for a man who cemented his place in the spotlight through intrepid adventures. After all, Ben can lay claim to having rowed across the Atlantic, trekked to the South Pole and even cycled from Edinburgh to London in a rickshaw. But more so than the vast majority of celebrities, his career has been incredibly varied to date. So alongside these demanding - and sometimes perilous - adventures he has also presented Crufts, One Man and his Dog and Countryfile, to name just a few.

But if there is a defining theme in Ben's work it's the link with nature, the outdoors and, of course, the elements. This made him the perfect choice of presenter for a recent Sky Atlantic programme, Storm City.

This four-part series examines the science behind some of the most destructive forces of nature including tornadoes, hurricanes - as well as more geological phenomenon such as earthquakes. As part of the filming, Ben witnessed first-hand the aftermath of several natural weather events - an experience that made a big impact on him.

"It was unbelievable to see what the power of something like a tornado can do. I saw a ten-plus storey hospital in the US that had been flattened. It was one of the most shocking things I have ever seen. We also saw people's lives that had been completely and utterly transformed by the weather."

Extreme measures

Ben is no stranger to extreme weather himself and says that, "Like a lot of Brits [he] enjoys hot climates." However, this was pushed to the limits on a recent trip to the 'Empty Quarter' of the Arabian Peninsula where he completed a recreation of a 1940's expedition in average daytime temperatures of 48 degrees centigrade. It was, he described it, the "hottest place I've ever been."

On the same trip, Ben travelled to the coast of Oman during the rainy season, where he found locals showing the same giddy excitement for rain as so many people in the UK do for sun.

"It was amazing to see people in their droves racing towards the rain, scared they were going to miss it. I think it shows that we all want what we don't have."

From deserts to ice caps and jungles to pounding seas, Ben has had to cope with almost every condition on earth.

"I've learned the hard way. You plan around weather windows but it seems that every trip I've done coincided with the hottest, the windiest or the wettest weather. For example, when we rowed the Atlantic, it was one of the stormiest seasons on record."

So what keeps him going when things get tough? "I describe myself as a have-a-go person. It doesn't matter if I'm not the fastest or quickest as long as I've seen it through to the end."

Although the date hasn't yet been set, Ben is already in training for his next big adventure - a cross-Atlantic swim. If that doesn't test his determination then nothing will.

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