My chat with legendary survivalist, TV host, former soldier, and all-around interesting gent Bear Grylls surprised me for two reasons.
First, Grylls was only too happy to talk about a wide range of topics. We discussed some of the things he holds nearest and dearest (like fortified mince), his own near-death experiences, as well as his experiences taking celebrities like Bradley Cooper and Russell Brand out into the wild. We didn’t even get to discussing his survival show “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” until a good 20 minutes into the conversation.
Second, I was surprised at how forthcoming Grylls was when discussing his work. Far from shilling about his show and far from any guarded responses about the people he had featured on “Running Wild” or other productions, he gave thoughtful, illuminating, and often amusing answers to every question asked.
His responses genuinely surprised me — starting with his answer to my first question: What is something you can’t live without?
Fortified Beef: Bear’s Undying Love
“One thing I can’t live without is fortified mince,” Grylls said. “I really do eat so much fortified mince.”
(Which, for the record, is the same as “fortified ground beef” here in the States.)
“I try as much as I can in life to eat only really good, natural, grass-fed beef that’s non-processed and is just really good quality,” Grylls said. “You can get some great fortified mince, [which] is ground beef with all the organs mixed in — the liver and heart and kidneys, all blended with the beef … And it’s just so good for you … I find this a perfect way of getting really good quality nutrition into my everyday diet.”
Ironically, there was a time when Grylls was a vegan. He is anything but that today. While it’s entirely possible to keep your body fueled up for outdoor adventures on a plant-based diet, when your work calls for braving the high alpine, the dusty desert, the deep woods, and beyond, it’s not a bad idea to fortify yourself with a truly hearty meal.
And anyway, in a survival situation, you might not always have the choice to avoid animal proteins.
A ‘Humbling’ Near-Death Experience
When asked about the wildest experience he ever had in nature, Grylls threw another curveball. He didn’t mention the time President Obama showed up for a taping that included dozens of Secret Service agents and a squadron of helicopters in the air, or some other wacky moment he had shared with a celebrity.
Instead, Grylls reflected on an experience he had well before his TV career even took off.
“There have been so many adventures over the years, surely on the TV side of things. But also on just the [expedition] side of things, and then before that my military experience,” he said. “One of the experiences that people don’t know about, before all the TV and everything, one where it got really gnarly and I would never want to repeat it, was way out in the ocean.
“We took a rigid inflatable boat — really a small inflatable boat — 3,000 miles across the Arctic Ocean. This was many years ago, just after I got back from Everest, just after we’d had our first son. But [it was] before the TV [show] had started for me.”
Grylls was still leading trips at the time, looking for sponsorship, and giving talks. Then, along came the opportunity to do this trip across the Arctic. And it became “an absolute monster,” according to Grylls.
“We were in just horrific conditions: caught in gales, 500 miles offshore, ice everywhere, of course, the subzero temperatures. It was just scary, just humbling conditions. We were super lucky to not lose our lives on that trip.
“And it told me, it really reminded me, that you’ve got to respect the wild. You only get it wrong once. You’ve got to plan really well; you have to have a backup plan. And if you’re going to take those levels of risk, do it in small doses. Because you’re not always going to win. That trip was a really hard one, for sure.”
Running Wild Celebrity Guests: Who Impressed Grylls Most?
On Grylls’ National Geographic show, “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” he’s been taking celebrities on adventures into the wilderness for eight seasons.
Of several people he talked about, two really stood out: Bradley Cooper and Russell Brand. It may come as no surprise that Cooper proved to be a capable hand when he’s out in the wild. Brand, however, humbly surprised even himself with how well he did out in nature.
“I think Bradley Cooper was a really fun one,” Grylls said. “You know, we were going to do the show a few years ago with him, on like season four or five. But there were schedule issues. We always kept in touch, he always said ‘I’d love to do the show,’ then we finally did.”
Grylls added, “We were in Wyoming and [it was] wintertime, and that’s tough, those conditions — he definitely had the full experience. But he was such a lovely guy. He’s become a good buddy and someone I’m really proud of. That journey was very empowering for him, as it always is for people in nature. And it’s a great privilege to be able to show people a little bit of that. So I think that was a really fun one.
“Then,” Grylls continued, “I think, in terms of a surprise in survivability skills, I would say I think Russell Brand was really fun as well and really was a surprise.”
“I think he surprised himself; I think he thought: ‘I am going to be hopeless at all this stuff!’ But he’s really into it [and] interested in it. He really wanted to find that mettle inside, and he really did and I think for me I got a kick out of that episode because he surprised himself. And he overcame some huge movements and I was really proud of [him]. I love seeing that in people.”
‘Running Wild with Bear Grylls’: No Excuse Not to Get Out There
In the meantime, you can heed the advice Grylls shared, which can be summed up like this: There’s no excuse not to get out there and have your own adventure.
You don’t need a celebrity buddy along for the trip. Nor do you need to head out into the Arctic in an inflatable boat (in fact, don’t do that). In order to have a wonderful, memorable experience in nature, all you need to do is get out into it and be open to whatever the experience brings.