PUBLISHED: 00:18 14 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:52 20 February 2013
Alex Carlisle talks to presenter, writer and adventurer Ben Fogle on his visit to Derby last year
Ben enters a meeting room at the Cathedral Quarter Hotel in Derby with breakfast in one hand. Its a croissant! Coolly yet casually he devours it after we shake hands and sit down. Perhaps its the media age we live in or the fact that Ben is so athletic and such an accomplished adventurer, but I rather expected him to be munching on a Nature Valley Granola bar the reason, at least on this occasion, that brought Ben to Derby. Later that day he was to hand out free picnic lunches to anyone who happened to pass by at a promotional event on the Cathedral Green.
Of course there is supposed to be no such thing as a free lunch, says Ben. But when you see someone walking away with a free picnic and a smile on their face looking rather confused because it genuinely was free, its very rewarding. The aim is to encourage more green time for people working and living in urban areas and I and the people from Nature Valley came up with hidden spots in cities around the country, whether by canals or in parks or secret squares, where people can enjoy a healthier lifestyle and have some fun.
Ben is no stranger to this part of the world. Ive been up here a lot in the last ten years, just about every show that Ive done has brought me here, the very first being One Man and His Dog in Chatsworth in the glorious sunshine. Country File took me to Bakewell, Chesterfield and Chatsworth and of course Country Tracks, my new Sunday show, has brought me back again. Im the president of the Campaign for National Parks and often come up to the Peak District which is one of my favourite. Im very fond of Derbyshire. Its still a real treat to come up here. For me the Peak District has a unique feel to it thats very different. Its all the more remarkable because there are so many huge urban settlements around it, yet there is the vast wilderness which Ive fallen in love with. People always seem to mention the Yorkshire Dales and I must admit before I came here I never expected it to be so beautiful.
Bens lists of accomplishments are many and varied, his TV shows and guest appearances are increasingly what we seem to recognise him for but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Speaking of which, one of his most impressive adventures has to be rowing the Atlantic with James Cracknell.
My most frightening moment from all the adventures I have undertaken was when I was rowing the Atlantic and a thousand miles from the finish line in Antigua. I was rowing, James was in the little cabin space and our boat capsized. I was thrown from the boat and I didnt have a life jacket or a safety harness due to my own complacency. Wed been at sea for many, many weeks and thought we were fine invincible. Its certainly taught me not to be so complacent. Every presenting job I get, at the back of my mind is the thought that it could be the last. It also taught me a lot about dealing with very stressful situations. When I came back up to the surface I saw the upturned boat but there was no sign of James. Somehow I made it back to the boat and was able to right it. Luckily James was still in the cabin, which was now half full of water. Wed lost a huge amount of crucial gear, including our communication equipment, satellite phones and the device that turned salt water into fresh water. I remember the sun was just coming over the horizon. We still had our oars and emergency water supplies so we carried on through the mountainous seas.
If you ask Ben about the high points in his life there is just no competition for his wife Marina and his son, Ludo. Its so fulfilling to get married and to share your happy moments with someone you love. The home sickness I had as a child has returned again as I dont like being away from my son too much.
Ben has also raced 160 miles across the sweltering Sahara desert in the gruelling Marathon Des Sables and crossed the frozen Antarctic in a foot race to the South Pole. He has raised vast amounts of money for many great causes, such as Sport Relief and Tusk Trust, and written many articles as well as four books, including The Crossing, which describes his epic Atlantic journey
It was very scary when I sat down to write the first four chapters of my first book. I was worried that my editor didnt think it would be any good. I wanted to be a journalist when I was sixteen, but I always crumbled under the pressure of exams. In fact I failed my driving test seven times because of the pressure of the situation. I didnt do very well academically at school, but I was very lucky to attend Bryanston school in Dorset, which is known for being artistic and it suited my short attention span.
Speaking refreshingly candid words, Ben admits, surprisingly, I was never that good at sport either, I guess thats whats driven me over the past ten years. He fell in love with the great outdoors at an early age after spending his summers in Canada with his grandfather, Morris, who taught me how to fish and build rafts, and made my childhood idyllic.
Ben also accompanied Prince William and Prince Harry on their first joint world tour to Botswana. It was a real privilege to spend some time with them and realize that they were two completely normal boys born into an extraordinary world, it was amazing.
Theres so much more to Ben, without referring to Castaway, though he adds, I still regard it as one of my greatest achievements; living self sufficiently for an entire year with no contact with the outside world is a unique experience. There is the fact that he enrolled as an officer in the Royal Navy as Midshipman, his perfectly nice manner, his easy to admire humility and honesty about his abilities growing up, his love of socialising and ability to enjoy a drink, which humanises him even more just when you start to think hes almost too perfect. Certainly tackling the problems hes faced in his daring adventures makes him truly exceptional. Ben says, I wanted to show people that I was more than they said I was in the papers, posh Ben, presenter Ben... He has certainly done that!