Lianne Kolirin chats to survival guru Bear Grylls about family life, his love of the Scouts and why he’s passionate about getting kids outside
Bear Grylls may be Britain’s most high-profile adventurer and survivalist, but to three young boys he is simply known as ‘Dad’.
So impressed are we all by the former SAS soldier’s bravery and sheer determination in the face of Mother Nature, that it’s easy to forget that he is also a family man. Jesse, 12, Marmaduke, nine, and Huckleberry, six, are all “incredible boys with contagious spirits”, according to their proud father.
In recent years, Bear has famously taken the likes of Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and even US President Barack Obama beyond their comfort zones for his TV show Running Wild with Bear Grylls. But lesser known, perhaps, is his tireless work for the younger generation.
He has led expeditions from Antarctica to the Arctic, which have raised £2 million for children worldwide; his extensive TV portfolio includes CITV’s The Bear Grylls Survival School for 12 to 15 year olds; and he has written several novels for children, as well as a non-fiction book entitled To My Sons: Lessons for the Wild Adventure Called Life.
In 2009, he was appointed the youngest ever Chief Scout to over half a million scouts in the UK, an accomplishment of which he is fiercely proud. “Being named Chief Scout was one of the greatest honours in my life,” he says. “And the most unbelievable privilege to be part of such an inspiring force for good.”
His earliest scouting memory is of feeling very small, surrounded by all the other scouts who had so many badges. “But I learnt that it isn’t all about badges,” he explains. “It’s about camaraderie and learning great life and outdoor skills. You don’t have to know it all, you just have to show up and give your all.”
His main goal as Chief Scout is to encourage those who might not normally get the chance, to get out there and build their own adventures. “The scouts does that like no other youth organisation, and it inspires great life values and lifelong friendships.”
Getting kids outdoors is vital, he says, wherever they live. “Something special happens to us all when we step out into the open and are presented with a challenge.”
And he’s a big believer in having adventures as a family, too: “The best thing we can do for our children is have an adventure with them – even if it is just camping or going for a hike. It brings us close to our children in a way that computer games and TV robs people of.”
Unlike many, he certainly practices what he preaches. “We often go to our little island in Wales,” he says. “It’s a wild, windswept, rocky grass-covered island only about 700m long and 200m wide, and we live in the converted lighthouse keeper’s cottage. We have no mains electricity or water, but we love it.
Our three boys, Shara and I are happier there than anywhere else on earth – adventure and solitude mixed with fun and family.”
Not having your own island is no excuse to stay indoors, though. “Even a walk in the park or cycle ride can show children that there’s so much more to life than TV screens,” he says.
For those looking for something more challenging, Bear has created the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, where a team of trained experts, recruited by Bear himself, teach a variety of courses for families and children.
The academy’s Kids Survival Day Courses encourage youngsters aged eight to 13 to get back to basics. It also runs holiday camps and brilliant birthday parties. And sessions are available for adults, as well as family groups.
“People learn everything from rappelling to self-defence, non-GPS navigation to river crossings and fire-lighting,” explains Bear.
“It’s a real variety that equips participants for any situations they may face. But, above all, it builds the sort of quiet confidence that comes from knowing you are able to look after yourself or your family in an emergency.”
He adds, “The outdoors gives kids a confidence and pride that money cannot buy. Children who get to spend their afternoons running about and playing games sleep better, concentrate harder and work better with each other.” Case closed.