TV presenter, writer and adventurer, Ben Fogle has travelled more than most. He’s not done it the easy way either – along the way he’s run across the Sahara, walked to the South Pole, rowed across the Atlantic and battled a flesh-eating disease. For anyone who doesn’t know much about Ben, he made his TV debut in Castaway, a BBC reality show where 36 people were marooned on a remote Scottish island and left to fend for themselves for a year. He ended up as one of the stars of the show and went on to work as a TV presenter on shows like Countryfile and Extreme Dreams, helping members of the public complete adventurous challenges around the world. Since then he’s done plenty of his own extreme adventures too, that as well as representing charities like WWF and Medecins Sans Frontières and being a husband and father with two young children keeps him pretty busy.
Ben’s also a brand ambassador for Celebrity Cruises. Someone who makes their living from adventure isn’t who you’d naturally associate with a cruise company, but Ben is helping bring adventurous, once in a lifetime experiences to cruise passengers. He’s just launched a new range of ‘Great Adventures’ – excursions which focus on different aspects of the destinations they visit – so you can learn to cook in Sicily, make gelato in Sorrento, kayak through the Stockholm archipelago, or even snorkel with migrating salmon in a Norwegian river (see the Celebrity Cruises website for more details of the excursions).
I went up to London to meet Ben as part of the Great Adventures launch and got the chance to have a chat with him about his travelling adventures and what he thought of his first cruise experience. First up, I wanted to know what this self-confessed adrenaline junkie does on his time off.
You’re known for your extreme exploits, but what sort of trips do you take when you’re off-duty?
The key is family – because I’m away for a lot of the year, family holidays are incredibly important. We look for somewhere that the kids can enjoy but also so my wife and I can have time together. I think Europe is a great option, especially southern Europe in the summertime – guaranteed sunshine and beaches, so the children get to be outdoors and active. As a family we’ve been going to Portugal for many years – it’s actually where we got married. The wild Atlantic coastline there is very beautiful, west of Lisbon and in the far western Algarve. I’m looking forward to when the kids get a little bit older too and we can be more ambitious and adventurous with where we go.
Having travelled so much already, is there much left on your wish list?
There are many, many places still on my wish list! I think the old saying that “the world is a small place” is true to some extent, because it’s so accessible now – by cruise ship, by plane, by bus, by train – but there are so many different corners of the globe and while I have certainly seen a lot, my wish list and the list of places I haven’t been to yet is still very long.
So what’s at the top?
I’ve always wanted to go to Madagascar so that’s high up there. I’ve still never been to China either, or Vietnam, or Hawaii. So there’s a fair number of places. I think I have another 20 years of travel at least!
With your adventurous background, working with a cruise company isn’t the most obvious pairing. Before working with Celebrity, was cruising something you’d thought about doing?
It was a totally new experience to me. Obviously I was aware of it – I’ve worked in the travel sector for many years, and it’s such a big sector of the travel market. But it’s not something I’d ever thought of doing. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m working with Celebrity Cruises to see how their itineraries, the length of time at sea, what they offer can be tailored to the sort of experience that I want.
What did you enjoy most about cruising?
What was fascinating was that I was away for about four days and visited four completely different places. I flew into Malta, then we went to Sicily which I’d never been to before, then over to Naples and across land to Amalfi and Positano. And I think to be able to do all that in four days, with no airports in between and not having to repack my bag on endless occasions, was extraordinary.
Do you think it’s a good way of getting a taste of places so you can think ‘I’ll come back here’?
In a way that’s how I saw it, and I think that’s the joy of cruising, that you might pick one destination that you knew you wanted to go to, but you find it combined with another destination that you had no intention of going to and you’ve suddenly discovered a whole new world of experiences.
Your ‘Great Adventures’ excursions are pretty varied, what ties them together?
The theme for me is ‘immersion’ – I wanted guests to be able to get close to the people and the landscape in the destinations they visit. The kayaking trips give you a different perspective from much closer to the water. The food trips let you learn new recipes so you can recreate them later and take a bit of your holiday home with you. The idea was to target a younger group of people who are new to cruising, as well as people who’ve been on many cruises and are looking for something different.
I’m a bit of a nervous sailor, as an pro [Ben rowed across the Atlantic], do you have any tips for me?
Sailing in a small boat can be nerve-wracking, it all depends on the crew and the waters you’re in – the Solent off the south coast of England in winter might not be such an enjoyable experience. Cruising is very different. You’re on a huge ship with modern stabilisers so seasickness is almost non-existent and is very different to being on something like a ferry.
Good to know! So my final question is, where are you off to next?
I’m going on a Celebrity Cruises trip to Scandinavia and Northern Russia in May, but my next trip is actually to Sochi in Russia in about a week’s time. I’ll be there for work covering the Winter Olympics and all the colour going on around the Games itself.
Have you ever been on a cruise or is it something you’d like to do?
Thanks to Ben and to Celebrity Cruises for inviting me along to the event. You can also see an extract from my interview with Ben in this video (excuse the croaky, cold-related voice!).