Ben Fogle and his love for Sussex
PUBLISHED: 17:17 28 September 2010 | UPDATED: 11:41 28 February 2013
He has rowed the Atlantic, raced to Antarctica and cycled from Edinburgh to London without stopping. Now Sussex boy Ben Fogle tells Jenny Mark-Bell about his love for the South Downs and "the biggest challenge of all"
WHEN I catch up with Ben Fogle he is busy tossing Labradors into the boot of his car. Sorry, hold on a momentGET IN! he shouts authoritatively. Fogles charm and persuasiveness are quite something, to say nothing of the butterscotch hair and perfect vowels, so Im almost in the boot myself when he resumes: Sorrywhat were we saying?
Ben is snatching some quality time with his beloved dog Inca. Things have been incredibly busy recently: he has just finished filming Escape in Time, a series for the BBC, and will shortly head off to Ethiopia to make a documentary about Noma disease. Only a few weeks ago, he completed a 423 mile non-stop rickshaw ride from Edinburgh to London with James Cracknell to raise money for injured servicemen and their families. Ben and Olympic rower James, with whom he crossed the Atlantic and raced to the Pole, completed the characteristically ambitious journey in just 55 hours.
Nowadays, Ben doesnt get to spend as much time as he would like back home, but he grew up in West Sussex and his family live in Ford. He and his wife of three years, Marina, look forward to Sussex family Christmases and in October keen walker Ben was able to combine his work as President of the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) with a welcome visit, when he led a five and a half mile walk from Amberley to celebrate the South Downs National Park status. It was fantastic, because a lot of people met who I hope will continue walking together over the next few months and maybe even years. The CNP has been campaigning to have the South Downs classified for years, so were very proud to have achieved that recognition.
Bens boyish television persona sometimes carries the agreeable whiff of a Bertie Wooster, but in his role as spokesman for the CNP he is eloquent and impassioned: There are a lot of pressures on the British Isles and our green spaces are becoming more and more valuable. They are the lungs of this country and its important not only that we look after existing National Parks, but that we look to protect other areas of land. The Mosaic project, launched by the organisation two months ago, really appealed to him. The idea is to encourage ethnic minorities to visit national parks by recruiting community champions who can advise their communities on transport links, accessibility and equipment. A similar project will shortly be rolled out for young people: The parks are there for everyone, regardless of race and age. If they arent used by everyone, thats when we stand to lose them.
Between Boxing Day and January 3, the Ramblers Association will be promoting hundreds of walks for its Festival of Winter Walks, supported by Ben. I feel rather a dolt for saying this to someone who nearly lost his nose trekking to the South Pole, but why winter? Isnt it a bit too cold and nasty to be going outdoors when you dont have to? Well, now more than ever its important to look after our health weve realised that with the state of the countrys health in general and the creeping increase in obesity, he says. For me, that doesnt mean that everyone needs to join a gym and exercise for hours on end every day. The best way of counteracting modern life and its effects is to get out and about. It makes you feel better in mind and body, and you get to see what a beautiful country we have.
Winter, when a lot of people tend to spend a great deal of time indoors, is a great time to do it. One of the joys of living in this country is that we have the four seasons and each one is totally and utterly unique. He makes a compelling case I might even be dusting off my own venerable walking boots at this rate. Bens a keen advocate of the type of organised group walk that makes up the festival. For him, walking is a social activity and by joining a group you get the benefit of other peoples expertise, knowledge and experience, as well as building a repertoire of different routes.
A touch of romance...
Walking socially can also have personal benefits Ben first met his wife Marina and her chocolate lab, Maggi, when he was walking Inca in the park. So not only is it good for the mind and body; it can also be good for your love life!
For Ben, a walk just isnt the same without Inca Its a personal thing it goes without saying that a dog complements a walk, but for me she completes it. There are of course disadvantages to undisciplined hounds charging around the countryside, such as their impact on ground-nesting birds and livestock, and he worries about the number of people who would like to see a leads-only policy implemented. I know a couple of national parks have been worrying about whether dogs should be on or off leads, he says. If you are a responsible owner you need to make sure your dog is well-trained. Its up to us as owners to show that we can look after and control our dogs. As for Maggi and Inca, they are now completely inseparable, and given that they were both lone dogs beforehand, Ben and Marina are thrilled by how well they have adapted.
Growing up in Sussex influenced the spirit of adventure that would shape Bens life and career. Obviously I spent a majority of my childhood here, and I think all the outdoor activities influenced the path my life would take I spent a lot of time paddling down rivers, camping and fishing. We used to have a little cottage on a working beef and dairy farm near Horsham, where I spent a great deal of my childhood. It certainly opened up my passion for the countryside, and I think that it helped define who I am, and what I love to do. Now, his favourite places are too numerous to mention but when pressed, he lists Arundel, Devils Dyke and the beaches at Climping and West Wittering Ive spent a lot of time walking up and down the beach there with various dogs over the years. Sussex remains a place that is very close to my heart.
Bens restlessness has carried him far further afield than Climping in recent years, often with long-term adventure partner James Cracknell. As viewers of On Thin Ice, the TV series documenting their Polar race, discovered, theirs is a relationship that functions on a level many of us would hesitate to define as friendship. When we saw psychologists before we went, most concluded that we were the most ill-suited pair they had ever met, but I think we have proved that that is not necessarily always the case. It means we have a very unique friendship we wind each other up, but we know each other so well that we have learned to overcome our differences.
One of the most striking of those differences is Bens almost relentless cheerfulness in often dire circumstances. He says he has always been an optimist, and tried to make the most of any situation. My philosophy is that if you have gone somewhere like Antarctica of your own volition then you cant let things get on top of you. I mean, I made a lot of sacrifices with my family, so there was no point in losing myself in a fog of misery. I always try to adapt to any situation, and I think thats been useful a lot of these trips are more mind over matter than physical challenges.
Becoming a dad...
Ben has realised ambitions that others have only dreamed of, so whats next? The biggest challenge of all really: parenthood. Were expecting our first child in six weeks and Im very excited. Ben will be cutting down on travel with the birth of the baby. Obviously I still need to earn a living and, apart from the big adventures, a lot of my jobs do involve travelling overseas. I think adventure is what makes me who I am: its my oxygen. I have sated some of that wanderlust, but I think there will always be that need to push myself, physically and mentally. It wont always be big expeditions, but I will always have the spirit of adventure.
2002 Britains Overseas Territories. Spent eight months travelling to remote British islands
2004 Marathon des Sables, Morocco. Completed the seven-day self-sufficient race across the Sahara.
2005 Atlantic Rowing Race. Rowed with James Cracknell for 49 days from La Gomera to Antigua, setting a new British record.
2006 Led several expeditions, to the lost Incan city of Choquequiria, Svalbard, Kaiteur Falls and Kilimanjaro.
2006 Ben and wife Marina won the Big V sailing race from Portsmouth to Cork, setting a new world record.
2008 South Pole Race. Ben, James Cracknell and doctor team mate Ed Coats came second in the polar challenge, finishing second behind the Norwegian team.
A life less ordinary
Born in 1973 to actress Julia Foster and broadcast vet Bruce Fogle, Ben was educated at Bryanston School in Dorset. He studied Latin American Studies at the University of Costa Rica and University of Portsmouth, and has travelled and worked extensively in Latin America.
Ben was working in the art department of society magazine Tatler when he volunteered to be marooned with 35 others on the remote Hebridean island of Taransay for BBC reality show Castaway 2000.
After Castaway, Ben forged a successful career as a TV presenter, including the BBCs Animal Park, Countryfile, Wild in Africa, Crufts and One Man and His Dog.
Ben has written for the Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Telegraph and the Independent and has a column in Sky Magazine.
Ben is a fellow of the Royal Geographic society and an Ambassador for WWFand Tusk. He is also a keen supporter of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and President of the Campaign for National Parks.