WHETHER it’s tracking saltwater crocodiles through the Australian bush or surviving in Arctic temperatures, Ray Mears is your man.
His name has become synonymous with tackling danger whether it’s wildlife or extreme landscape – and he says everyone can do it. As long as they start slowly of course.
“Youngsters can just start out on their local common,” he says. “All big adventures start with little adventures. I started out just exploring the common as a youngster – you find trails and follow them and your confidence grows – one thing leads to another and before you know it you’re in the remote bush.
“The thing is it should be progressive. You have to be sensible and build your knowledge and capabilities, sometimes young adults get ahead of themselves.”
He’s had plenty of scrapes but plays them all down, saying: “I’m a professional, you take the rough with the smooth.”
However, when pushed, he does come up with a couple of examples where he almost came undone.
“I was once on a solo canoe trip in Canada and what I didn’t realise was that a cyclone was passing up the eastern seaboard of the US,” recalls Ray. “Hmm, that was quite entertaining.
“I arrived at the most wonderful campsite on a peninsula sticking out from the shore. There was a handy tree to hang my food bag and I had a lovely evening there and was really relaxed…and the cyclone hit in the middle of the night at 2am.”
As the storm raged, Ray had to take action.
“I thought I’ll be surprised if my tent is still here in the morning. I got up to see if my canoe was still there, which luckily it was.
“It’s moments like that when you define who you are. You’ve got somewhere to be because there’s a pick-up arranged, so at that point you have to decide whether to press on or head back the way you’ve come – but the way I’d come was a day’s canoeing to a point which was still 50 miles from civilisation, so…”
On his own, miles from anywhere, facing massive waves and armed just with a canoe, he had some tough decisions to make.
“I waited until morning, then hugged the coast to the mainland and once I got into the lee of the inland coast it was just about manageable,” he explains. “I broke the problem down into a series of smaller problems.”
The other near-death experience Ray faced was a helicopter crash while filming in Wyoming.
“That was entertaining,” he says. “The bad thing was a cameraman who was with me broke his back and both his legs, but I broke the helicopter. The thing is if you survive your resolve is strengthened, if you’re damaged it’s the opposite.”
The presenter of TV series like Close Encounters and Survival is currently on tour and says: “Basically, I stand on stage and talk with slides and videos but I don’t want to give too much away. It gives me a chance to talk to people live instead of through a TV screen and that’s fun.
“It’s nice to look out and see people and gives me a chance to go into a bit more detail about some things.
“Hopefully it will be inspirational. I can discuss the philosophy of the outdoors that I hope will come through.”
It’s a family show and Ray hopes all ages will come along – and urges Cubs, Scouts, Guides and so on to wear their uniforms.
“Sometimes I look out and there are kids who have brought canoe paddles they’ve made and so on, which is fantastic,” he says. “And if there are kids in any of the uniformed youth movements like Cubs, Scouts, Boys’ Brigade or Cadets, it would be great if they wore their uniforms.
“Those organisations are fantastic – absolutely brilliant! They’re really, really good and they’re undervalued – Scouts, Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Cadet forces and even some non-uniformed schemes like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
“It’s amazing the service they provide – it’s an opportunity for people to try things safely.
“ It provides an opportunity for young people to get out from home and discover themselves, to become adults, to be challenged in ways their parents might be nervous about – find the magic that comes from giving back.
“I was a Cub for a while but I wanted to do more wild things…”
When the tour finishes Ray has a new TV series about the wild west about to broadcast, but one place you won’t find him is on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! – even though you might think he’s the ideal candidate.
“I can’t think of anything worse!” he rants. “I met the producers once and they told me that they had a psychologist there to deliberately wind them up by reducing food and so on to create tension. What fun would that be?
“That’s not my thing at all. It’s stupid and what really upsets me is those grubs they’re eating, they’re food that very often native people value in the same way we might savour a roast potato or something. So they’re making fun of people’s identity and I don’t like that.
“I also don’t agree with killing something just to make a TV programme.”
An Evening With Ray Mears – The Outdoor Life will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Sunday, October 13.