A Q&A with Bear Grylls, adventurer
“My Christian faith has been a quiet strength through these adventures”
By Julie Rattey
From sailing and climbing with his dad on the Isle of Wight to studying karate with a grand master in Japan to training with British Special Forces to scaling Mt. Everest, Bear Grylls lives a life full of adventure. The longtime star of Discovery’s “Man vs. Wild” shares exciting first-person accounts of daring adventure, grueling tests of endurance, and steadfast faith in God in his autobiography, Mud, Sweat, and Tears, out May 2012 through William Morrow (learn more at HarperCollins.com or BearGrylls.com). Grylls, a Christian, recently took time out of his busy travels to share with us by email how Mother Teresa changed his life, how he and his wife Shara raise their three adventurous boys, how he escaped death while crossing the Arctic Ocean, and why his mom is his hero.
You’ve said that your love of the wild partly comes from the adventures you had with your dad growing up. Would you tell us a little more about that?
My late father had been a Royal Marine Commando and a climber, and from a young age he was taking me out to climb on the sea cliffs around the island I grew up on off the south coast of England. It was my way of being close to him and I loved it.
You’ve said that your mom is the unsung hero in your life. Tell us more about that.
She always had to pick up the pieces (and deal with the mud!) whilst I was growing up and has been a support through so much, from breaking my back in the military to losing dad. I wanted to acknowledge her in a way that would mean a lot to her.
You wrote, “Adventure … was where I came alive. It is what made me feel, for the first time, really myself.” How and why do you think adventure makes you feel “yourself”?
It gave me the chance to explore my limits battling through storms and seas and mountains from quite a young age. I soon found out that when it got hard then I came alive, and I found a simple and raw form of expression and identity in those battles.
You’ve said that your faith gives you a secret strength and help when you need it most. Would you talk a bit more about that and also give an example?
My experiences in the wild and in the military have shown me that it takes a proud man to say he never needs any help, and I am no longer afraid to admit I need help! My Christian faith has been a quiet strength and a solid backbone running through these adventures, and for me at its heart it is about finding home.
How has your faith affected your approach to marriage and family?
It is the glue that holds us together through a lot of the struggles that life throws at us.
You wrote: “I have never minded risking failure, because I was never punished for failing.” How do you try to share this with your own children?
I tell them that failure is only a stepping stone on the way to achieving our dreams and that you have to embrace it and not fear it to reach anywhere worthwhile. Then failure becomes a thing to be embraced not scared off. To achieve you have to fail a little along the way.
You’ve said that your view of yourself and the world was changed by Mother Teresa. Would you share more about that?
When I visited her place of work in Calcutta it moved me so much to see that one little lady could radiate such love in a city of such deprivation. It showed that me that what really matters is relationships, not things — and that when we give to people we receive. Her face was light personified and no amount of money can buy anyone that light.
You pray very often during your adventures. Would you share a time when prayer helped you get through an especially difficult or challenging situation?
There have been many! But I remember once, during an expedition when I led a team in a small inflatable boat attempting to cross the Arctic Ocean, we hit some monster storms off the ice packs of Greenland and should really have died. During the night on of our crew, Nige, who was not a believer, saw an angel sitting on the front of the boat. Even though the sheer volume and scale of these giant waves, mixed with gale force conditions, icebergs, and hail, was threatening to overturn us for two days, we came through it — humbled and grateful for life. Nige found a wonderful faith after that.
You’ve been in some extremely dangerous situations — like climbing Mt. Everest — in which losing your life is a definite possibility. How do you and your wife Shara and your children cope with that possibility when you go off on a new adventure?
It is always a struggle to reconcile the danger and the family but also it is my job and the number-one priority is to stay alive. I have developed a good instinct out there on where danger comes from, and you have to put ego aside and make good, often un-dramatic calls together as a team.
You have three boys. How do you see your own adventurous nature showing up in them, and how, as a dad, do you try to handle that?
They love adventure! Shara says, “Can’t we have a girl and level things out a little?”!
You experienced bullying in your school days. What advice would you give to a young person, or to a family of a young person, who is bullied today?
Talk to mum and dad and talk to a teacher. Bullies are cowards, that is all, and try and feel a little sorry for them because after school they will struggle, whereas you will soar! Struggles make us strong.
“Man vs. Wild” has been a big part of your career. What are your plans for the future?
New shows but still rooted in adventure and empowering others through the wild. Watch this space!
You take a lot of physical risks in your work. What do you think it takes to be spiritually brave?
Any leap is scary, but the leap of faith is the biggest (sometimes scariest!) but most exciting leap we can ever take! But the wonderful thing is that we only experience the joy after we take the leap. You can hypothesize and debate theology all day, but until you experience the jump it is all just on paper, so to speak! CD
5 fun facts about Bear Grylls
Favorite place to pray: With my three boys before bed
Best advice you’ve ever received: Never give up and don’t listen to the dream-stealers!
Scariest adventure: SAS (Special Air Service) Selection
If you could spend another day with your dad, what would you do? Climb, cuddle and pray.
You write: “Mum, still to this day, says that growing up I seemed destined to be a mix of Robin Hood, Harry Houdini, John the Baptist, and an assassin. I took it as a great compliment.” Why each of those? I loved bows and arrows, I love having a faith, and I love the assassins’ skills, just without the killing bit!
From one adventurer to another
Grylls offers words of wisdom for his sons in To My Sons (David Cook). His wife Shara Grylls offers marriage survival tips in Never Stop Holding Hands (David Cook). Each book features short quotes by the author, accompanied by black and white illustrations by Charlie Mackesy You can learn more at DavidCCook.com.