Simon Reeve interview: TV presenter on his epic adventures, personal struggles - and the climate challenge

TV travel presenter Simon Reeve talks to NationalWorld about his latest book, epic adventures, unique experiences and his vulnerability sharing life’s personal struggles

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Over the course of 25 TV series, Simon Reeve has shared the importance of travel, the true highs and lows of countries across the world, and crucial issues facing different parts of the planet.

Recently he became a bestselling author with his first book Step by Step and is now the author of a second book called Journeys to Impossible Places.

Speaking to NationalWorld, Simon Reeve revealed more about his experiences, life’s journeys and personal struggles.

Thrilling - and dangerous - travel experiences

Journeys to Impossible Places takes the reader through Reeve’s journeys from 2006 up until now.

The “amazing positive reaction from people about the struggles I had in my teens” encouraged him to write a new book of “memoirs” he called it jokingly.

“I never thought I was going to write an autobiography, let alone write two of them,” he tells me.

Reeve explains how the book highlights his many wild and peculiar encounters, one of which was the time he was adopted into a tribe of former headhunters in Borneo. “It was completely surreal” but demonstrates “the real tangible joy of travel,” he says.

His emphasis and remembrance of the people he met during his many travels shows how important it is to him.

“If you travel for people you are never short of memories, encounters and experiences,” he explains.

He reminisces about a guide in Burma called Cheery and all she did to help Reeve and his team.

“I will never forget her because of what we went through and the risks we took to get into a difficult part of Burma.”

Simon Reeve with the son of Mamo Luntana of the Kogi tribe. Photographer: Craig Hastings/BBCSimon Reeve with the son of Mamo Luntana of the Kogi tribe. Photographer: Craig Hastings/BBC
Simon Reeve with the son of Mamo Luntana of the Kogi tribe. Photographer: Craig Hastings/BBC

Reeve has been in many difficult situations in various countries, putting his life on the line to show the dark realities of countries. He says crossing from a remote part of India to Burma was probably the most dangerous.

“It was a very thrilling, frightening, risky, fulfilling experience to have.

We were in an area where there were about 50 Burmese military bases and they were effectively the enemy,” Reeve says.

Despite only being there for a short amount of time Reeve adds “we certainly felt a bit of the fear and terror that the locals were feeling.”

“I’ve thought many times since what would’ve happened if we’d been caught. We know that our guide Cheery would most certainly have disappeared or may well have been executed - she knew that was the risk she was taking but she still wanted to be involved.”

Simon Reeve on the climate crisis

Through his journeys Reeve has seen first-hand the destruction and disaster of climate change across the world.

He’s angry at the amount of plastic left on beaches despite having “been working it into my programmes early on in the journeys I’ve been on.”

Reeve and his team, through their programmes, have been “trying to get people a sense of the scale of it”.

He marvels at how, despite his many programmes and the shocking amount of plastic on these beaches, “we are not doing anything to really address it, we just keep churning out more plastic rubbish!”

“Our future is genuinely at threat,” he adds.

He shares his experiences with indigenous communities and their fight against climate change.

“I started meeting indigenous people living in far-flung corners of the world who would start talking to me about how the climate where they lived was changing.”

Reeve goes on to mention solutions to this drastic problem and offers some optimism for our future, despite our dire present situation.

“The only solution is to stop putting plastic into the oceans, stop making so much of it in the first place,” he says.

“I think in the rest of the 2020s we have got an opportunity to really address this enormous challenge and we’ve got a chance to turn the situation around.”

How lockdown affected him

Reeve shares how having travel removed from him “was very difficult” during lockdown. However, writing his new book Journeys to Impossible Places allowed him to reminisce on his epic journeys and share these experiences with his son Jake.

Through lockdown Reeve pointed out how he would always come back to the advice of a young Indian sadhu he met a few years back who said: “You people are a labyrinth. Just be.”

“Looking back at his advice during the pandemic got me to a better mental state,” Reeve said.

He remarks on how despite his love for travel being taken away and the hard mental state this put him in, others including those in the NHS were having a much harder time than himself.

Through lockdown Reeve began “understanding the benefit of living in the moment” and through his new book he shares more about what he learnt during the time when the world stopped.

Reeve’s personal journey and normal background

Before lockdown ensued, Reeve did an 80-date theatre tour across the country sharing his life’s journeys; the good and the bad.

He remarks on how proud he was of himself for that experience of speaking in front of so many people and how he had to work on his “confidence muscle”.

It was “an incredibly privileged experience to have,” he adds.

On his theatre tour Reeve shared more about his background which he delved into in his first best-seller Step by Step. He explained how he entered the journalism industry, surprising many in the process.

“People often assume some bod on the telly is going to have gone to a really top public school” and that was “something I almost wanted to set straight,” he says.

“I went to a normal comprehensive, I was hopeless there, flunked out of school, went on the dole, never went to university, nobody in my family has ever gone to university.”

His job as a postboy in a newsroom following his struggle with mental health and various unfulfilling jobs turned out to be his lucky break. “It really transformed my life,” he says.

“It gave me a door into a culture and workplace where there were opportunities.”

Despite his hard work in starting from the bottom and making his way up the ranks, Reeve acknowledges how he got the job through luck and privilege being a white male living in London: “It would’ve been very difficult if I was living in Hull.”

“Every journey, every experience, I really think of as a privilege,” he adds.

What else is in store for Reeve?

Reeve reveals to NationalWorld that he will have a new TV series coming soon involving three programmes about the Lake District and Cumbria. “We put a lot of effort and love into it,” he says.

As for a new book, he admits writing a book was “a bit blood from stone” and “hard work”. He reveals how he listened to extremes of music to keep himself going “ranging from Stormzy to The Greatest Showman,” he laughs.

“If some publisher was kind enough to say we might be interested in another book, well what an incredible offer that would be,” Reeve says, with characteristic modesty.

Journeys to Impossible Places is available from Waterstones.

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