Ben Fogle: Overcoming My Lifelong Battle With Self-doubt | E81 | Transcription
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Ben Fogle. Ben relentlessly pursues adventure, risk, and challenge, but this doesn't come from a place of strength and courage. It comes from the opposite. Listen, if you think you're gonna fail, you're gonna fail. You just have to have this positive attitude. And it was only actually working with Olympians that I've done now when I climbed Everest that I realized you need this confidence verging on arrogance that I will get to the top of this mountain. Three weeks before he was due to be born naturally and we lost our third child. And it was an awful, awful experience that affected us profoundly. I became really introverted. I'd go to events and I'd find myself going to the loo and just sitting in the little cubicle for the duration of the whole event. Big mistake, we got death threats and worse. I shouldn't have shared this idea in a social media platform, but I was amazed at the vile, vitriolic abuse. Ben Fogle. He's a TV presenter, broadcaster and author. He's climbed Mount Everest. He's trekked across Antarctica and he's rode across the Atlantic Ocean. Ben relentlessly pursues adventure, risk and challenge, but this doesn't come from a place of strength and courage. It comes from the opposite. From a place that you would probably never expect. This was such a diverse conversation and we covered so much and so many things. Ben has been on the most incredible journey, tearing up the script and ignoring the standard society sets for all of us on this never ending continuous journey of rebuilding himself, as he says in his own words. And that journey has been inspired by one simple idea. His desire to take back control of his own personal narrative. Something he believes we've all lost control of. And this podcast is gonna take you on a journey. From the need to a positive attitude, to resisting your label, to taking leaps, to rediscovering the importance of simplicity in your life that Ben has learnt from living in the wilderness. And to answering the question that we all seek to answer pretty much every day of our lives, which is how to be happier and how to be more fulfilled. So without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett and this is the Diaries CEO. I hope nobody's listening. But if you are, then please keep this to yourself. Ben, as I read through your story, your books, your interviews, and I remember watching a YouTube documentary of you sailing across the Atlantic many years ago. Obviously the most sort of striking, distinctive, stand out thing about the way that you've chosen to live your life over the last couple of decades is your seemingly insatiable appetite for adventure, risk, challenge, extreme adventure, as it relates to Everest and things like that. Where did that come from? I think it's, do you know, it's not necessarily an absolute thirst for adventure. I think it's about kind of finding the real me.
Personal Challenges And Life Experience
Where does your thirst for challenge come from? (03:18)
See, if I go right back, as a child, I was so shy. I had no confidence. I failed all my exams. I was hopeless at sport. And actually, I think all of the things that I've done since have been about rebuilding. It sounds a weird way to describe it, but it's not just, I'm not an adrenaline junkie. There's this assumption that maybe, you know, that that would be how to describe myself. But it's not that at all. Actually, the things I do are really, really slow. You know, like rowing across the Atlantic took best part of two months, walking across Antarctica, took many, many months, climbing Everest, took many months. So actually, if it was jumping off a mountain base jumping or going on a motorbike or even a mountain bike down a steep slope, I hate all that. It's too fast. I quite like this slow movement, but I'm quite good at long endurance events. And all of those have been about rebuilding my confidence. And what took your confidence? Or why didn't you have confidence? I think it's the fact that I was hopeless academically for many different reasons, undiagnosed dyslexia. I kind of, a slight mistake maybe, not on my parents' part, but my father's Canadian. He wanted me to be bilingual. So I was sent to a French school, and I just didn't. I couldn't do the French school. The French system, and with all apologies to any French watching or listening to this, it's just quite a hard system, the French one. And it was quite strict. And I'm just, as a child, I was surrounded by dogs, dad was a vet, mum was an actress. It was all quite a liberal. My actual childhood at home was quite liberal, full of actors, lots of drink, lots of animals around. I suppose crazy, but normal for me. But then in this French system, it was very rigid. And it meant that I didn't learn any French, and my English went backwards. So when I went back into the system, I was way behind. And the result was the combination of that and dyslexia just meant, I was hoped it was like a barely right. And I failed all my exams. And I was surrounded by people who were better than me at everything. Everyone seemed to be more handsome if it was the boys. They had more luck with the girls. They were better at playing sports because they could actually kick a football unlike me that I have two left legs. And they were good at academics. And when it came to the exams, they just, they didn't even, you know, they could be up all night watching stuff. And then the next day turned up for the exam, whereas I was just, I was almost making myself vomit. I was so nervous about the exams, 'cause I knew I was gonna fail. And this is the first thing. I convinced myself I'd fail. And of course, I ended up failing because what I've discovered since is that so much of what we do and what we endure and how we test ourselves is here in the mind. And if you go in with a negative attitude, which I had, then it's self fulfilling. And the result was, I hope this is everything and it just stripped me of my confidence. I had, you know, I just, I didn't believe in myself. And that went right through, you know, probably into my 30s, if I'm to be really honest, I think that was always lingering over me. There's little voice just telling me that I was, that I wasn't good enough at what I did. And did that voice come from your own assessment of yourself or was there external forces bullying or your parents or? No, my parents were amazing. You know, my parents have, I don't think they could have done more for me than they did. I think it was, no, I think it was all internal, if I'm to be honest. I think there's a, I think there was an external pressure to conform, because if you think about how, if you take the schooling model and the education model, it is kind of about conforming because exams are all about getting the correct grades. We're learning to a specific model that has been set by the government. And it's sort of painting by numbers when you think about education. And if you don't hit those targets, then you've effectively failed the system. And for me, you can hear from my accent, you know, I'm posh, I went to a private school. Mum and Dad worked really hard to send me to a private school. And actually there was a great guilt that the fact that they had worked so hard to be able to afford to send me there, and yet I still failed. So I think actually a lot of that voice was internal. And actually I wish, if I could go back in time, I wish I could kind of shake my shoulder, shake a young me on the shoulders and go, just don't overthink things, just chill out a little bit. - And were you a chronic over thinker?
Overthinking & building confidence (08:23)
- I was, and I still am. I still overthink things, if I'm to be honest. I, to work in the medium that I work in is a little bit strange, 'cause I don't really belong in this medium. When I say this medium, you know, front of house where as a presenter, because I've got a really thin skin and I overthink everything. So when I read something negative, whether that's on social media, whether that's a newspaper review, whether that's a journalist that has written something which I don't like, or which doesn't seem true, I take it really personally, which is kind of really strange, 'cause I should have been able to overcome that after 20 years, and I'm almost there, Stephen. I'm almost there. But one of the reasons I'm happy to talk about it is 'cause I know I'm not alone. I know there are many, many people out there who are high achievers who've done brilliant things in life, but are still burdened with their own voice of doubt. And through all of these challenges I've done, I've been able to really build that confidence. And I'd say I'm a few hundred meters from the summit now of peak confidence, and I can't wait until I'm there. I hope I do, I hope I reach that point. What is it about those challenges and the sort of slow monotonous nature of those challenges, or just the challenges themselves, or challenge as a construct itself that helped you to build confidence? 'Cause I'm one of the most frequent questions I'm asked in the comments section of this podcast or on Instagram or anywhere else is, "How do I build my confidence?" And I think we live in a culture, especially on Instagram, where it seems like everyone else is super confident and chasing their dreams. And we never get to hear the whispers of their self doubt. So it might feel like we're the only ones. So I guess my question is, how did those challenges build your confidence? It happened by accident. So that's the first thing to say. I didn't chase it thinking this is going to help. It was like a slow series of blocks that were built. So it started when I failed my A-levels, and I went off traveling. I went to Costa Rica, a place that I know you love. And I went to university out there. And I think it was spending time in a different culture, in a different culture country, with a different culture, different language, different religion, away from home, away from mum and dad. And first of all, I had to kind of think on my own. I couldn't defer to other people. Up until that point, I'd always kind of, "Dad, what do you think, mum? "Should I do that?" I didn't trust my own judgment. So first of all, that was gone. So I had to stand or fall on my own decisions. And then secondly, just the immersion in this exciting new place was just, I mean, it was the most exciting year I've ever had, if I'm to be really honest. And I decided then that that's what I wanted from life. I didn't want to conform by getting, you know, I didn't want the degree, the job, the mortgage, the sitting in an office. I didn't want to go down that conventional route that is... Why? Because I didn't feel like a conformist. I didn't want to be a sheep. I wanted to be the shepherd. I didn't want to just conform to the expectations of what society deems as successful. Why? Because... 'Cause I'm just making sure you're not playing, you're not doing it just for the sake of doubles advocate. Just to go against. No, not at all. I'm actually not a contrarian. I'm not someone who says left just because the other person said right, I'm really not a contrarian. If anything, for someone who doesn't like criticism, I should probably stand back and therefore I should sit on the fence and become the sheep. But I'm... You're going to discover as we chat, I'm a ball of contradictions. So nothing kind of makes sense. I just know what I have learned over the years. But for me, conformity, maybe I was stripped of that just by the fact that I couldn't conform when it came to exams. So I couldn't conform to what the system wanted me to conform to and therefore I wasn't going to conform when it came to other things. I'll wear shorts all year round. I'm not... I stopped wearing a suit ages ago. I kind of... Slowly, as my confidence has built, I found myself straying even further from conformity. I think I'm going to end up one of those ridiculous kind of English eccentrics wearing a bow tie. You know, the one walking around with cats, stroking it.
Because I kind of... That's how... There is this kind of... There's an inner me that I have never... I still haven't really fully found. But I knew I wouldn't find that person sitting in an office on a computer in a job that society expected me to take just so that I could follow the narrative. And the narrative being, as I've kind of explained, you know, getting a good job that you can then get a promotion, you get the good wage, you might get a bonus, you can buy your house, you can get your car, you marry, you get the dog, you have the children, and then you end up retiring and then you do all the things you want to do. And here's the key, because is it the journey or the destination? For me, it's 100% the journey. Yeah. I mean, people don't see that, but you should... But this is where you and I have quite a loss in common. Okay, maybe what we're doing now in life is very, very different. But the fact that you will suddenly just wake up one day and go, "I'm gonna resign from this place." Yeah, no, honestly, it sounds everything you're saying. Like, I want to make this about you, but I feel like I've been on the same journey as you're saying with the, you know, one day you might have the dog and whatever, which is just trying to get closer and closer to who I actually am. And trying to find the courage, the strength, to not allow society to write, to tell me how my story has to be. Yeah. And this is the thing, isn't it? Who's story, is it? Yes. Is it yours or someone else's? Of course it's someone else's story. And it was written at another time, in another age, if we're talking about marriage and these constructs in our society force someone else in the circumstances they lived in, and they probably weren't happy anyway. So to think that that same narrative and storyline would be, would equal happiness in Stephen Bartlett's life in 2021 is, you know, probably patently false, like a... But don't you find this strange, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna tell a whole thing, although I'd be quite happy to, 'cause I think you're a fascinating person, but it is strange, isn't it, that, I don't think you know about your kids. So I've got two young children, age 10 and 11. So obviously I'm really aware of the system that they're now in that failed me. And I'm really nervous about that. Fortunately, I married someone who's really intelligent and has the thicker skin you'll ever meet on anyone in the world. So actually my children are pretty resilient, much more than I was, and I owe all that to my wife. But I digress. If you think about it, it's still a strange thing that children are expected from the age of, I know, four or five to go off to nursery and then to school, where they're in a classroom with four walls, it might have a window if you're lucky. You've got some teachers that may or may not be really invested in their job. I don't want that sound disparaging to all teachers 'cause I know a lot of teachers put a lot of hard work in. But it's still a gamble as to whether you're gonna get those that are just doing it for the job or those that are really passionate and driven. And then it's just about ticking those boxes, isn't it, get the exam grades that the government have set so that they can then go, "Look, hurrah, we're doing a great system. Yeah, GCSE grades are all up. A-level grades are all up. It's all looking great. Look at the number of people going to university." And I'm like, "Hone, what is this expectation that everyone should go further education to university?" It's not, "I get people calling me or emailing me, getting in touch with me on social media saying, do you think I should do a degree in filmmaking and in broadcast at university?" I'm like, "No, get an apprenticeship job. If I could do that, I'd take on apprenticeships. No, work your way, get experience." And it just, I find it really odd that in 2021, we haven't changed this model. Yeah. I did a TV show called Secret Teacher with Channel 4. And I had the same bewilderment about the education system and how it was incentivized for grades and league tables and not based on the child's intrinsic passions and who they want to become. Because obviously, for me, I was running multiple businesses in the school, all the school chips. I had done all the vending machine deals so I scored made money from the vending machines. And yeah, I was kicked out because I wouldn't go to health and social care and push a plastic baby around the school. Like, I wasn't interested in that. So like the school viewed me as lazy, but really, if you think about it, the school was lazy for not taking the time to understand who I was at that age. But in filming that show, I learned something very valuable about how the whole system works. So I went inside the school, got to sit down with the head teacher and I was like, how does this system work? And he said, "The better the grades we get, the more students come to the school and we get paid per student." So he gets, let's say 4,000 pounds from the government per student that they have. So his whole incentive is grades, grades, grades, grades. And it's just like a business. They have customers and the more customers they get, the more money they make. And then as you go up the institutional ladder, whatever, universities are the same. The more they send to university, the better their rankings, if their rankings are good, more parents will choose that school. It's a business and it's incentivized by money at the heart of it. And if at some point you could take the money out of the system, then you'd be able to fix it. But that poor head teacher, he was the CEO and he said, "I won't be able to buy pencils if we have 100 less students come next year. So we better be on that league table." And then I realized what was wrong with it. But you know, these are good meaning people incentivized badly. - Yeah. - And it's how we change the system though. You know, 'cause that's where I could turn the tables on you and go, listen, you've done these incredible startups, you've been incredibly successful. And I know there have been a couple of entrepreneurs who have attempted dabbled in the school model. And how do you do it? It's kind of obvious to me, one of the problems is that there's so many children. How do you make it financially viable to give everyone access to, you know, a fair education for them. And to have bespoke systems for every single pupil costs a lot of money. But in the same way as I'm talking about apprenticeships, you know, I'm a keen advocate of like a national service. Not a military one, but I think everyone aged 18 should go off and spend a month with the NHS, with the fire service, with the police service, just volunteering to see what, maybe working in the school system. And if you imagine now that if all parents got invested in the school and volunteered to go in and help with the classes and help paying for different things, I just think our education system would be in a different place. I completely agree. I think it's, I did say when I left social chain that the challenge I'd take on would be the education system. So who knows, let's see. But I came to learn that it's like anchored in place from all angles by parents who believe that success for them as a parent means their kid going to university. So my mum was disowned to me because it made her look bad that I left the system. Then you haven't brought it. But culturally for lots of people it is still a really, really, really important. My mum was African so she left school at seven years old. And all of my friends who live in various countries in Africa or in Latin America, it is, or India, it's still to have further education. And by the way, obviously to have further education for vocational work like being a doctor or an engineer, you know, we really rely on all of that. But I think we have to change our attitudes. 'Cause can you imagine, Steven, this is what I find really shocking. I work with people now who are working on production, who've left university with 40 grand of debt. And they're now, and they're scrabbling to pay that back and get a job in the world that they want to work in in this post-pandemic or middle of pandemic world that we're in right now. I mean, that cannot be a good way to start your life kind of in debt. Is that not part of the system? - It's all for, and it's so unnecessary. I mean, what you spoke to earlier on about internships, for me is the answer, getting experience, right? Well, however that might be. And at my company, we employed 700 people at the time that I left. And I couldn't tell you who had a university education or not. It was such a low down on the list of things that actually mattered. Number one is obviously, what are they capable of in terms of experience? And then the piece of paper, I didn't have a fucking clue who had gone where or what they'd studied 'cause it just doesn't matter in reality. But anyway, I wanted to ask you, you get back to one of the points you said earlier, you said you don't think you'll ever, you're not sure if you'll ever find out who you really are.
I don't know if I'll ever find who I really am (21:33)
Could you expand on that? What do you mean? - Well, I think we're all the product, I suppose, of our experiences and who we are. And I think if you look at life as this journey and not just a destination, then we're constantly evolving and changing and growing. And I think however much you try to be yourself, you become a bit chameleon-like and you end up, you end up kind of the lines between who you are and what everything else is, does begin to blur a little bit. So the way I look at it, I started off as this deeply, uncomfortant, shy child that then kind of morphed into how I started when I was on one of the first reality shows, which was called Castaway, I was sent to live on an island for a year. And then I kind of became this posh reality show contestant. And then I started working in daytime TV and I became a daytime TV presenter. And then I kind of became a broadcaster. And I see it all the time, you become stereotyped. So you, whenever your name is written, it will say it will have either an amount that you made or it will have the company that you started. But is that really you? So if you or I went on strictly come dancing now, by the way, that would be changed instantly and it would then be Stephen from strictly come dancing. Or because you're only, you're remembered for the last big thing. And that constantly changes, but it then means it's quite hard to leap away from that. So if you're suddenly gonna decide, actually I'm gonna become an MP now. People be like, hang on, no, no, that's not the narrative. And what happens, I think, what happens is you, you become blinded by people going, I'm just not really sure this is right because that's not really who you are. That's not part of the narrative that I think you were going down for the book that you're writing of your life. And I didn't mean the physical book, but just the metaphorical one. So speaking of books, in my book, I have a chapter called "Resisting Your Labels." And it's exactly what you said. So I refer to it as your label and I say that your label comes with a set of instructions and lists instructions about how you have to behave going forward. So my labels would be, I don't know, black social media CEO. And with that comes a set of instructions as to how I'm expected to pay for the future. And that can be in prisoning, right? And the reason I wrote that in the chapters because leaving social chain have that same existential moment where you're like, okay, so who the fuck am I? And society's going, you'll be safest if you just fucking carry on with the social media CEO thing. But at my heart, I'm like, no, no one was born with a passion for something that didn't exist when I was born. Social media, I'm a guy with a bunch of interests. Music and creating stuff and curiosity. And how do I go back to those fundamentals for my life and not the label? - Yeah, well, I'm obsessed with the label because society loves to label us. And you'll never get away from that. But I say you would never get away from it. It will always be there in the context of social media and the print press and broadcast journalism. But you can, I have tried to challenge the status quo a number of times with different things that I have done in terms of challenges and other things. The problem is that I did so many of those challenges to get away from just the daytime TV presenter or just the reality show person that then I became the adventurer who does those things. And the expectations, you know, when I climbed Everest two years ago, part of the disappointment was people going, oh yeah, of course you'll do it. Of course you'll get up, but that's what you do. Yeah, of course you'll get up the mountain. I'm like, it's not quite as simple as that. That's, you know, I'm not a natural mountaineer. You know, this is the boy who was hopeless at sport. It's still a tremendous challenge. But I love just testing failure 'cause I'm deeply fearful of failure 'cause of having so much of it in my early childhood, you know, just to back up some of the data I've already given you about how hopeless I was as a child. You know, I ended up going to about five different schools. I actually went to three different universities in the end. Took my driving test eight times. So it kind of, it, failure became a really, a word that I was really fearful of. And as I get older, I find myself actually kind of, I find myself confronting failure on purpose as much as I can to try and become less fearful of it. I think you have to confront your demons, believe it or not, and failure. So if we go back to the challenges, for example, 'cause they're one of the things that kind of have really defined me, you know, I somehow managed to row across the Atlantic Ocean. I should have, I should have quit there really, you know, 49 days in a little boat, you know, for those who never saw it, it was a 20 foot rowing boat, you know, a couple of ores, me and an Olympic rower. And it's pretty dangerous out there. It's the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. You've got waves that are 30 feet tall. We, our boat got cap size, we nearly drowned. We hit, you know, it was the most amazing adventure, but also pretty scary and quite dangerous. And I did that. And reaching the other end of that is still probably the biggest achievement of my life. And, you know, a lot of my wife sometimes says, why do you not just quit there? Because quit well your head. Same I could say to you, come on, you've, you did this amazing tech startup. And I think a lot of people would think that you've made all this money. Just sit and enjoy it. But, but that's not, but then you're just taking life like the destination. And you're thinking that, well, there you are. So money is everything. And money, I think, money is a really fascinating thing for me because I am not money motivated. I know people may go, well, you can only say that when you've made enough money to not be motivated by money. And they have a point, money buys security. Money gives you the opportunity to do some of these big challenges. I'm a, I told you there's lots of contradictions here. And I'm aware of all of those things, but we also live in a world where success is defined by your monetary value. So when I, you know, if I Google you and I look you up, every single one has a sum of money of various values right next to you. So it's next to your bio.
Monetary value (28:30)
So listen, by the way, I think it's something you should be really proud of. If you have, if you have managed to make that, that much money, I think that is, that is your Everest, that is testament to dreams that lots of people have. But I think we need to change this notion that being wealthy is a sign of success in life. If you look at the model that Jacinda Arden was trying to do in New Zealand, it was to change gross national products, to change what the country's values are by including the happiness index and the kindness index and how, what a good nation you are and how healthy you are. And your obesity levels, you bring into all of those things. 'Cause for me, as a parent, I want my children to have the security of having enough money to put food on there, play it in a roof over their heads. But whether they make huge amounts of money is kind of irrelevant, as long as they are good, rounded, kind, happy individuals. - Yeah, I think you've hit the nail on that. This is actually why my book is called Happy Sexy Millionaire because when I was 18, all I wanted in life was to be, as it says on the front page of my diary, a range of a sport, a million pounds before I was 25, because it's similar to what you've described. The thing that had invalidated me as a child was being the only poor family in a middle-class area and never having anything, no birthdays, no Christmas, there's never one on holiday. So obviously that was my insecurity and I chased it as an adult and then I got it and then it-- - And by the way, just to reiterate, I think to have a goal like that is so important, whatever your goal is, I'm just saying I think to have the pure monetary goal maybe isn't necessarily for everyone now for children shouldn't necessarily be the priority. It can be a byproduct of being successful. You know, I'm sure you get the same thing when I go and give talks in schools and I go, "So what does everyone want to be "when they're older?" You know, I get a large number who just want to be famous. And I always say something that's all very well. I get why you want to be famous but there needs to be substance to that fame. So you need to be famous because you have succeeded in business because you're a great footballer because you're a great actor or actress. And then as a byproduct of all of that, you can become a great millionaire and sort of reach those dreams as well. - Yeah, so again, exactly what you've just said there I think the distinction for me is like whether the goal was intrinsically or extrinsically motivated and the kid there that says he wants to be famous is actually saying I would like people to like me. I want admiration. My goals when I was younger were clearly I want to fit in. I wrote millionaire but what I meant was I'm insecure and I want to fit in. And obviously upon reaching that goal because it wasn't ever intrinsic, it wasn't ever something that I wanted inside of me. It was just to try and satisfy the approval of others. It felt like nothing. - One of the things that's integral to performing at the highest level is nutrition. It's something that I guess I took a long time to finally believe but that is why having he was the sponsor for this podcast is such a privilege because there was a time in my life, especially when I was early in my business career where I wasn't getting the vitamins, the minerals and I wasn't having a sort of nutritionally complete diet. I was, if you look at some of my old photos, I was definitely lacking protein as well. And a lot of that, maybe it was an excuse was because I was busy and when I discovered Hule, when a guy called Mike walked past me in the office wearing a Hule t-shirt and shaking a little bottle and upon my curiosity of asking what was in that and why he was drinking it, it really, really did change my life. It's almost religious, my love for Hule but for good reason. And if you haven't checked it out, I would employ to check it out because it's only gonna do good in your life. When you asked me earlier about whether I believe the journey or the destination, I just don't think the destination exists. Every time you get there, it moves off into the distance like a mirage. - Yeah, because as soon as you've got that car, you'll want the better car. As soon as you've got the house, you'll want the house in the south of France. So we're constantly changing our goalposts because we, I think it's human nature, the grass is always greener. I think of all the sayings, I really do think that is the one. We all look at other people and social media is a fascinating medium now, isn't it? Because effectively social media, one of the reasons I think it's having such a negative impact. And when I say social media, the kind of Twitter, Instagram, well, I think it can have a lot of negative impacts on people is because it's almost, it makes people feel jealous because people are projecting. I don't want to use the word fakery, but it is an edited world, isn't it? However, whatever photo you do, it's a tiny second of your life that you've thought about how you're going to compose that photograph or the image that you want to project, how you're living. And I think that is all built on this notion of wanting what other people have. - But it's even worse because then you get skranked on it, likes, comments. - And then you post a certain photo and then the likes are down half. And you think, oh my God, I'm fucking ugly. You think the world is just going to-- - And I put my hand up here and again, in full clarity and honesty, I feel the same. I'm someone who's 47, I should know better now, but I still look at my Instagram accounts and if there aren't so many likes or if there's one negative comment amongst hundreds of really positive ones, I just look at either the low figure or the negative comment because I think it's human nature that we're drawn to this sort of this notion of competition and is life a competition? - I can't I write about this at length and I've realized that value is obviously just relative. So the analogy I gave was that I was really happy with my Nokia 3310, but in a world of iPhones, I'm devastated to own a Nokia 3310. It's the same fucking phone and they have these really remarkable studies that show how we attribute value to things, including ourselves, where they'll put like three stakes on a menu and if there's a really expensive stake and a really cheap one, everyone picks the middle one, three TVs on a shelf, people pick the middle TV because they think that one's too expensive, that one's a piece of shit and they're just using the context. - You're in my head now 'cause this is exactly what I would, this is why I do. - Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, and it's just, we attribute attain value by the context we see something in. If you remove the other two TVs, this now becomes the best TV in the world and it's the same with us. I said, you know, in a world where there's no other humans, I am the prettiest, richest, most successful person on earth, but you put a couple of, and this is the crazy thing about social media, you're comparing yourself to fake, like a fake context and you can never win, right? Because you get to see your BTS, you're behind the scenes, you look in the mirror, you think I've got spots and I'm fat, what's that pouch down there? And no one else has got that. So it's a losing game and so I implore people, 'cause I work for 10 years in this fucking game, so I implore people just to make their context way healthier and real. And for me, that means that I meet 95% of the people I follow. I have like, if I got my Instagram now, there'll be 15 people and five of them are in this room. Do you know what I mean? 'Cause I just don't wanna play this game. And even though I'm aware of it, my lazy CEO brain has been wired from the, for 10,000 years to make snap judgments, snap judgments to keep me alive, I can't stop it. So I just have to be conscious about the way I use these tools.
Social media and Trolling (36:15)
Yeah, I think it's a fascinating world and again, as a father with young kids who are-- - Terrifying. - Embarking into that world, I'm struggling to find the tools to arm them for the battle ahead. And I'm aware that they can be fantastically useful, that it's amazing the interactions that you can get. It's how I'm here today. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for social media chatting to you now. So I'm aware of the beauty of being able to share things. It's just how we get away from kind of the fakery, if that is the term to use. - And the abuse you were talking about a second ago, negative comment, one negative comment can throw you off. I mean, the whole world of trolling fascinates me 'cause deep down, I just know that those people that write the nasty comments sometimes aren't even real, sometimes they're just disgruntled and it's probably no different to how life would be in a pub. There would be some person in there that would go, "Oh, oh, oh, oh," and muttering under their breath. The problem is on social media, it gets kind of brought to the surface. And for whatever reason, I think we probably know newspapers love to then regurgitate what that single individual spotty teenager in their bedroom has written as validation. They sort of validated. So I had a funny enough during the first lockdown. My daughter thought it would be nice to get the nation to sing Happy Birthday to the Queen. And I realized there's lots of people who aren't monocists. I understand that we're in a country where not everyone agrees on the same thing, but I thought it was quite a nice sentiment. And foolishly, I decided to let her use my Twitter account to kind of ask people to do it. Big mistake, we got death threats and worse. I mean, the vile abuse to my nine-year-old daughter, partly my, you know, I shouldn't have allowed her to, I shouldn't have shared this idea in a social media platform with my daughter. I realized, but I was amazed at the vile, vitriolic abuse. And that was partly kind of enhanced by the press who jumped on a few negative comments, wrote about it. And as soon as they had written about it, it went, I mean, I had to give up Twitter. I actually abandoned it and haven't gone back to it. - Really? - Hmm. - Easy. - There's a lot of talk at the moment about what social platforms can do or this type of behavior. And I just, I always come back to the point of like, I'm gonna tell a little bit of a story here. So when I worked in Silicon Valley for a little while, for about a year when I was 20 after I left my first company. And I got to see behind one of the big social platforms that was emerging at the time. And it taught me something about humans because someone in the daytime who was a very civilized school teacher, just being completely honest, would get his cock out at night because of anonymity. And what it taught me was that people, good people are capable of pretty alarming things if you allow them to cover their face. And there's a piece of jealousy and evilness and darkness in all of us. And anonymity allows you to be both. - Yeah. - And so until platforms don't allow people, until we verify who people are when they sign up and there's no real and there's real world consequences of the behavior, it's never gonna stop. - Yeah. - And the other thing is the anonymity thing. So the number of people that say, just get it, just ignore it. And I largely, so I still use Instagram and occasionally, the odd troll flares up and I do ignore it now. Occasionally, I get a bit more stung than other times. But I think it's symbolic of the world that we're living in right now. And I think anonymity can be quite a dangerous thing. - Wokeness. Wokeness is fascinating. Wokeness is fascinating and it's really complex now, especially as a documentary maker.
I go off to countries all around the world. And I've been accused of gross xenophobia just because I go to these countries now and maybe make a documentary about a local group of people who live there. It's seen by the extreme woke brigade as being, as othering people. This is the woke term right now. Don't other people. So by taking a document, I know it is laughable, but they have quite a strong voice. And I've had to talk about this on-- - So what's othering people? - To other people is to make them feel like they aren't a part of normal. I mean, this comes, we've come full circle right now. So othering is to make people kind of feel like they don't-- - Like the specimens or something? - Yes, specimens, basically. So effectively going, if you imagine, going to a group of indigenous native people who live in the Brazilian Amazon, where once that was seen as anthropological study of how people live and what they do now it's seen as sneering and laughing at people because you're othering them and you're showing, look at them still hunting with spears and bows and arrows. Now, this is the wokery brigade who interpret it like that. I interpret it as a great celebration because more often than not, I kind of am seeing how we should be living and how we should be treating nature and the flora and fauna around us rather than living in big cities where we're fantastically wasteful and we're destroying the planet. Actually, this kind of nomadic way of life with this very simple hand to mouth way of life, I go and I feel huge admiration and I'm not laughing or sneering but there are lots of people that interpret that form of television as that. Now, I've just given you one form of wokery right now and there's, so we will have to, we have to think about everything we say and everything we do and is that cultural approach. I've just got a kilt. I've been sent a kilt because it's the big global climate conference in Glasgow. Later this year, I'm gonna be up there in Scotland, obviously the kilt is the national dress and I was asked if I could wear a kilt with a special environmental fabric. So I've agreed to do that. But I can already see when it comes to that culturally. That, by the way, I'm a quarter Scottish as well but I'm not even gonna try that 'cause it wouldn't get past the woke police 'cause it's cultural appropriation. I was gonna say, if you went to the Amazon jungle and you saw that tribe and you showed up with a spear and a skirt. So if you look at what Bruce Perry used to do where he would immerse himself and he would live there, I don't know if you remember Bruce Perry, he would go and live there for, live there being with a tribe somewhere and he would adopt their native dress whether it was just a little, whether it was a very simple skirt, whatever it was and he would live as they do. I don't know if you could get away with that now because it would be seen as a mix of cultural appropriation, othering people and it should be, we should leave people to live as they do without trying to mimic it. That's how it is interpreted by some people. - Where is all of this work that's going? Because I feel like it's gaining momentum. - And I worry about the trajectory. I'm like, is it going to come back this way? Because it's been, I feel like society has swung in a work direction. Maybe because of social media is kind of like reinforcing all of us in our echo chamber. It's like, yeah, you're perfect, you're perfect. That was good, you're bad, bad. That's bad, he's bad, get him. But surely you know this probably more than I do that you have extreme wokery on one side but then we have the extreme, we've got kind of fascism and the complete opposites on the other side and that forechan and that whole world is equally more obnoxious, yeah? The racism, the xenophobia. And then you've got wokery here and it's just like everything else in life. It's everything has gone like this. So you're either in or you're out, you're up or you're down, it's black or it's white. There's no middle and for everything I've just said to you about not wanting to be the sheep and wanting to be the shepherd. I'd quite like to just be a sheep amongst quite a few others in a field kind of having a reasonable conversation. It's very, very hard to have a sensible conversation now because people have gone to these extreme sides. It's probably easier for the newspapers to write stories and to highlight the wokery than it is to do the fascism because that's really ugly and it's deeply offensive to so many people. But we see it, we know it's on social media. You see what's happening to football as the racist abuse that they get. And we do read about it but the wokery for some reason is something we hear about even more and maybe it's used to try and counterbalance the really ugly side of racism and xenophobia and anti-Semitism, all these things that are equally rising. And I don't know how we get back to this middle just being a sheep in a field because I long for a good solid conversation. I can't sit at a table now with people I don't know really, really well and have a conversation about COVID because that's politicized. I can't have a conversation about politics because that went ages ago. I can't have a conversation about Brexit. I can't have a conversation about Indi Ref 2. I can't have a conversation about what's having in Northern Ireland. I can't really have a conversation about international policy. By the way, I have more interesting conversations and just these things. I am actually quite fun sometimes but I really like debate and I like hearing what other people have. So when I travel to other countries, my favorite thing is chatting about their interpretation of what's going on and I really thrive on that but we can't anymore because it's become too emotional. People feel it's really personal to them or they're too afraid to talk about it in the first place. You talked at the start of this conversation about not wanting to be imprisoned by society's conventions. This is a form of imprisonment, isn't it? - Of course, yeah. - And it can be. - Which is maybe one of the reasons why I still find myself drawn to far away places. So the show that I do new lives in the wild where I go to live with people who've dropped off the grid. They've woken up one day and they've decided, "I don't want this life anymore." Sometimes they're millionaires, sometimes they're just everyday folk who have got bored of the nine to five job and they've gone to live in the jungles of barley in a little cabin in Alaska. And I really covered their lives. I really admire their lives. I'm really jealous of their lives because they've simplified it. We've made our lives pretty complicated, haven't we really, if you think about it? - Oh yeah. - And actually, if you strip it back, what do you really need in life? Or you need shelter, you need food, you need water, some good company, we've really realized that with the pandemic, I think people have realized we're social, we need to have friends and family around. You need a smile on your face. And that's kind of it. And everything else is a bit, well, it's a distraction or it's an extra bonus, isn't it? To have a fine wine or whatever it is you like in life. But all these people that I've spent time visiting, I've done this series for 10 years now and I've been to 100 places all around the world, that simplicity is really attractive. And they don't worry themselves about those big topics. I was just describing there. It's kind of unimportant to them. What happens with Brexit doesn't really matter for the person that's chosen to live on a tiny little island up in Norway who lives hand to mouth catching fish each day. And I find it really kind of hypnotic and mesmerizing to spend time with people who have stripped their lives back to the absolute bare essentials. And the assumption is that they're really enduring and they're suffering and they're surviving. But that's not always the case sometimes. It doesn't mean their lives are easy, but almost all of them are happy. Almost all of them have abandoned the complexities that many of us are stepping around. They don't have to deal with wokery and trolls. You know, all these things are very first world problems. Although they're not actually the developing or the lesser developed world, I should say. I suffer from all of these things as well. I was on a, to speak to the point you just made, I was on a motorbike, like a little crappy motorbike in Bali, don't know, two weeks ago. And I'm just bombing down the street and the feel, sunshine, what going through the little villages. And I had this like real overwhelming sense that I'd lived my life wrong. And I got off the bike and said to my friend, and it's so crazy. I don't think me and him will ever forget this moment. Before I could say the words to him, he went, God, isn't that what life's about? And it was just being on this bike having no problems, no care in the world, but also seeing a culture where they also, they live in such a simple manner that made me reflect on the decisions I've made in my life. And it's such a remarkable thing. And you, as you say, those people are typically, the lives aren't easy, but they seem to be much more at peace than the successful first world quote unquote people. Well, there's a great kind of story that's kind of hypocryphal, but I suspect it's true. A tourist goes to West Africa. Let's say they're in Senegal, they're on a beautiful beach staying in a hotel. He's on the beach every day and he sees a fisherman go down and cast his light and catch the few fish. And after the week he goes to him and says, "Listen, I think why did you invest in a second rod so that you can catch twice as many fish and then you can sell twice as many fish and then eventually get a net and then you can get a boat and then you can start selling dozens, hundreds of fish, thousands of fish and earn even more money so that one day you can retire and do what you want to do. And the man who's fishing says, "What, fish?" And I just think there's a lot to be said in that because it's about chasing these goals and what your goal is. And I think if we, too many people are kind of blinded by him getting coming full circle, this notion of life is a destination. And eventually you're gonna reach this nirvana, this glorious place where everything's perfect, where you just lie around, I don't know, everyone has different things they dream of. You know, someone just wants to go and play golf. I have no idea why I don't know.
Failure, self doubt and self belief (51:45)
'Cause someone just might want to play golf all day. Someone might want to play cards all day. Someone just might want to just move to the south of France and sit and drink beer all day. Someone might want to go surfing all day, whatever it is. But there's no reason why you can't be doing that throughout your life. You just have to think outside of the box, don't you? You just have to have this positive attitude. And you know, this comes back to what I was saying to you as a child, I realized this, if you think you're gonna fail, you're gonna fail. So every driving test, all of those ones I told you I failed, I would get in the car and this booming deafening voice was saying you are going to fail. And sure enough, I'd mount the pavement. I got stopped by the police once 'cause I wasn't wearing a seat belt. Yeah, I was driving tests. But because it was almost like self-fulfillment of my mind's attitude. And it was only actually working with Olympians that I've done now. When I climbed Everest, I went with Victoria Pendleton, the cyclist, when I rode the Atlantic, it was with James Cracknell. And I've been lucky enough to work with some other Olympians that I realized you need this absolute confidence verging on arrogance that I will get to the top of this mountain. I will reach the South Pole. 'Cause as soon as you go into an event where there's any self-doubt, it will be self-fulfilling. You must know that. You, yes, know that. But I seem to fake in my view. Like I really, I'm quite repelled by this culture of like people looking in the mirror and saying, "You are gonna be a millionaire. You are great." But because my opinion of how beliefs work, like so I always use this example, this millionth time I said this. If I were to hold your loved one at gunpoint now and say, "Believe I'm Jesus where I kill them," there's nothing you could do to actually believe I was Jesus. You could only lie to me because that's not how belief works. As you've proven beliefs take evidence and you've built that evidence through your challenges, right? So like just telling yourself to believe something doesn't work even if everything is on the line. But if I suddenly turn this into wine and then start levitating, you might think, "Wait a minute, wait a minute." - But this is, but you're taking it slightly too literally when it comes to what that is. So here's the thing. There's a man called Mark Boyle who lives in Ireland, a fascinating man. I think you should get him on here. He has lived as the moneyless man and he gave up everything and tried to live without any money for a year. And he ended up with a house is what he did. By charming, trading up, literally just working his way through the system but never ever ever using money. It was always trade and barter and borrowing and I don't think there was any stealing. Not that I know of, but I love this notion that he had an absolute confidence that this would work and that he would be able to do it. Now with something like Everest, you're right. You couldn't just take someone off the street and say, "Believe you're gonna climb this mountain and you're gonna get to the summit." 'Cause you need to do with the climatization. You have to get yourself physically ready. You have to understand about high altitude and you have to understand the basics of climbing at least. So you're right, but even with all that, if you go into that arena as such, into the mountains with any doubt, it's going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that you won't succeed. So I think this idea of belief that you can, you're right, it's much more than just looking in the mirror and going, "I'm gonna be the best musician in the world." This comes back to school kids who aspire for fame. I think it's the kind of the X Factor, Britain's Got Talent has a lot to answer for because it's kind of made this illusion that anyone can be whatever they want in life. Now, part of my whole, I suppose, part of the story that I tell is that that you can follow your dreams, but I always say that with the caveat that it has to be reasonable. If your dream is to be a top footballer, you're gonna have to be pretty good. Well, there you go, and here I am. But you have to be, but if someone comes up to me in a youngster's, I really want to just be a top footballer. I want to play with a premiership club. I don't see why they can't, but there has to be a base level of pretty brilliant football from a start. Do you see what I mean? - Of course. - So I think you have to be realistic with those aspirations. If someone wants to be a top neuroscientist or a top doctor, I don't see why they can't, but they have to have, it was gonna be impossible for me. I wanted to be a vet, and I think I would have been quite a good vet, but I just didn't have the academics. So I didn't even get off the start plate. I think it's a really important thing to reiterate to people that I do believe in that mindset. Believe you can. Aunt Middleton, who's been on here, he's another keen advocate of that. Just believe in yourself this positive mindset. But the positive mindset has to also marry up with ability and skill. - So I completely agree with the, because I genuinely, when I think there's a buck coming here. - Yeah, no, it's actually not a butt to your point. It's a question about how do you achieve this point, because I completely agree. When I've been asked what my talent was, I was like, can't spell, can't do math still, probably dyslexic, just never got gone to check. But I just always believed, that's what I've always said for my whole life. I always believed I was gonna bit. So think about what I wrote in my diary as a kid that didn't have a driving test, his parents went speaking to him with shoplifting pizzas, gonna be a millionaire within four years. Gonna have a Range Rover sports and it's gonna be my first card, I didn't even, I hadn't done it. And I genuinely believed it. And for me, that was my, the gift that life gave me was this like low key delusional belief. And that took me out of, and so when I was living in Moss Side, stealing pizzas and stuff, I started recording it in my diary and doing little videos. And it's crazy, in the first page of my diary, I lied to my diary, I said, I'm recording this journey, because a production company has asked me to, because I lied to yourself. I lied in my, 'cause I almost didn't know how to say to my diary that this was gonna be part of a story I was gonna tell one day. And it's something that I'll show my diary in the first page of it, it's like, because, and also because I think I'm gonna have to tell this story one day, that is a guy that saw himself on an island and knew he was getting off the island and wanted to, like wasn't dwelling on it. So I completely agree, I think the only reason I'm here is not because of smarts, my parents were completely broke. Obviously, I'm privileged as a being born in this country, well born in Africa, actually. But it was just that I always believed I'd be here. However, when I try and impose that onto people and tell them the importance of self-belief, and I see these people who have got their confidence just absolutely in the bin because of experiences they've had or their dad when they were four years old, told them that they're a piece of shit. And my fluffy words, when they're 35, aren't stronger than those words that their dad said to them, I struggle to try and tell them how to get to that place of genuine self-belief. Because as I said, you can't fake it. If Stephen had a shred of doubt in Mossein, I'd still be there. So like, what do I say to that person? - It's the building blocks of life, isn't it? It comes back to that. So if you, you know, the series of challenges and things that I've done in my life have slowly built themselves up. So I started on that year living on an island in the Outer Hebrides. Now, if you strip that back, it was pretty simple. It couldn't really fail. It was hard work. It was hard being away from people. No contact with the outside world, no phones, mobiles, family. I didn't see anyone for a whole year, just this small group of people. Well, once I did that, it was kind of, that was like the foundations. I was like, oh my gosh, well, I've done this. And then I put the next block in which was running the marathon day sob, six marathons in six days. I'd never even run 100 meters, Stephen. And suddenly here I was agreeing to run across the Sahara Desert. And I managed to get through that. I came last, but I managed to do it. And these building blocks have just gone up. So when you say to people, when you're trying to encourage, as I do as well, people to this self-belief, it has to be a realistic self-belief of the slow building blocks of life. If we come back to kind of reality shows, 'cause I'm slightly obsessed with reality shows and this kind of what's happened over the last 20 years, what it's done is it's given people this belief that anyone can become world famous overnight. And I've already alluded to, you know, Britain's Got Talent X Factor, but Big Brother, Love Island, all of those shows, because it takes everyday folk and it catapults them onto the front pages of newspapers. Five million followers overnight on social media and earning quite a lot of money. But how long's that last for? Now, for many people, you know, it's the famous Andy Wal-hot, only 15 minutes. It doesn't last very long, because what happens is there's no substance to it, there's no roots, and what happens if the next show comes along and they're cast aside. But what also a lot of people do is that they leap from one brick to the next is too high. And if you go too big, it's doomed to failure. I remember, funny enough, I think one of the reasons why me, a reality show contestant, is still working in TV after 21 years, 'cause I should have, my 15 minutes was up a long time ago. I think the reason is more 'cause of the things that I turned down than the things that I agreed to do. So I turned down some pretty big shows, big prime time Saturday night shows, that a lot of people who work in TV would be like, "I would do anything for that." But the leap was too big, and I didn't believe that, I think the, even though I like to confront risks, I like to be realistic with those. So K2 is a far more dangerous mountain than Everest. I could have gone straight to K2, but instead I want to do a sensible building block up to that ultimate challenge. And I think right back to television, I think if you take too big a leap, then the reality of continued success is eroded away. When you think about some of these opportunities that you were given that you turned down, what was it about them that made you think it was too big of a leap? 'Cause I'm trying to answer the question for my viewer, which is how do I know if it's too big of a leap? - I think you just have to be sensible about what you're capable of. I think, so it's this really fine line, I told you I'm full of country. So I'm telling you, I'm sitting here kind of saying to people, follow your dreams, don't be told that you can't do it, nothing, no dream is too big. Believe in yourself and you're halfway there. I really do believe in all of that, but you also have to be sensible. So I think, okay, so here's the thing, I reckon that I'm the son of an actress and I believe that I could be an actor. I always wanted to be an actor, I got rejected by all the drama schools, by the way, 'cause I couldn't remember my lines, but that's a whole other thing. But I still think I could be an actor and I have quite a confidence that I could. But if I was suddenly offered a Steven Spielberg film, yeah, I wouldn't take that now because my ultimate goal is to try the acting thing at some stage in my life when it's appropriate, but I don't want to do it in such a big extreme explosion of public ridicule if it goes wrong. Now, together with that, I add this sort of confidence that yes, I will be able to do it, but I'd prefer to start in a little pub theater with 20 people just on a smaller stage and build up 'cause there has to be, and I think we all have to agree with this, as well as this confidence and this self belief, you have to have the skills. Yeah, if you don't have the skills, there's just no point and we're just being delusional and it's no different to that Instagram fakery of showing people this idyllic life when actually that's just a tiny little one second of actually what was a really miserable weekend 'cause it was the only time the sun came out and someone threw on a bikini, I didn't throw on a bikini. You get my point to show that instant moment of perfection. So I think there has to be an actual skill and you have to earn it. I think this instant gratification just doesn't exist. There is a few examples and you're one of those where you were able to write down, I'm going to be a millionaire, I'm going to have that Range Rover sport and you did it and you are what gives so many people hope. But I failed. I failed in my first company. But it doesn't matter but that doesn't matter. Surely if you haven't failed, you haven't been trying hard enough. Do you think? I think the people who, 'cause I realized that quite early on, if you haven't failed at various points through your life, then you're being too measured with the challenge that you take. Which is a failure. Yeah, which is a failure in itself. Yeah. Yeah, so many of the things you said though, I was just captivated by, I was wondering whether you're, so you said you were a contradiction at the start of this conversation. But then you've also alluded to the fact that you like to not be on either pole and you like to be like the sheep in the field. Which actually probably makes sense because you can appreciate the need for ambition, but then you also appreciate the need to have self-awareness. So it kind of puts you in the middle of the field. Well if you think about it, it's a really weird thing, 'cause I'm actually, again, true to the contradictions. The son of an actress, I've kind of got the jazz hand and I quite like talking and I like being on stage as such. But I'm also still quite shy. So I kind of like being in the wings, I want to be on the stage, then I want to be in the wings, then I want to be on the stage. And the same goes for kind of how I project myself. So I want to be part of the conversation, but then I don't want to be part of the conversation. I don't like the uncomfortableness of it. I want to be a politician, but I couldn't bear the, you know, the focus and the derision that you're going to get from one side or the other. And I actually think once you've accepted that, 'cause I think a lot of people, I'm sure a lot of people are like that really. Once you've accepted that's who you are, you just work out how to walk those stepping stones and kind of move around it. And I kind of do this, I dance my way through it and dip in and dip out. And I have moments where I kind of, I wish I hadn't kind of, I wasn't on the middle of that stage, but I am. So I own it. And it's back to this whole thing. I do believe you kind of have to own your narrative. It's very easy to let someone else steal it from you. - I think I actually read that. And on the last page of the first chapter of your book, it said, "The ocean had taught me to take control "of my own narrative and believe in myself "when you were talking about what you learned "from the sea in your book, inspire the lessons "from the wilderness." And that taken control of your narrative point really stuck with me because obviously society writes your narrative. - I had a major announcement this week 'cause you've probably all seen on social media or in the newspapers relating to a TV show that I'm doing. And it was just a great, it's a great example of the power of the platformfiver.com because I wanted to make this announcement using visual effects and visual effects are typically staggeringly expensive. The quotes that I got back from agencies were like 40, 50 grand to make a very short 60 second video and visual effects. It was staggering, right? I wanted to show me turning into a dragon. And I used Fiverr.com, who was the sponsor of this podcast and we made this really cool short 45 second video which shows me transforming into a dragon. Check out the video, go check out Fiverr.com if you've never used it. It's just the most cost effective way to get creative services done. I've used it for the last three and a half years of my life. - One of the things that I picked up a lot of from listening to your interviews and your books was about your relationship with your lovely wife. And you're both very vocal about the dare I say, not radical but the sort of like innovative way that you've built your relationship in various areas.
Your wife, preventative marriage concealing (01:07:53)
One of the really interesting things to me was this idea that you have preventative marriage counseling. Yeah, tell me about that and why do I need it? - So my wife, Marina, we'd be married for, this will be our 15th year together. - Wow, congrats. - She's half Austrian, thank you. She's half Austrian and she's got skin like a rhino, it's unbelievable. As in, can I just say that in terms of not ever being offended, she's got glowing skin. Her skin is really, she moisturizes the whole time. She doesn't have this big wrinkly gray skin. I'm like, God, I'm blushing, I'm gonna get in so much trouble for that. But she's really tough, she's really resilient, she's no nonsense, she doesn't beat about the bush. And we're very, I am by my own admission a much more sensitive soul. Now it doesn't mean she isn't sensitive, but she kind of calls a spade a spade, whereas I might say, well, that is a spade but you could probably could use that as a, could you do what I mean? I kind of, 'cause I want to please all the people and I don't want to offend. So I kind of find myself kind of dancing around a little bit, we're in the middle, there you go. Whereas Marina has always just been straight down the line and our kind of, our relationship is, has been built on me being away a lot, 'cause outside of the time of COVID, I'm probably traveling eight months of the year. So there's a lot of time away, but that's how it's always been. And we have a really solid relationship and we had a terrible tragedy about six years ago when we lost our third child, a little boy, William, who was still born. So he, so three weeks before he was due to be born naturally, unfortunately, Marina had something called a placental abruption and he died. And it was an awful, awful experience that I've kind of spoken about before, but it affected us profoundly. Much more than I thought it would, that the feeling that this emotion of losing someone you'd never had a chance to meet is something I'd never experienced before. And I couldn't quite understand my own emotions and added to that when this all happened, I was on the other side of the world, I thought Marina was going to die. So it was a big, very impactful part of our relationship. And we sought counseling afterwards to help us through the complexities of all of those emotions. And it was through that that we kind of realized that actually our own relationship, we talked about things that we hadn't talked about before, outside of the awfulness of that situation, we talked about our very different characters and how we kind of tread around one another. And I think a lot of relationships have that. You might joke about your very different personalities, but there are certain areas that you know, oh no, I can't ever say that, I couldn't do that. Well, why couldn't you? You should be really, really honest. The best relationships are ones where you can say anything to one another without fear of offense. Now I've already said that I've wove thin skin so I'm easily offended and Marina has offended me many times over the years and I've offended her. And I think this marriage counseling prevention came, was born out of that. And about a year afterwards, Marina, we were struggling a little bit, it was such a profound thing that it affected us because we had different ways of dealing with the grief of losing that little boy. Marina was very tearful and then she'd be totally fine. She'd have big tears and was fine. And mine, I became really introverted and I became really antisocial. Didn't want to be anywhere. I remember going, trying to go to big events. I had to go to some big red carpet events and literally just arriving and just saying to the driver, just drive on. I couldn't go, where I'd go to events and I'd find myself going to the loo and just sitting in the little cubicle for the duration of the whole event parties. I would find myself just literally arriving, saying hello, hello, hello, and then just literally diving out the door. 'Cause I think it's because I couldn't control, I couldn't control the narrative, this narrative that I wanted to be in control of. I didn't know who was gonna come up, were they gonna talk about my loss, were they going to, there were things I couldn't prepare myself for. And those two very different approaches and two very different kind of emotions that Marina, my wife and I had, meant that it did create tensions. So we saw someone and she was the one that suggested that once a year, we just go and speak to her as a preventative. And do you know, it kind of just makes a lot of sense. Marina, I've told you already, she's very straight laced and she's very straight and she was like, well, why wouldn't we? Why wouldn't we just go with someone there, say, tell you what, I do find really frustrating. It's when you always do this or you always say that. If you do it in a home environment, the natural reaction, usually it's gonna be over dinner, probably had a drink, you're gonna be even more emotional and go, I don't, you'll become defensive. I defy any relationship to say that that doesn't happen. But to do it with a third party who is trained to kind of be non-judgmental is a very good way of speaking to you via that person without fear of getting really emotional. 'Cause Marina and I are also really, we do get really emotional. We probably argue once a year, but when we do, it's massive. People may be surprised because we do, we're highly emotional and we get, it's really tearful. It's not, there's no black eyes or anything, but it's a really, we don't argue very well. And what we found actually was that speaking to someone else once a year has, I can't remember the last time we had an argument. We haven't for years and years now, which is saying something. 'Cause I'm also all for honesty, in this world of kind of social media fakery, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I've always been really honest. So talking about the loss of Willem, talking about my dyslexia, but I think it's really important that you're very honest, especially if you live in a very public sphere. Hearing that you've not had an argument for years is a pretty incredible achievement, one would say, in a relationship. Why, how, why? Well, I think it's part, I think the fact that we speak to the same person every year, for only like an hour or two. Twelve months apart though. Yeah, I know. But it's because it all come, because I think we are able to just be really, really honest there and then. And by the way, that does, I'm not saying our relationship is really, it's not one of these wedding cakes perfectly formed. Everything is idyllic birds flying around, curving. Of course not. It's like any relationship, it's strained and we get snappy at one another. But we've learned to resolve, I think conflict resolution is there. And I'm, you know, I have, although I kind of try to be, I'm not optimist and I try to be smiley and happy as more often than not. I still wake up some days and I'm feeling a bit under the weather. Why do I do just get out of bed the wrong side? And I know when I'm a bit more snappy and Marina now, we have, we are armed with ways of saying to the other person, you're a bit irritable today, you seem a bit miserable, you're not much fun to be around. We can say that in a way that doesn't, the other person doesn't jump to a defence game. I'm not, you're the one that's annoying me, do you sort of mean that it turns into that argument? And I think if you learn how to speak to one another and that's what we have kind of been armed with, it is just a great way to kind of avoid those unnecessary arguments. Listen, some people have really fiery relationships and they thrive on it. We've got friends that kind of need that. They have big battles and flames and then they make up and it's all fine. And I've got some friends, I just find that exhausting. Yeah. It's a mental health awareness week this week. And one of the things you said earlier on about going to, going to those events and like, you know, telling the driver to carry on going or hiding in the toilet sounded similar to, you know, shades of anxiety, maybe even PTSD to some degree.
Anxiety and looking for happiness (01:16:32)
Is that what you think you were experiencing at that time? Were you anxious? Oh, yeah, I was super anxious. No, without doubt, I am anxiety. Panic attacks, you know, all of that happened. For about a year I experienced a loss of that. Really? I just, and I think it was because I had lost control. I wasn't able to protect my wife. I wasn't able to protect that little boy. And I think my, the reaction to that was to try and take back control of my life and the only way I could take back control of my life was to control my environment. And things were out of my control when there were lots of people around. And I didn't know who I was going to be talking to and about what and where and when I was going to go away. And all the things that I'd lost control of, I wanted to regain control of. And yes, anxiety definitely came into us. And I've never suffered depression as I'd call it, but I have every so often always coincides with the full moon, which is a bit weird. But I get what I just call the dark cloud. And even if everything in my life is perfect, I just have this kind of for a couple of days. And it does kind of happen almost every month. Just a couple of kind of gloomy days when it's difficult to feel happy and optimistic. I don't think I would define it as depression 'cause I think that would be demeaning to people who really, really suffer from what is known as depression. I have lots of friends who are suffering and have suffered from clinical depression. But I think it's human nature. You know, I am an optimist. I am happy most of the time. But I also feel that little cloud of just darkness. And it comes and goes and I can't, I don't know, when it's there or why it's there. I know when it's there, sorry. I don't know why it's there. And then it sort of disappears. And for me, sport has been my way, it's sort of active, to be active has been my way for about 20 years of getting rid of that. Has that always been there? Has it always showed up? No, I think it probably showed up about, I'd say about probably just when I started in this business and the pressures, I think, so 20 years or so, I think it started being there. And it was, I came quite late to kind of doing exercise and it's not bib bulging by, I said that's not my kind of form of exercise, but I went for a run just before coming here. Oh, you know, so most days I will do something and it just sets me up for the day and it keeps that cloud away. Sometimes it's quite, even that doesn't work, but I've just got different ways of trying to kind of keep the cloud away. - Super interesting, really interesting. Really interesting. So many questions to ask within that. I have gone through my life, I think probably in the same sort of optimism and generally really happy, but I do worry that as the pressures of my life get more intense, that I feel like when I was growing up, I thought mental health was not a real thing and it was like crazy people. And I was like, well, I'm happy, I'll never be. And then I remember one day I had anxiety for the first time and I just couldn't understand it, but what it did for me was told me that I'm susceptible to everything, health, depression and all of these things. But yeah, I mean, it's good to hear that exercise has been a bit of an antidote. - But the other thing, we're coming back to labels. So a bit like I don't need-- - Of course, yeah. - You know, I've got dyslexia. I think you might be able to go to a doctor and he might say, yes, I actually did suffer a bit of PTSD, but actually I think if you're strong in yourself and you're strong in your self-belief and you've got a good kind of family dynamic around you, you've got a strong set of friends, I think you should be able to navigate quite well if you learn the tricks of dealing with it. And like I say, for me, it has been a lot of reading. I love, I read a lot about happiness. There's a great book about happiness and I've got a complete mind blank of the author. But he hypothesized about happiness. Is it something that we're, is it something to strive for? It's a bit like the destination or the journey. Is happiness something we're striving for? Are we work, do we find happiness? Or is it other things that are disguising the happiness and hampering it? So if you think his theory is that if you look at a child, children are by and large, okay, they're gonna be crying. If they've got a dirty nappy or they're hungry or whatever, but by and large, their emotion, their default emotion is gee, it's laughing. Think of children in a playground. Yes, they have little, their tears come very easily, but the default is happiness. And when does that start eroding away kind of puberty and the anxiety, those anxious times of when you're just, you know, when sexuality's coming into your life, all those things probably do start to affect that happiness. But then moving on in life, and this man had done fantastic, well, made millions. And exactly like you were saying about the cars, soon as he made his first million, went out and bought his Ferrari, sat in the Ferrari, and then was like, well, yeah, I've got it, I've done it. Now what? And it was this constant aspiration. So the hypothesis is that actually we're kind of adding apps almost, things to us that are making us unhappy rather than striving for this happiness thing. Because if the happiness is the Ferrari, or the million pounds, Range Rover, sorry, I got it wrong, but if that is your goal for happiness, the human nature of always wanting more is gonna mean you're constantly searching for happiness and you're gonna have it fleetingly and then it will go. And then you'll get it again fleetingly and then it will go. But actually, if we take away the things that are making us unhappy, whatever that is, social media, get rid of it. Living in a big city, get rid of it. You've just got back from Bali, yeah? I saw a picture of you under a waterfall. I mean, how-- Fameras, huh. But tell me, like, how happy were you in a nice, warm place out in the jungle, in a waterfall, listening to nature all around you? I'm gonna do something now, one second. So I actually wrote a little paragraph. I wrote a paragraph in my book about being sat by the river in Bali. I described the words of how I feel. And it's funny because the chapter's called, and I'm not plugging my book here, it just seems like it's the best way, the chapter's called The Journey Back to Human. The reason why the chapter's called that is because I'm hypothesizing that I think we've kind of lost our way and being sat by this river in Bali was, it felt like I'd come back to where I was meant to be. Here we go. As I write this chapter, I'm sat at an Indonesian jungle in Bali by a gloriously glistening river with the unobstructed glare of the sun and the riverhead bearing down on me. There's this perfect light breeze straight on my warm skin and an earthy floral smell of the jungle surrounding trees occupies my senses. I came here to live in Hapla. As I sit here, and you may have experienced this if you spent time in nature, I feel at peace. As the stoics might have described, I feel tranquil. It's hard to explain this in any other way than to say that I feel like this is where I innately belong. My primitive survival orientated senses that often use prehistoric devices like pain and discomfort as a usual way to guide me away from danger and towards safety seem to be telling me that this is where I should be. The absence of discomfort and stress and pressure is telling me that this might just be home. And it's what you were saying there about the removal. So when you said, did I feel happy? The first thing that came to head was like, I didn't feel unhappiness. There you go, right? So I didn't feel like there was no notifications. - But isn't this a, but that is such a fascinating notion, this idea that it wasn't, you just felt a default, just human, you felt your-- - Tankwell, the stoics that use the word tranquil, right? So all this noise that we get, we're here in central London right now. And when I say noise, I don't just mean the police cars and the ambulances and the pneumatic drills. I just mean all the things, the shops that are saying you should be buying this, you should be getting that, the newspapers that are telling you about other, whoever your rivals are, we all have rivals. The social media promise of someone who's having a better time than you, to someone else who's still in Bali, when you're not there. It's all these things, and I do think they have a habit of making us unhappy. And it's weird, isn't it? Because we think that those are the things that will make us happy. Being on social media, fishing for those likes, the buying into the kind of commercial world and trying to keep up with the Joneses. Now, that's where money, again, coming back to this, that's why money is seen by so many people as the cure for everything, because with money you could go to Bali, you could get the better car. But once you've got it, as you know, it's like, well, actually, that was quite fleeting. - Yeah, and this is, it's funny, because when you look at the ways that we're medicating mental health disorders now, we went through this phase of thinking that it was like a biomedical problem, so we would give people SSRIs and try and correct the serotonin with these chemicals. And the more modern treatments all seem to be trying to return us back to, probably what you go and see when you go to the tribes that you see in like the Amazon, which is human connection, movement, like we used to hunt for our food, not like in Uber and delivery. So connection with nature, which again, you know-- - Natureous therapy. I mean, this is, you know, there's a lot of people who've realized, especially for mental health, you know, back to the mental health week, there's a lot of people who have seen the benefits of nature. So in Japan and Sweden for many, many years now, they've done something called forest bathing. And forest bathing is like many people do on the beach, but instead you just go into a woods and you lie on the floor and you stare at the canopy. And just imagine now, you know, everyone who's watching this, just imagine all those leaves rustling in the wind, birds, you know, because once you stop walking in a wood, is so many people kind of go, we're gonna go for a walk. And they just march through, often have headphones on. And it's like, well, you're not connecting with that. You're racing through. But actually, if you just sit there, animals start coming out, you start noticing colors, you start noticing a flower that wasn't there. And don't never underestimate the power of that to just reconnect us to, you know, where we're supposed to be, really. We're not supposed to be in big cities, living in apartments with your own, you know, with running water and things. It makes it very comfortable for us, but I think most of us really kind of belong in a jungle, in a woods, on a mountain, on the ocean, closer to nature. - Do you know Johanna Hari? Do you know who that, Johanna Hari? He wrote a book called "Lost Connections". - Yes, of course. - He's gonna be sat there in two hours. - Amazing. - He's coming and we always talk about this particular topic. But yeah, it's one of the biggest revelations I had in my life was that much of my ambitions were taking me further away from like being human. So, you know, living in the heart of New York City. I could pretty much go through a whole day without moving. You know, the Uber picks me up, takes me to work, takes me back home. I used the same glass screens to order my food. I don't really see anybody because I lived alone. And then you look at the stats and, you know, New York is 30% more likely to be depressed than Bali or, you know, something crazy like that. But yeah, and as an adventure and someone that's spent time in nature, I find it so fascinating that you've come to the same conclusion about the true nature of happiness. - What is your goal now though?
What is your goal? (01:28:50)
You know, we talked about they're not being a destination. When you think about what your goal is, what is it? - I don't, I think again, true to the contradictions, I think we all need goals. I think we have to have something to aspire to, something to be working towards. But I don't have contrary to popular belief. I don't have a little black book that says, right, okay, we've done that. Now I'm going to cycle around the world and now I'm going to climb this mountain. It's not like I just have a list of things. But I'm kind of, I try to live my life as a yes man. So I like to seize opportunities. I think the human nature default of no, to think about things really carefully is something I've tried to wean myself away from. And I try to kind of say yes to things on a whim a little bit more. So I think my goals are about continuing to test myself, continuing to confront failure, risking what I do. Now, given I've kind of got, you know, I write books, I do TV presenting and I do adventuring. I think I'd probably quite like to find something else, whether it's acting, whether it's politics, whether it's. There you go, I'm all for trying. Also, yeah, I'd love to know if I have a voice. Maybe I'll be a singer. I'd love to, you know, I wonder whether I could compete in the Olympics. And is there any sport where a 47 year old could like start from scratch and really, you know, test themselves and work their way up to the sport? There are a few believe it or not. I think that I think we don't. So I kind of, I do have, I kind of think big, but I don't have absolute goals. They're not written there. But I think, I think a bit like you were saying, you would like to kind of tackle the education system. I would like to make a difference. 'Cause I think the older you get, you're still way too young to do. But the older you get, you start to question why have I done all these things? 'Cause if you think about it, if you just break down those big challenges that we've been talking about, it's quite egotistical, you know, you climb on mountain, "Hey, look at me, you walk across a pole, "I get to come and sit and chat to you all about them "and say how brilliant I was." But actually, what's the point? There has to be more substance to why I did those things. And more importantly, how I can translate those into something useful for other people. So I would love to again, work on an education model, work with other people to actually be able to start making a difference. 'Cause my life up until now has all been about me. It's been about self building, about building my own self confidence. And that's quite selfish. And I would like to think of myself as a, where I'd like to be more selfless. And I'd like to do things for other people. That doesn't mean I haven't done stuff, and I've done a lot of charitable things and philanthropic things over the last few years. But I kind of feel I'm moving towards a time when I really would like to focus on trying to improve the system. Because if the likes of you and me and other people don't do it, it's never gonna happen. We can talk about it, we can sit here and look all smug, kind of saying, "This is what needs to be done," and kind of nod our heads. But if you don't action it, it will never happen. Because politicians are just busy doing their thing. And they'll kind of just do what they can, but they're never going to be able to break those glass ceilings that have been set by previous generations. - And I guess from what you talked about earlier about gradually picking your battles, I guess you've done so much in your career as well, from Everest to the shows you've done, to all the other achievements you've had that you're in search of an even grand battle. - Yeah, I like a battle. But the battle doesn't have to, it's a battle within. It's not this term of a battle. I think some people think it is, it's against another person or against a system or against a belief or you're battling against the trolls or the vocus or the fascists. But I think the battles we all have are the battles within. And I think as soon as you start accepting that, that's when we will start kind of taking mental health more seriously than we do. 'Cause it's really obvious to me that, how your brain feels and what your brain is telling you is far more powerful than any kind of broken bones that we have. And it's kind of weird, isn't it, that we still, you'll look at someone who's been in a road accident and think, oh, poor you, you broke your leg, you see that injury and we can relate to it and we win to it. But here, what goes on beneath the skull is deemed as something kind of still a bit taboo. And it's not really taboo 'cause people talk about it, but you still meet a lot of people who are like, nah, it does, no, just get over it. Come on, just man up. Just believe in yourself and you'll do it. And as much as I'm saying, you need this self belief. It's far more complex than that. It is and that's what makes giving advice so difficult, right? Because you give it from the basis of your own bias. Yeah, and advice is bespoke. So I get, like I say, many people asking, how can I do X or Y? It depends on so many things. Yeah. And I can't really give that advice. It's a bit like a doctor giving a prescription. I can't really give that unless I genuinely know what your ability is, what your aspirations are, what your mindset could be. All of these things come into it. But if we could start helping people within that context, I think we would be in a very different place. You scared of dying? No. I'm scared for other people, but I'm not scared of dying.
Are you scared of dying? (01:34:49)
It sounds really glib, I know, but I genuinely am not. And I don't know why I've had many near-death experiences. Maybe that has, I've had to look at those clouds and think that I'm heading that way quite a few times. And maybe that is what makes you less fearful when you've been so close to it. But it's also perhaps that I kind of, I don't think I have many regrets in life. I've kind of seized those opportunities, but I'm deeply fearful for those I love. And the void that would be left, which sounds really kind of egotistical, but I know how much I feared about losing my parents or loved ones when I was a child. Super interesting idea that I feel the same. After I stopped being religious at the age of 18, I was actually scared of dying when I was religious because I thought it was gonna go somewhere. And then beyond that point, gradually as I've achieved more in my life, I've got less scared of the idea of, I think, well, I've been true to myself and that seems to be the most important thing as it relates to, and you've referred to as regret there. Have you got any regrets? Not really, not, no, because I've tried to, it's kind of one of the ways I've tried to live life with no regrets.
Reflections And Regrets
Have you got any regrets? (01:36:03)
And you're only likely to have a regret. Let me change that. I was going to say you're more likely to regret the things you didn't do than the things you did do, but I know that's not true. I think plenty of people have made the wrong decisions. We've all done that. But no, in all seriousness, I don't think, I kind of, I am an optimist and I try to see the positives in everything I've done and all the decisions I've made and all the things that have happened in life. And I honestly, I don't think I can say that I regret anything because it's the old cliche, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And I think even those things that I could maybe say probably wasn't the best decision, something good has come of it. There's going to be so many Ben, 18 year old Ben, Ben's listening to this right now, who have listened to this and thought, do you know what, I'm really low confidence and I've been knocked and I'm not sure if I'm good enough and I've been called a failure by my job, dad, whatever it is. What do you say to those people, having walked, live their life, what do you say to them, what's the advice you give them?
Advice for unconfident people (01:37:08)
Don't buy into someone else's narrative. That's what you're doing by listening to the failure, whether it's absolute words coming out of someone's mouth saying, well, you're no good, whether it's even perceived narrative that you go into a pub and everyone looks like they're having more fun than you and the girl or the boy doesn't want to be with you, they want to be with the other person. I think you just have to own your narrative. You are you in this world of, well, always 6.7 billion, I probably got that wrong, but in this world of many, many billions of people, there is no other Stephen, yeah? That is fact, yeah, there might be someone similar, there might be someone with the same abilities, the same body type, maybe even looks a bit like you, but you are completely unique because your personality belongs to you and don't try and change that. Don't try and be the person that other people want you to be, be the person you are. And it's a really hard thing to buy into because I spent so much of my life trying to be the person I thought society wanted me to be always embarrassed that I wasn't, I was either too posh or I wasn't posh enough. I was either too successful or not successful enough. You see what I mean? It's almost like you're always just trying to fit in, but actually, once you own your narrative, once you're confident that you are unique in whatever way it might be a geeky kind of unique, it might be a cool kind of unique, it might be a quirky kind of unique, but that's if you can own your personality, your narrative and accept that, you're halfway there to this self belief and this confidence. And that also means not trying to buy into someone else's narrative. You might think you want to be the, if you're the geeky one, you might think you want to be the cool kid, you might think that you want to be playing in the first football team, you might think that you want to be sitting at that top table, but that's not necessarily where your personality wants you to be. And I think it stopped wanting and start being. Very powerful. I am, it took me back to something I read from this Swedish philosopher, I can't remember his bloody name, but he was talking about how when you try and abandon your true self, you'll despair if you fail or succeed. If you succeed in abandoning your true self, you'll despair because you've abandoned yourself. If you fail, you'll despair because you've attempted something and failed at fitting in. So he took the conclusive point of this flow chart he wrote 200 years ago was that the only way to fulfilment is to be. And I just, I mean, very, very powerful. And your story is incredibly inspiring for so many reasons, but I think mainly because of your willingness to share it. So honestly, all parts of your story. And I know that will help a ton of people because the stories that you've told me about yourself, especially when you're younger and the lack of confidence are it's my DMs are full of young men, young women that are desperately trying to understand why they don't feel adequate. And so I want to thank you for coming here today. Thank you. - Giving me your pleasure. - Yeah, it's truly fascinating. I don't know what I was expecting us to talk about, but I'm glad we talked about all the topics we did. And I just hope that we could do a lot more people in the world that are willing to be as transparent and honest, Watson also. Thank you so much, 'cause this is exactly why I started this podcast. And it's gonna be super valuable to all the people that listen. - Well, listen, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure being here. - Thank you.