It has been more than two decades since Ben Fogle rose to fame after being stranded on a remote Scottish island for the BBC reality show Castaway.
It was an experiment to see if a group of foreigners, cut off from the world for a year, could create a self-sufficient community.
Not only did the experience launch the career of the TV presenter, but 22 years later, it is the very foundation of his retirement plan.
When he calls showbiz, Ben says he’s going “off the grid” with his 16-year-old wife, Marina, to the most remote location possible.
“I think we’ve all planned for retirement,” says the father of two. “For some people, it’s a golf pass, a convertible, and lots of wine for lunch.
“For me it’s always been a little cabin on an island somewhere with my own canoe and lots and lots of dogs and I just feed myself.
“That’s basically what I would do all day. My grandchildren and kids will come to visit me and my wife and it’s just a simple life. That’s all I want, a little off-grid house.
“Right now I’m hooked on to the material world and have always liked the idea that maybe I could just let go of all this.”
This deeply rooted call to nature is probably why he’s so dedicated to his Channel 5 program, Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild, which returns this week for a new series that marks 10 years since its launch.
The 48-year-old travels the world to meet men and women who have swapped their traditional lifestyles for adventurous lives.
Fans of this series will meet Alex Sully, who left a high-flying retail job for a 35-acre Portuguese farm.
Retired Sandy Britton gave up her family fortune to run an animal shelter on a small Greek island.
Davina Foster and Todd Read-Bloss abandoned London to raise their children in a remote part of Cornwall so that they would not be touched by racism, and Austrians Georg and Bettina Peterseil have lived in the bog of Irish County Mayo for over 40 years old.
The one thing that connects everyone featured on Ben’s show is that they followed their dream – something he thinks many Brits are too scared to do.
Ben says, “We all have excuses not to do something.
“There’s always a reason not to get up early and go for a run, to eat that extra packet of crisps, to drink that glass …”
“But if you really follow those hopes and aspirations, as everyone I have met over the past decade has done, then you can find that happiness that so many of us are looking for.” So why do so many people seem dissatisfied with their current day-to-day lives?
“I think at the heart of it all a lot of us made our lives really complicated,” Ben said.
“We think we’ve made things easier with technology, apps and online delivery, but they’ve actually made our lives a lot more complicated. And by making them a lot more complicated, they’re a lot more stressful.
“It’s almost like we’ve created a vicious cycle of anxiety.”
He adds, “I think we’re pretty gluttonous, and not just in our consumption, but also when it comes to spending.
“Whatever we do, we do it to the extreme. What I discovered is that people who lead pretty physical lives where they have to get up and be outside all day collecting their firewood or installing water pipes, whatever it is. is, they are more connected to nature, which is something that I have long been an advocate for.
“We are currently experiencing a mental health crisis. The more people who spend time outdoors the better, and all of these people on the show can.
“So they take care of their mental health, their physical well-being, their diet, what they drink, even their digital food.
“Taking it all out, getting back to basics, that means you take out all the noise. “
Ben doesn’t judge anyone for being sucked into the “gluttonous” lifestyle of the modern world, as he fully admits he’s caught up in the cycle, too.
He engages with social media, but towards the end of last year he realized it was becoming a problem.
If he admits to being “someone who doesn’t really have any addictive traits,” changes in his habits have raised concerns, so he opted for digital drug rehab.
“I had to try to take a step back from Instagram because I saw it was getting addicting,” he admits.
“The time I spent on it, I would just pick up my phone whenever I had a blank moment and scroll for no particular reason, and then I was obsessed with what people would comment on my own posts … I felt like it was becoming more important than other things in my life. So I deleted all social media apps from my phone.
“I tried to make it harder for myself to get in and it really helped me, if I’m being honest.
“I actually deleted Twitter completely a year ago and it was so liberating.
“It has totally changed my life because I think one of the problems with social media is that you live in a virtual world. You’re just showing people what you want them to think which is a heavily edited snapshot. Then you watch what other people are doing, which … induces jealousy or anxiety.
As we look to the year ahead, many will be thinking about changing their lives and may be inspired by Ben’s show.
So what advice does he have for anyone planning to beware of the wind and head out into the wild?
He says, “This is about adding life to your days, not days to your life.
“I think everyone I’ve visited has really embraced this.
“I would say hopefully let’s start to recover from this pandemic, just follow your dreams and live your life.
” Go for it ! “
- Ben Fogle’s 16th Series: New Lives In The Wild begins with Alex’s story tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Channel 5.