Bear Grylls’ latest series premiered on Discovery UK last night, bursting with life-or-death footage and takeout. He counts summiting Everest and the odd world record amongst his achievements, and his favourite TV show? Duck Dynasty. So how does Bear Grylls balance his family life and demanding TV job? writes Amy Walker.
Being on screen, Bear obviously has a lot of leverage in setting his terms, so I ask him what tips he has for the rest of us on negotiating work and family. “Guard your family life hard – and when you are working then give it your all. It is possible to do both but requires a little self-discipline and good communication with your loved ones. Although sometimes the wheels do fall off a little – but that is all part of the adventure! I just make sure I prioritise family first and try not to walk too close to the line. It means I tend to film then get home, and say no to a lot of the fluffy celeby stuff that it can be easy for people to get swept along with. (Although I’m lucky in that the sense I am not great with the fluffy celeby stuff anyway!) The other key is learning to say no…”
Bear Grylls is choosy about his projects, but he’s chosen well recently, with Bear Grylls’ Wild Weekends earning him and Stephen Fry a Christmas Day slot on Channel 4. Slighter than he looks on TV, his wiry frame reflects his seemingly constant energy, not a man to sit still, his enthusiasm for this year’s series is palpable: “2014 definitely has our most exciting and diverse programming we have ever done, and the truth is that I have never felt so excited for TV before like this.” A canny entrepreneur, Bear is ever-mindful of the Bear Grylls brand, and, despite working in TV for less than ten years, he has defined and profited from his unique position in the market, setting up his own production company.
“We now produce the shows we love and believe in, with the partners we like and trust to deliver, and on networks that support our brand most effectively around the world. For that opportunity I am so grateful and in return I hope we encourage viewers to get out there and live and follow their own adventures. That really is at the heart of the mission for me, and it never fails to make me proud when I see people respond and go for it in their lives. TV is simply a window for people to discover some of that spirit for themselves.”
“I am maybe a little less patient with over-directing nowadays – that is why we tend to co-produce all our shows nowadays so we can pick the right team who I know will get it right first time when it matters. Having ownership in the productions also means I don’t feel so bad cutting down my time away from home or changing dates to make sure I am there for our three boys at key times at school etc. Little things like that matter. It’s no good playing the hero on screen and then not being a hero to the people who really matter.”
He’ll never stop adventuring, but is there anything Bear Grylls won’t do now he is a family man? “It is a hard one always this – managing risk along with having a young family – but I have developed a good instinct of what is smart to do and what is not, and I try and listen to that voice. I also know that the wild rewards commitment and that once you commit to something then the best way to tackle it is head on and without doubts. The key is knowing that there is always another option and not being afraid to use that. Ego kills and I always say that if there is any doubt then there is no doubt- we’ll stop, reassess and come up with a smarter plan. I like that dynamic and it has always been at the heart of how we work.”
“We” refers to his team at Bear Grylls Ventures, and in particular his safety producer and stunt co-ordinator Dave Pearce, media parents article here, whom he credits for his hand in the brand’s success “I try and take all the recognition side of [TV] with a bucket of salt, and I never take the success of the shows for granted – I have been very lucky and I so value it as a team effort. My attitude I suppose to TV has changed in the sense that I am now aware how few shows get the chance to keep rolling on and on, and how fortunate I have been. In the early days I just took it for granted that the show would always be recommissioned season after season. (In fact if anything I used to get a bit annoyed because I wanted a break from it but couldn’t seem to take one!) Now I realise how competitive it is and how blessed I have been with good timing and a few key breaks.”
He seems to be on good terms with Discovery again after his key break with them at least. So where does he think TV is going, and how is he responding to that? “People watch TV more to be entertained rather than to learn – the key is helping people learn cool stuff whilst entertaining them. That is always our goal. Great TV takes people on a journey and empowers people to go for it in their life, and if you can make people smile along the way then great!”
So did his parents’ own choices affect his career, and how would he feel about his children following in his footsteps? “My late dad had been a commando and a climber and his skills definitely inspired me to want to learn that stuff as a kid. He always used to say you have got to follow your dreams and look after your friends along the way. I want to pass that on to our three boys. I am not sure any of them would want to do TV as they are all quite spirited and tend to take the mick out of my shows mercilessly! I also suspect they’ll all want to forge their own path. I mean currently Jesse wants to be a bush pilot, marmaduke a farmer and Huckleberry a lifeboat man, so lets see!”