Don't listen to dream-stealers, hold on more and quit less: Adventurer Bear Grylls

In this exclusive interview, the British-Irish explorer says what the wild has taught him and why he doesn't believe in giving up

By Sandip Bardhan

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Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.
Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.

Published: Fri 29 Sep 2023, 6:00 AM

Bear Grylls could have given up.

When he suffered a parachuting accident at the age of 21 due to a canopy failure. He broke his back in three places, injuries that could have put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Instead, he went on to become one of the youngest climbers to summit Mount Everest within 18 months of that accident in southern Africa.

When the searing heat of the Sahara or the freezing temperatures of Siberia made his footsteps shudder and every breath heavy. Instead, he strode under the blazing sun and through frigid, sub-zero nights, accomplishing one feat after another that made him the indisputable mascot of adventure TV across the globe.

Bear Grylls did not give up. And he does not advise quitting without a fight.

“Don’t listen to the dream-stealers — and never give up. Life is full of people who will tell you it can’t be done and that you should give up. The rewards go to those who see beyond those things and stick with it,” the 49-year-old adventurer tells the Khaleej Times in an email interview.

The parachuting accident in 1996 could have snuffed the courage out of even the mightiest. But, in Bear, it reinvigorated the fighting spirit of a man who was just getting started. Twelve months in and out of the hospital in back braces, Bear learnt what he calls a simple lesson: that life is fragile, and one must buckle up and get going after every setback.

“...if we (make a) few lucky escapes, then we have a duty to try to get back up and grab life with both hands. Gratitude and humility are hard-won lessons, but the wild teaches them in spades over time,” he says.

Nonetheless, Bear adds, it is okay to quit when the going gets untenable. For one must keep an ear to the ground and “listen to the universe”, while pivoting and adapting with changing realities, he says.

But then immediately, he stresses: “...most people quit way too early or so close to the finish line. The hardest and darkest times are often just before dawn. So... hold on more and quit less.”

Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.
Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.

Whether it’s the wilderness or a hyper-competitive workplace, the principles of surviving and thriving could be similar, Bear underscores.

“Life is a huge adventure and not always easy; it will be full of storms and snakes. And, at times, we can feel like we’ve been hit by an avalanche or a flash flood. But how we react to the challenges and tough times in life determines everything.

“The wild teaches us to be prepared, and this is what we do at our academy. We aim to prepare people for adventure and for life,” he says, just days before the reopening of the world’s only Bear Grylls Explorers Camp in Ras Al Khaimah on October 1.

Nestled amidst the breathtaking Jebel Jais mountain, the camp opened its door to thrill seekers in March 2021. (Like many other outdoor attractions in the United Arab Emirates, it temporarily shuts down during the summer months.)

The camp offers a wide range of adrenaline-pumping survival courses and activities tailored by Bear himself and his team. From skills needed to withstand the wild to experiences such as air rifle shooting, archery and via ferrata (a challenging mountain-climbing activity), the Jebel Jais camp has plenty on offer for those who savour scoops of heart-pounding fun.

But where does the British-Irish explorer draw his inspiration from?

“Primarily, my late father (Sir Michael Grylls) who inspired me to keep going, have big dreams and to see failures as stepping stones to success. Also, I would say the many tenacious climbers I have worked with, and former military friends who quietly work hard, laugh at themselves...and never give up. That can be the best example we will ever have — and I am grateful for the many friends around me like that,” Bear, who has served in the British Special Forces, answers.

In his bestselling autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears, Bear gives readers a peek into the bond between him and his politician father who taught him climbing from a young age. “My father and I had many adventures as I grew up, but I felt that I didn’t get to do enough with him. I wanted to do more with him, alone. I didn’t want to grow up too fast.” In that 2011 book, he also says: “I had a love of the wild that I didn’t understand at first. It came from the intimacy I felt with my father on the shores of Northern Ireland, and the need to escape a loving but bossy sister.”

Fun fact: it was his sister, Lara Fawcett, who gave Edward Michael Grylls his famous nickname, Bear, when he was a baby. It stayed with him and how!

“As a kid, I used to feel a bit self-conscious about the nickname...but I’ve grown into it, I guess,” Bear tells the Khaleej Times.

Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.
Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.

In his illustrious career, Bear has worn many hats. A soldier who has trained in martial arts from a young age. An explorer-adventurer who has challenged the limits in extreme conditions around the world. An author who has written over 90 books. A popular TV personality who has starred in the Discovery Channel’s Emmy Award-nominated Man vs. Wild series, and on the Running Wild show that featured high-profile personalities such as former US President Barack Obama, tennis legend Roger Federer and Hollywood heart-throb Julia Roberts, among others. He is also an Honorary Colonel to the Royal Marines Commandos, the youngest UK Chief Scout, and the first Chief Ambassador to the World Scout Organisation.

“The role I’m probably most proud of is serving as the UK Chief Scout and the Chief Ambassador of World Scouting. To stand alongside so many unsung heroes… and to know that together we are part of something so incredible. The Scouts are the greatest youth movement on Earth — 57-million strong — and such an inspiring force for good. It has been the biggest honour in my life,” Bear says.

Shedding light on his experience of rubbing shoulders with the famous and the powerful on Running Wild, Bear says all his guests appear in front of the camera “because they want to challenge themselves and experience some of the magic that the wild can give us”.

“I try to teach them some essential survival skills, and then have them put to the test at the end of each episode what they have learned. Whether it’s knots or navigation, ultimately the journey will come down to a point where it’s all on them. That pressure can be tough when you’re tired and a little afraid, but it’s amazing to see people overcome and succeed. I love that. In truth, all of us learn from each other every day if we stay open to it. I’m never stopping learning. I love the challenge,” he says.

Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.
Photo: Bear Grylls Survival Academy, UK.

In the run-up to a crucial climate conference in the UAE later this year, the man who has made nature his home also shares his message on global warming.

“Climate change affects everyone. Within a century, our rainforests could completely disappear — and the effects of that are enormous. Dirty air, extreme temperatures, destroyed habitats. These are the consequences of humanity’s actions, but governments can change the trajectory.  I hope we can learn to work together, move away from dirty energy and plastic, and learn to protect our oceans. The future demands it if we are to survive,” he emphasises.

These days, Bear and wife Shara live between a houseboat on the Thames in London and a private island off the Welsh coast. The couple has three sons.

Asked about his plans, Bear says: “We have a new series of Running Wild out now. We are about to start filming a new series for Netflix, as well as a new one on faith and adventure — which will be interesting. But, above all, I simply try to keep doing my best to live boldly and kindly, keeping friendships and adventure at the front and the centre. The rest are details.”

Bear’s motto is simple: courage and kindness — and never surrender. He puts it succinctly in the first chapter of his second autobiographical book, titled Never Give Up. “...fear is a terrible reason not to do something. And just because a mountain is big, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t climb it.”

Ras Al Khaimah's Bear Grylls Explorers Camp reopens on October 1. The camp offers a wide range of activities for all ages and skill levels, including archery, abseiling, rock climbing, hiking on scenic trails, tackling rope courses, and exploring the via ferrata. Thrill seekers can also choose from a variety of survival courses, with some tailored for families to bond and others designed for adventurous individuals. These are available in durations of four hours, eight hours, and 24 hours. For more, visit:

A view of Ras Al Khaimah's Bear Grylls Explorers Camp. Photo: RAK Leisure
A view of Ras Al Khaimah's Bear Grylls Explorers Camp. Photo: RAK Leisure


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