Ben Fogle: everything I’ve done has built up to swimming the Atlantic

I’M SERIOUSLY afraid of heights and I’m not the best swimmer,” Ben Fogle says as I catch up with him over the phone just after he landed in New York before jetting off to Buenos Aires. But scared isn’t exactly the first word that springs into mind when you think of the 39 year-old father or two, especially in light of his latest mission to swim the Atlantic.

He’s given himself 100 days to swim from the United States to Cornwall and the challenge will see him in the water for 12 hours a day in temperatures of minus two degrees Celsius. “I think 100 days is realistic,” he says when asked why he won’t try to challenge the existing 73 day record achieved by Frenchman Benoît Lecomte in 1998. “I just want to stay safe and I think 100 days is a good length of time to achieve that. It’s something I’ve been working towards for my whole career. Everything I’ve done has built up to this.”

He’s preparing for the big swim by training for a 1,000-mile trek in the desert with double Olympic rowing gold medallist James Cracknell. It’s the first thing the pair have done together since Cracknell suffered a serious head injury after being hit by a truck when the pair attempted to travel from Los Angeles to New York in 16 days. For anyone who has followed Fogle’s career over the past ten years, his decision to take the challenge on won’t come as a surprise. While he’s most commonly known for presenting a string of successful shows like Wild in African and Animal Park, it’s his expedition series that have made him one of the country’s best known TV personalities.

In 2006 he placed first in the pairs division of the 2006 Atlantic rowing race; he participated in a 3,000-mile mountain bike race across the Rocky Mountains from Canada to the border of Mexico and managed to cycle the 424 miles from Edinburgh to London in 60 hours non-stop. The list goes on.

His first TV outing, of course, was 2000’s Castaway, which was among the first reality TV shows in the world, following a group of 36 people as they were left on the Scottish island of Tarnsay for a year, forcing them to create a self-sufficient community. His role on Castaway came after he decided to give up what he calls his “sensible job” serving as the pictures editor at Tatler magazine.

The next time you see him will be on his latest series, Year of Adventures. “I’ve had a bucket-list of challenges that I want to do and I’ve managed to do a lot of them in the show, like a mountain marathon and a car rally in Italy. Each episode features a new challenge that I work towards.

“The idea came from an existing book, Year of Adventures, that I had been following so I just picked out 25 challenges from the book.” Naturally, you should expect to see a lot of risky moments. “I’m afraid of heights, so for one challenge I jumped out of an aeroplane after just six hours training. That’s what I love. I could do easy challenges but why would I?” And his travels haven’t been completely trouble free. Over the years he’s picked up a serious skin eating disease and was forced to pull out of a challenge in 2011 after the threat of great white sharks when he was planning to scuba dive in Western Australia.

So how did he tell his wife he’s about to aim for the summit of the Dolomite Mountains in Italy without using a harness or that he plans to lower himself into a freezing glacier in Iceland? “I make sure I approach the issue with my wife very tactfully. But I proposed to her after I rowed across the Atlantic so she’s always known what I do. There have been occasions when we both agreed for me not to do something, though.”

Hear more about Fogle’s travels at his talk at the Destinations Holiday and Travel Show at Earl’s Court on 1 February. Tickets from £10 for adults, kids under 12 go free. Visit destinationsshow.com for more information.