You’d be forgiven for thinking that Simon Reeve is another Oxbridge-educated middle-class bloke presenting BBC travel documentaries, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
At ‘An Audience with Simon Reeve’ he explains that while growing up in Acton he was ‘a bit naughty’: hanging out with the wrong crowd, bunking off school and thieving, vandalising cars and struggling with his mental health. He became isolated, and left school with no friends or qualifications. He was on the dole when he received some great advice on a visit to the Job Centre: to take things step by step, set small challenges.
He decided to try anything. After a few false starts – including lasting just one day at H Samuel – he applied to work in the post room at The Times. Simon briefly explains how he worked his way up and found himself interviewing two alleged terrorists in Boston (Lancashire, not the US), and also reported on the World Trade Center attacks in 1993.
He loved the isolation of travelling alone, meeting people and interacting with different cultures. In 1998 after travelling to Afghanistan he wrote ‘The New Jackals’, about a new organization called Al Qaeda. Not many people took much notice, until 9/11, and he then found himself thrust into the limelight as an authority of this new breed of terrorism.
Since then Simon has become renowned for his travel documentaries featuring remote cultures and small communities. It’s certainly not “Wish You Were Here”. His programmes explore the environmental impact on indigenous people: they don’t read the Guardian, but they have noticed the gradual effect of global warming first-hand for decades. Longer, hotter Summers are speeding the global warming process and the perma-frost in Russia is thawing. In his current Americas series, he covers the western side of the US, from the frozen tip of Alaska to the extreme social problems and environmental devastation the continent now faces.
When he plans his journeys, he asks what will be interesting: how can they show diversity and where the hell hadn’t Michael Palin been? (He’s not afraid to ‘pick up the crumbs’).
I love that there is an element of sarcasm in his documentaries, but this Audience tour has shown that he cares deeply about the world we live in, and he insists he will continue to travel – with a carbon footprint the size of a small town – if it gets the story across.
If he doesn’t travel to the nature reserves and highlight the situation, they’ll end up as logging sites or palm oil plantations. If the tourists visit, they’re funding the protection of the environment and habitat.
He’s keen to encourage the kids of today that anything is possible and gives this advice to younger members of the audience: you don’t need a university education to live a good life. See the world and take a few steps further, look up and take an interest in the world: remember to take small steps to realise your goals and don’t be scared to talk about how you’re feeling.