Many fans were distressed to hear that British adventurer Bear Grylls recently parted ways with the Discovery Channel, the network responsible for bringing his madly popular survivalist program, Man vs. Wild, to American shores.
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While Grylls plans his next adventure, readers can take comfort in his latest project, his autobiography, Mud, Sweat, and Tears, which offers a more nuanced perspective for those who know Grylls best as a man who hollows out camel carcasses for shelter and extracts nourishment from elephant dung.
But long before he took to scaling mountains and parachuting out of airplanes, Grylls was the youngest child in a long line of politicians, soldiers and even authors—his great-great-great grandfather Samuel Smiles penned the first self-help guide in 1859, Self-Help, which went on to outsell Darwin's Origin of the Species.
That authorial skill hasn't been lost to the ages. Grylls deftly mines his formative years to illuminate his development into one of the world's foremost risk takers. Revisiting his days at Eton College, his time in the elite UK special forces and behind-the-scenes at Man vs. Wild, Grylls draws a fascinating, often surprising self-portrait. It may not be as high stakes as freefalling into the Borneo jungle, but it's certainly as compelling.
What prompted you to write an autobiography? Did you enjoy the writing process?
People kept asking me where I learnt all the skills from Man vs. Wild...It was hard, but if I was going to do it I wanted to do it well and intimately. Writing well means being personal and honest about the struggles—and that process isn't always easy.
But I am proud of the end result. People seemed to have responded so much to it. I was so touched by people’s response, and by the fact that went to No. 1 on the UK bestseller list.
What do you think readers will be most surprised to learn about you?
That the road has been so filled with struggle! People often assume success has come easily.
Do any of your Man vs. Wild adventures stand out as particularly harrowing?
Almost all of them! Swamps and jungles are so unforgiving, and there have been too many close calls over the years...People like to see people overcoming adversity, and Man vs. Wild has been a very physical and mental parallel for this. And people like to wonder: Could I survive if it happened to me?
In the book, you characterize yourself as a shy, retiring kind of guy. How do you reconcile that with the very public life you’ve come to lead?
Work sometimes asks us to step up to the plate of what we fear the most.
What do you make of your critics who say you hype your experiences in the special forces or stage elements of your show?
The book talks very openly about what I went through to serve with 21 SAS and about behind the scenes of Man vs. Wild. But being in the public eye in any field always attracts some criticism. You can't win every battle.
Readers might be surprised to learn that you come from a long line of politicians. Any desire to enter the game yourself?
No, I am not sure I am strong enough to handle the even greater criticism.