The Interview: Author and television presenter Simon Reeve on his new live show and travel adventures
He’s travelled to over 100 countries, been targeted by shooting, survived malaria and was arrested for spying by the KGB, but how does Simon Reeve feel about stepping out in front of a live audience?
Ahead of bringing his first ever theatre tour to Liverpool, the acclaimed TV presenter tells us about the show, almost meeting his maker in Mogadishu, and the places he still wants to visit.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
How did this theatre tour come about?
It’s just a really fantastic opportunity to be honest. The guy who came up with the idea is a bit of a big name in the industry. He organises the Royal Variety Performance so you’ve got to know what you’re doing.
I was a bit skeptical but he seemed keen and said people would be interested. To my surprise, people are buying tickets at quite a rate and I’m just really looking forward to it.
If someone had said to me, even a year ago, that I was going to do a stand-up tour of theatres around the country, I’d have thought they were bonkers. I’m quite excited by the idea.
You’ve been in some pretty dangerous situations filming your TV shows but are you nervous at all about being on stage in front of an audience?
I’m not really. The most nerve-racking aspect for me is if nobody turns up. But the idea of chatting away about things doesn’t bother me too much.
As you say, I’ve been in some fairly tricky situations so I think that helps me get things into perspective.
I’ve also faced some of the most embarrassing moments a person can endure. My parents had a Reliant Kitten car when I was growing up. It doesn’t get worse than being driven around in that!
“Hopefully I’ll be able to tell people a bit about the programmes, the adventures I’ve had and, I suppose, my own little journey as well.”
What can people expect from the theatre show?
There will be footage from my TV shows and I’ll talk about them and explain what we do and why we do it. It will give people a sort of behind-the-scenes take on how these shows are made.
I think people are generally quite interested in the process that goes into them and whether there are 30 Oompa Loompas carrying my bags and make-up kit around. I’m happy to set people right on it.
Hopefully I’ll be able to tell people a bit about the programmes, the adventures I’ve had and, I suppose, my own little journey as well.
I’m not a posh boy who went through public school and the army and then got this gig thanks to mummy or daddy. I started out on the dole and I had quite a difficult beginning in many ways. I just sound a bit posh because I’ve had to.
I hope that’s a bit inspiring for people who don’t know what they’re going to do in life. I had no idea [what I was going to do] and I’ve done okay thanks to a bit of luck and some hard work.
You’ve been making TV programmes for 15 years now. How did you first get into the business?
I wrote books on terrorism before I got into TV and I’ve got the dubious distinction of having written the first book in the world on Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Nobody took any notice of the book when it came out in the late ‘90s, and then obviously it became a best seller when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. I was pushed onto TV screens to talk about what had happened, and to try and explain what was going on in the world.
Let’s be honest, TV is pretty shallow and I had my own hair and teeth and I was an author, so the BBC started talking to me about making TV shows. That’s really how it started.
Have you ever been in genuine fear for your life whilst on your travels?
Yes, in truth that’s happened once or twice but I do think it’s worth saying that one of the big surprises for me since I’ve started travelling a lot is actually how safe and welcoming the planet really is.
A lot of the media get off on suggesting there are medieval perils out there and I just don’t think that’s true – it’s not been my experience.
Having said that, part of our gig is to go to places where foreign travellers don’t often rock up and there can be occasional risks involved with that.
“I would have been completely shredded if it all went south. Everybody was screaming and yeah, absolutely, I felt ‘this is the end’.”
I thought my time was up in Mogadishu once.
We arrived at a crossroads at the same time as an enemy gang. My gang of bodyguards had turned their guns on the gang, and the other gang was pointing an anti-aircraft gun at us.
I was sitting in the back of a technical vehicle, which is like a sort of poor man’s tank. I had my little flack jacket on, I was sitting on another one, and I had another up against the side of the vehicle to try and stop any small arms fire.
I would have been completely shredded if it all went south. Everybody was screaming and yeah, absolutely, I felt ‘this is the end’.
I just sat there, like a total plum, and waited for our fate to be decided. Luckily everyone decided they fancied life more than death and the other gang went first.
You’ve been to over 100 countries but is there anywhere else you still want to visit?
God, yeah! I’d be mad as a TV presenter to say ‘no, I feel like I’ve done it all’.
I’ve never been to Japan and I haven’t really travelled in Canada. I want to go to Senegal, explore Mali and Bolivia. I’ve been to Brazil once or twice but you could go there a dozen times and have completely different adventures.
But as well, and this might be a bit of cliché in some ways I’m sure, I live in Britain. I’m born and bred here and I’ve got no desire to leave, but I could if I was motivated to.
I could go and live in the sun somewhere and just head off on these TV journeys, but I do love this island and I think it’s easily one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The rest of the world is fascinating and wonderful but Britain isn’t too bad either!
An audience with Simon Reeve comes to Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall on 24 September.