OUTDOORS TV presenter Ray Mears is the very man to survive on a desert island.
So Desert Island Discs should be a doddle.
He’ll be appearing on the long-running Radio 4 series some time over the next few weeks as part of a flurry of events – including Tuesday’s Eden Court tour date – to support his new book, My Outdoor Life.
There might be a few surprises in the life story of the TV face of everything from bushcraft to wildlife and tales of survival.
An only child, Ray wasn’t born with a compass in his mouth.
It was only when his parents moved from the suburbs that his boyhood passion for the outdoors really blossomed.
But with a lifetime of challenges and new territories to test himself with, it’s no surprise to discover Ray has a new one coming our way next year on TV – the Wild West.
Riding around on wagon trains?
“All of that!” he laughed.
He’s best known for 15 years’-worth of series for the BBC, most recently three for ITV indulging his love of wildlife, but he’s back with the BBC for the new American adventure.
Ask him some of the highlights of his year so far and there’s an impressive list.
“I spent nearly a month in Lapland, a month in Australia. I built a birch bark canoe in the UK this year about three weeks ago and that’s the first time that has been done in Britain –and almost certainly in Europe. And in two weeks I shall be guiding a canoe trip in Canada.”
Though people think of Ray as an expert in the outdoor life, he is also a businessman/entrepreneur, having started his own company, Woodlore, teaching bushcraft as a young man.
“This year is the 30th anniversary and it’s also the 20th of our courses in the Arctic, so we started the year celebrating.
“A Sami singer Yana Mangi came – they have a special kind of song called a Yoik, it’s a Sami way of singing, so that was really special.”
He’s proud of the courses and prefers the term “bushcraft” – the art of understanding and being one with nature – rather than the more gung ho-sounding term “survival”.
“‘Survival’ is a shorthand of ‘bushcraft’. It’s what I teach soldiers. ‘Bushcraft’ is the longhand really,” he explained.
“We teach all sorts of skills and they can be life-changing in some cases. Depending on which year – we do a different range of courses each year – but last year we took people on a trek to see big game in Africa, we go and watch grizzly bears in Canada, we’ve done trips to Brunei and Belize, we do canoe trips in France – we go all over the world.
“I’ve got a very special – amazing – team of people working with me. They are like a family, they are all brilliant.”
At Ray’s last visit to Eden Court, when asked how and where he would like to end his days, he’d suggested somewhere remote, on his own, contemplating the world. He’s only got one change.
“With family would be nice.
“But one of the things that’s hard for me to find these days is peace and quiet. There are a lot of demands on my time and I value the quiet very highly.
He laughed: “Maybe I’ve been on tour a while too long!”
Ask Ray what he’d have been doing if born 150 years ago and the answer’s predictable: “I’d have been on a frontier somewhere, that’s what suits me!”
His idea of hell is too much noise and too many people.
“I’m not a crowd man,” he confirmed.
Nor is he rising to the bait of naming the one piece of kit to ensure survival in any wild environment.
“There are three main things you need to do – always retain a sense of humour when stuff goes wrong. Make sure you never panic, always stop and think. And the other thing is ... to make sure you go prepared!”
But when he stayed in Inverness last time he gave a talk, Ray admits he was unprepared for one encounter.
“I’d got back to my Victorian hotel very late from the theatre and just asked the girl at the front desk if the place was haunted – ‘Yes, we have a ghost!’ she replied just as a naked, sleepwalking man appeared in the corridor beside us!
“Well, he was wearing a pair of socks,” laughed Ray.
Ray Mears comes to Eden Court on Tuesday. His life story My Outdoor Life (Hodder & Stoughton, £20) is out now.