Stuck In A Lift With… Ben Fogle

We speak with the English broadcaster and adventurer about living off-grid, labradors and Owen Wilson. What else are you going to do when you’re stuck in a lift?

Each time a new wildlife documentary hits our screens, the age-old debate surrounding the ethics of letting nature run its course inevitably follows. The lonely lion cub might be cute, but does that mean filmmakers should steer it away from trouble?

The dilemma sparks an important conversation about both art and nature, but it’s not exclusive to the animal kingdom. For ten years and across 17 seasons, it’s what has made Ben Fogle’s New Lives In The Wild so engaging, as the English broadcaster and adventurer immerses himself with those who’ve actively stepped out of society to live off-grid.

“There have been times when I’ve left with a real heartfelt hug of ‘please look after yourself’, because I can see the vulnerabilities,” he says as he puts the finishing touches on a new theatre tour. “That has happened and continues to happen. I just did a revisit about two weeks ago that will be on TV later this year, and I do worry about that person’s mental health if I’m honest. I’m not there to tell people how to live their life though, that’s why people have gone to live as they do; to escape society’s judgement.”

This candid glimpse into alternative lifestyles, and not shying away from the cost they come with, has been key to the show’s popularity, but Fogle’s genuine passion is even more important. “Part of the immersion is just gaining their trust, that we’re not out there to stitch them up. I think a lot of television has a poor reputation, even by those who live off grid who’ve never watched it. They’re very wary of what television is trying to get from them. But I’m not there to judge, I’m there to merely tell their story and allow the viewer to judge”.

Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild - Laos clip

Fogle’s experiences from New Lives and his own adventures help inform his new show, Wild, which tours the UK throughout May. Where his last tour, Tales From The Wilderness, focussed on big adventures such as climbing Mount Everest and rowing across the Atlantic, Wild brings the 49-year-old’s experiences with people to the stage. “It’s a riotous journey through Chernobyl to Slab City in California,” he says, “and I wanted to pick out some of the most unusual, inspiring examples of places I’ve been and people I’ve met. Those that have taught me more about life than anything else I’ve learnt. Curiosity is what I tell my children is the most important attribute they can ever have, a curiosity about others.”

Here we share our own curiosity and ask Fogle the burning questions that really matter…

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

I would most like to be stuck in a lift with David Attenborough. The reasons are obvious, but he’s in his twilight years now, and I feel he has so many experiences and so many lessons that he could share. I would love to just be able to absorb them, all those encounters that he’s had, all the different people and animals that he has encountered over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to meet him a few times, to work with him a few times, and obviously, given the nature of what I do, he is my hero. 

Is he everything everyone hopes he is?

Absolutely. He is a very charming, humble man. 

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?

Gosh. I’d least like to be in a lift with Putin. Again, the reasons are very obvious, and I have a lot of friends in Ukraine through my time in Chernobyl and other encounters out there. I couldn’t trust myself to restrain myself. 

Who would you like to play you in a biopic?

Owen Wilson does have a bit of a resemblance to me. We both have similar noses and I also think he’s a very good actor. It’s always been a joke amongst friends, especially when I was younger and had longer, blonder hair before I got old and haggard, I did have a striking resemblance to Owen Wilson. And like I said, I’ve always enjoyed watching him so I think it would make me laugh a lot if he was playing me.


What’s the most fearsome animal you’ve encountered up close?

A saltwater crocodile. I went scuba diving and I ended up within just a few inches of a wild salty, which was pretty terrifying to be honest. I didn’t have any protection, there’s no cage or chainmail, just me and the croc. I’ve also been close with a Nile crocodile, which is arguably just as dangerous, if not more. 

Speaking of dangerous animals: I know you love labradors, but what’s your second favourite breed?

Can I say Labradors again? No, my second favourite would have to be the golden retriever, that’s what I grew up with.

If you had to name your next dog with a human name, what would it be?

Kevin. I love dogs with human names, I think it’s really comedic and I kind of regret that we didn’t call our dogs Dave and Kevin, because I genuinely like those names and think there is something just very comedic about someone in the park shouting a very blokey name to a dog. Kevin, or Colin. A brilliant name. 

Where would you go if you were to go live off-grid?

I would be straight off to Norway or Sweden. 

What luxury item would you miss the most?

Well, I’m assuming I’m taking my dog and family with me, so it would probably be my tablet. 

Turtleneck or cableknit fisherman jumper?

Cableknit! I think my wife would divorce me if I wore a turtleneck, and I’ve got plenty of fisherman’s jumpers.

You’ve run across the Sahara, climbed up Everest and raced across the Atlantic. What’s the closest you’ve come to sacking it off and going home for a cuppa?

Any journey on the A25.

What challenge would you like to accomplish next?

I’d love to do K2, but I’m not sure my family are so keen.

Of all your achievements, which are you most proud of?

My children. 

Ben Fogle’s Wild heads to theatres nationwide from 2 May – 01 June 2023, find tickets here

Photo credit: Mike Marsland / Getty