TV traveller Simon Reeve on bringing new live tour to Belfast's Ulster Hall
David Roy speaks to globetrotting TV documentarian and author Simon Reeve about overcoming his difficult adolescence to become an international adventurer and bringing his first ever tour, An Audience With Simon Reeve, to Belfast
OVER the past 15 years, Simon Reeve has become a familiar face on our TV screens via his acclaimed BBC documentaries like Meet The Stans (2003), Holidays in The Danger Zone: Places That Don't Exist (2005), Equator (2006) and his recent run of 'With Simon Reeve' travel films.
The latter (including 2015's Ireland With Simon Reeve) have found the Hammersmith-born man delving behind the standard 'tourist attractions' in various countries to highlight real stories of people and place.
2016's Greece With Simon Reeve coincided with the Syrian refugee crisis and found Reeve (46) capturing heart-rending scenes of desperate families spilling off dangerously overcrowded boats following a perilous crossing from Turkey to Lesbos.
He also quizzed Lesbians for their views on the developing situation and its potential impact on island's already struggling tourist economy.
While such globetrotting adventures – 130 countries and counting – have found him risking life and limb while tracking lions, dodging rockets in war zones, being hounded by Russian security forces and risking exposure to Ebola, Reeve's current travels are a rather less risky prospect.
He's on the road with his first ever live show, An Audience With Simon Reeve, which stretches right through to the middle of next year – including its penultimate date at Belfast's Ulster Hall on April 8 – and ties in with his recently published autobiography Step By Step: The Life in My Journeys.
To his credit, Reeve claims to be enjoying the likes of Tunbridge Wells, Gateshead, Lichfield and Yeovil just as much as his more exotic destinations.
"It has taken me to parts of [Britain] which I haven't been to, which has been an absolute bloody delight," he enthuses. "I am slightly worried about the timing though: it runs right through Brexit, so the whole of the UK could be up in arms by then! But perhaps people will need a bit of a diversion and distraction. I love the idea that I might be providing a public service by talking about the rest of the world."
As well as allowing him to recount some of the hair-raising highlights from a multitude of global adventures, Reeve's tour finds him revealing intimate details of his early life, including a troubled adolescence and a struggle with depression which almost led to suicide prior to his life-changing 'big break'.
Aged 18, a job as a post boy at The Sunday Times led to Reeve finally finding direction, becoming a gopher/researcher and eventually a fully fledged investigative reporter for the paper.
He left in 1997 to write book about the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, research for which brought the young Reeve perilously close to being executed by Islamic fundamentalists. The New Jackals (1998) flagged-up the growing threat posed by a then practically unheard of militant organisation called Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama Bin Laden.
As the Devon-based presenter and writer explains, the egocentric nature of the tour has required quite an adjustment from his usual gig documenting other people's stories.
"It's been a very strange year for me, actually," admits Reeve. "I've been talking about things I've never talked about before. Because I've been on the telly for a while and I travel, people always assume I come from a posh family, went to private school and got a great degree and so on.
"So a big part of this tour for me has been being honest about my humble background. I don't have a degree and never went to university – I flunked out of school and was on the dole.
"Things got quite dark for me when I left school. I had a lot of mental health problems and didn't think I was going to be able to go on. I'm talking about that for the first time. I'd never told my wife or my brother. So it's actually been a much more emotional experience than I'd expected."
Indeed, such revelations may surprise fans who only know the confident and outgoing version of Reeve from his programmes – which is why he's keen to reveal that even wanderlusting TV adventurers are just human beings.
"I felt like I had a bit of a responsibility to own up to being a bit more fragile than this sort of 'media perfect', Instagram era would have us believe," he tells me.
"People who feel a few cracks in their armour can get very depressed about how perfect the rest of the world seems – but it's all bol***ks. We're all fragile little creatures with insecurities and problems. I suppose that also makes what I've been doing [career wise] all the more interesting and a little bit of an achievement for me."
He adds: "I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but this tour has actually been a really therapeutic sort of experience. I want other kids who have been dismissed as 'no-hopers' to realise that you can still make a go of life."
Married for 14 years, Reeve and his wife Anya have their own child to worry about, seven-year-old son Jake. I wondered how fatherhood might have affected the risk-taking aspect of Reeve's career and his attitude to risk in general.
"I think it's really important that parents realise that risk is absolutely vital in life – but also in our travels and adventures as well," he enthuses. "I suppose I appeal to people to take risks, I beg them to take risks and chances because, if you don't, you will not live a fulfilled life – I really believe that. You cannot live life on your knees.
"So I'm hugely keen on encouraging kids to take risks – within reason. I'm happy with my son to be leaping around in trees and for him to have his own ultra-sharp knife.
"I've told him that if he breaks a limb I'm going to give him a massive present, because it means he's being adventurous. I want him to be an adventurous child and have the confidence that comes from that."
Having said that, Reeve does occasionally suffer sweaty palms when he thinks back on what his younger, more reckless self often got up to.
"Some of the things I did in my 20s and 30s while working on investigative books and often undercover, were just a bit stupid, frankly," he tells me. "I took risks and chances that could have been pretty disastrous and I do get a few flashbacks – let's call them moments of night-time anxiety. I think it would be weird if I didn't.
"I've always been very open to talking about them. And, now that I'm a telly ponce, people talk to me about some of the tricky situations I've experienced – and that's all helpful."
"But I'm still very keen to push myself out of my comfort zone."
Which brings us back to the current tour, which it seems Reeve is enjoying so much that he would quite like it to continue indefinitely.
"I've made a lot of television programmes and been around this planet – but actually it's only by doing this tour that I've started to properly meet the people who've watched them.
"I've been blown away by their enthusiasm and interest. It's been brilliant, so much better than I ever imagined – they're never going to be able to get me off the stage now!"
:: An Audience With Simon Reeve, Monday April 8, The Ulster Hall, Belfast. Tickets via Ulsterhall.co.uk