He was abandoned naked on a desert island for two months and became the first person ever to walk the length of the Amazon – we talk paranoia, obsession and professional rivalries with TV’s favourite (formerly) nude adventurer
You’re best known for walking the Amazon. How did the idea come about?
I spent four years in the military, but the discipline and structure wasn’t really what I was after – I was more into the outdoors, the physical side, and it became an office job. When I left I fell into leading conservation expeditions – stuff that was adventurous but had a purpose to it. Then I read a book called Running the Amazon
[by Joe Kane] about these guys who were the first to kayak the river, and I thought that was extraordinary. The more I learned, the more I realised that nobody had ever walked
it before. I have to admit that I was younger then and my ego was like: ‘Wow – if nobody has ever done this before, then maybe I could be the first’. From then on, it became an obsession. People said: “That’s impossible, you’ll die” – that was just annoying and I wanted to prove them wrong. Would you have still done it if you weren’t the first?
It wasn’t about having my name in the papers, although I managed to carve a TV career out of it – and that wasn’t by accident. That side of it did appeal to me. But, deep down, I wanted to prove that I could do something outside of the ordinary. There is now a trend among adventurers for walking the length of things – the Nile springs to mind. Is that down to you?
When Levison Wood decided to walk the Nile, the first version of his website read ‘inspired by Ed Stafford’, but that slipped off later [laughs
]. I think all adventurers are a bit jealous of each other – thinking ‘Why didn’t I do that?’ – but it’s great that someone looks at what you’ve done and is inspired by it. In a world without many ‘world first’ challenges left, these walks open up new opportunities. The Amazon (Shutterstock) In one show you were abandoned naked on a desert island for two months. Why?
I needed to prove to myself that I could do things without the support of others and it was one of the biggest lessons I have ever had. Being isolated was very difficult. Not having a single person to confer, laugh or cry with was intense… I think we all live in a world where it’s easy to distract yourself with your phone or Facebook, or by having a drink. If you’re isolated, you can’t really do that. You’re next filming in Arctic Norway. Nude?
No, I haven’t been naked for this Marooned
… series. No one wants to see a 40-year-old naked man on TV – thank goodness! A lot of the places you go to are very remote. What draws you to them?
I’ve got to be honest: sometimes I don’t want to go on these trips, but as soon as I get out there I love it. I like remoteness… it makes the experience more intimate, more special because you are actually doing something original, something personal. It was an ego thing to start with – a young man trying to prove how tough he was. But I just turned 40, and now I think I do these challenges because if I didn’t I would stop growing as a person. If you’re doing the same thing day in, day out, you can end up stagnating. Do you still travel for fun?
I’ve just bought a house that needs a lot of work, so I want to spend some time at home now. I know that sounds ungrateful, but I’m doing so much filming, and I recently went out to visit my fiancée, who’s cycling South America with Cho [Ed’s companion on his Amazon walk]. They’re trying to go from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side without spending any money. So, in my time off , instead of lying in, I was cycling across the Andes thinking what sort of holiday is this? Cycling in Bolivia, South America (Shutterstock)
So where’s the next adventure?
I can’t say, I’m afraid. These things are always confidential. A lot of explorers keep their cards close to their chest. I was really paranoid when walking the Amazon – I had a website and was convinced someone would read it and try to go faster than me! So watch this space...
Marooned with Ed Stafford airs in May on the Discovery Channel (Sky 520, Virgin 250, BT TV 322, TalkTalk 322)
Main Image: Man of the wild Ed Stafford (Discovery Channel)