Simon Reeve
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 16 April

The World According to Simon Reeve

Indian Ocean expert, TV presenter Simon Reeve on his world of travel

Mountain/ocean/jungle/desert – which are you?

Mountains every time. They’re grand, epic, beautiful, and a huge challenge.

What was your first great travel experience?

Our first family holiday abroad. We drove through France, Switzerland and Italy camping. Europe was exotic and welcoming, and the foreign food was better than British in the late 1970s.

What was your favourite journey?

I took a train from London to Istanbul a few years back with my brother. The journey was great, but it was even better to spend time with him.

What are your top five places worldwide?

Istanbul, Denmark, Greece, Somaliland and Bangladesh.

Name a special place to stay. Why is it special to you?

Home is pretty good. I’ve been on the road a lot recently so I treasure time in my own four walls.

What three items do you always pack?

A Leatherman, because it’s good for everything. A couple of torches, because they’re vital. And plenty to read, for when I’m stuck, bored or ill.

Which passport stamp are you proudest of?

Stamp? I’ve got a Somali diplomatic passport in my own name that I bought from a man called Mr Big Beard in a market in war-torn Mogadishu a few years back. I keep it hidden. If I tried using it I’d probably be a prime candidate for immediate rendition to Guantanamo.

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

Turkmenistan. We tried to visit several times while filming my first TV series called Meet the Stans – a journey around Central Asia, and were refused every time. It sounds forgotten and fascinating.

What is your guilty travel pleasure?

Being stuck on a plane for hours means it’s entirely acceptable to watch a crap blockbuster.

Which do you prefer: window or aisle?

Aisle. I’m 6’ 3” and I need to stretch.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

My wife Anya. She worked in wildlife documentaries but agreed to travel on several shoots for my Tropic of Cancer series. Now we’ve got a one-year-old son she’s at home and I miss her.

Best meal on the road? And your worst? 

I get the occasional feast, and the President of Moldova cooked me a slap-up meal, while forcing me to drink bottles of brandy.

The worst? Where to start. I’m a TV presenter, so meals of grilled squirrel, fried caterpillars and Zebu penis soup are an occupational hazard.

Most surprising place? And your most disappointing?

Everywhere surprises me. That’s why I love travelling. The only places that disappoint me are British B&Bs. They’re usually horrendously over-priced.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Nowhere. Honest.

Who/what inspired you to travel?

I never went to university, so my travels are a constant education. That’s a powerful motivation.

What do you listen to on the road?

Local music and local sounds. I take Radio 4 podcasts for when I’m missing home.

Does any song take you back to a particular place?

For some reason when I was in Mogadishu a while back our mercenary guards were playing Mr Brightside by The Killers at full volume as we raced around in a heavily-armed convoy. It gives me the shivers.

What do you read when you travel?

Notes about where we are, guide books, and back-copies of The Week, the world’s best news digest.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity?

All the time. That’s another reason I keep doing the journeys. On my last major journey around the Indian Ocean I met some inspirational types who are battling for the planet. Mark Jones, a crocodile catcher and expert in the remote Kimberley region of Australia, was an inspiring character who spoke brilliantly and powerfully about our need to look after our world. With people like him out there perhaps we’ve got a chance.

What's the most impressive/useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

I can swear in Italian like a native. Adopting a fake Russian accent has got me out of trouble a few times. It’s easy: you just don’t move your lips or face while talking.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Loving a lie-in.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Twister, anyone?

When are where in your travels have you been happiest?

With my wife, hiking in the Pindos mountains in northern Greece.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Citronella – from mozzie sprays.

Given a choice, what era would you travel in?

Late 1800s.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, which would they be? 

Istanbul, Rio and Taipei.

Simon's new series, Indian Ocean, begins on BBC2 – and iPlayer – from 22 April. You can read an in-depth interview about the challenges he faced making it here.

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