It has been more than two decades since Ben Fogle shot to fame after marooning himself on a remote Scottish island for the BBC reality show Castaway.
It was an experiment to see whether a group of strangers, cut off from the world for a year, could create a self-sufficient community.
Not only did the experience launch the telly presenter’s career, 22 years later it forms the very foundation of his retirement plan.
When he calls time on showbiz, Ben says he’s going “off the grid” with wife of 16 years Marina, in the remotest possible location.
“I think we all have our retirement mapped out,” says the father-of-two. “For some people it’s a golf membership, a convertible car and lots of wine for lunch.
“For me, it’s always been a little cabin on an island somewhere with my own canoe and loads and loads of dogs and I just forage.
“That’s basically what I’d do all day. My grandchildren and children will come to visit me and my wife and it’s just a simple life. That’s all I want, a little off-the-grid house.
“Right now I’m hooked into the material world and I’ve always liked this idea that maybe I could abandon all of that.”
That deep-rooted call to nature is probably why he’s so dedicated to his Channel 5 programme, Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild, which returns this week for a new series that marks 10 years since it began.
In it the 48-year-old travels the globe to meet men and women who have swapped traditional lifestyles for lives full of adventure.
This series fans will meet Alex Sully, who quit a high-flying retail job for a 35-acre Portuguese farm.
Pensioner Sandy Britton gave up her family wealth to run a refuge for animals on a tiny Greek island.
Davina Foster and Todd Read-Bloss ditched London to raise their kids in a remote part of Cornwall so they wouldn’t be impacted by racism, and Austrians Georg and Bettina Peterseil have been living in the bog land of Ireland’s County Mayo for more than 40 years.
The one thing that links all the people featured on Ben’s show is that they have followed their dream – something he thinks a lot of British people are too scared to do.
Ben says: “We all have excuses why we’re not going to do something.
“There’s always a reason not to get out of bed early and go for that run, to eat that one extra packet of crisps, to have that drink…
“But if you actually follow those hopes and aspirations, as all of the people that I’ve met over the last decade have done, then you can find that happiness so many of us are looking for.” So why are so many people seemingly unfulfilled by their current daily lives?
“I think at the heart of all of this is a lot of us have made our lives very complicated,” Ben says.
“We think we’ve made it simpler with technology, apps and online delivery, but they have actually made our lives way more complicated. And by making them way more complicated, they’re much more stressful.
“It’s almost like we have created a vicious circle of anxiety.”
He adds: “I think we’re quite gluttonous, and not just in our consumption, but also when it comes to spending.
“Whatever we do, we do to extremes. What I’ve found is that people who live quite physical lives where they have to get up and be outdoors all day long collecting their firewood or putting in water piping, whatever it is, they’re more connected to nature, which is something that I’ve long been an advocate of.
“We have a mental health crisis right now. The more people that spend time outdoors the better, and all of these people on the show get to do that.
“So they look after their mental health, their physical wellbeing, their diet, what they drink, even their digital diets.
“Stripping all that back, going back to basics, means you cut out all the noise.”
Ben isn’t judging anyone for being sucked into the “gluttonous” lifestyle of the modern world because he fully admits he’s caught up in the cycle too.
He engages with social media but towards the end of last year he realised it was becoming a problem.
While he admits he’s “someone who doesn’t really have addictive traits”, changes in his habits sparked concern, so he decided on a digital detox.
“I’ve had to try and step back a bit from Instagram because I could see it becoming addictive,” he admits.
“The amount of time I was spending on it, just picking up my phone every time I had an empty moment and scrolling for no specific reason and then obsessing over what people would comment on my own posts… it just felt like it was becoming more important than other things in my life. So I deleted all the social media apps from my phone.
“I tried to make it harder for myself to access it and that really helped, if I’m honest.
“I actually deleted Twitter completely a year ago and that was so liberating.
“It totally changed my life because I think one of the problems with social media is that you’re living in a virtual world. You’re just showing people what you want them to think, which is a heavily edited snapshot. Then you’re looking at what other people are doing which… induces jealousy or anxiety.”
As we look to the year ahead, many will be thinking of changing their lives and may be inspired by Ben’s show.
So what advice does he have for anyone thinking of throwing caution to the wind and heading into the wild?
He says: “It’s about adding life to your days, not days to your life.
“I think all the people that I have visited have really embraced that.
“I would say as we, hopefully, begin to recover from this pandemic, just follow your dreams and live your life.
“Just go for it!”
- The 16th series of Ben Fogle: New Lives In The Wild begins with Alex’s story tomorrow at 9pm on Channel 5.