The bushcraft expert, survivalist, author and presenter of countless television series talks life in the wild - and out of it
Indeed he’s just returned from his latest trip to Australia where he’s been filming a new television series to be screened this autumn. However, you don’t have to wait that long, because the man will be arriving here in person soon, as part of his Born to Go Wild UK tour.
“Cheshire and the surrounding countryside is such a beautiful part of our country, I’m hoping to inspire your readers to get out and enjoy the beauty around them,” Ray enthuses. “I’m also hoping to give audiences a unique insight into my wilderness travels and survival techniques, including some footage of my recent visit to Australia where I’ve been looking at the extraordinary conditions endured by the indigenous wildlife and the bushmen who live off the land and who have taught me so much.”
This legendary bushman discovered the joys of exploring the wilderness at an early age.
“I was an only child and my hero was Gerald Durrell who had this amazing affinity with animals. I was also fortunate to have a mentor who taught me the basics of how you could survive outdoors and I used to love camping under the stars. Eventually it became my passion, not only learning, but teaching others.”
Once Ray’s hopes of joining the Royal Marines were dashed, after taking his A-levels he briefly worked in the City of London. The business acumen he’d gleaned helped him to set up his own company, Woodlore, successfully offering bushcraft-related courses and developing a career as a photographer. That led to books and, from the early 1990s, television.
“People often think I made my name on television and then started my company after that – in fact it was the other way round,” Ray laughs. “When the Royal Geographical Society ran a course on how to organise expeditions, I learned a whole new set of skills that have stood me in good stead ever since.”
Ray first appeared on television in 1994 presenting television series Tracks and Ray Mears' World of Survival. In addition he presented a BBC documentary about the World War II sabotage mission by the real heroes of Telemark.
“I followed their journey braving the icy waters and their incredible climb up the those dangerous mountains – a real test of endurance – particularly as they were carrying their equipment. I was thrilled to meet some of the few survivors who were among the most modest and brave men I’ve met. Now I’m exploring the incredible story of Violette Szabo, the British spy who suffered horrific ordeals under the Gestapo only to be shot – a true heroine.”
Life has never been dull for Ray. While filming an early television series, he survived a helicopter crash when it accidentally struck the ground and broke apart. Fuel-soaked, he escaped uninjured, and administered first aid to a badly hurt crew member. “The survival instinct just kicked in. Once you know you’re okay you help others – it’s all part of survival training.”
In 2010 Ray was asked by Northumbria Police to help track fugitive killer Raoul Moat after he fled his temporary shelter in Rothbury. "I got pretty close to him but then the news came that he’d killed himself.”
Ray’s fascination for wild areas of the planet undisturbed by civilised human activity has shaped his life. Others have followed in his path, but one of his pet hates is programmes like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. “They make a mockery of eating witchetty grubs, which bushmen regard as sacred because they need to eat them for survival, not entertainment. I just think it trivialises their lifestyle. The bushmen now recognise I’m not a tourist, but one who learns from their wisdom and respects their survival skills.”
After two decades Ray’s name is recognised throughout the world from numerous BBC and ITV series. They include the three-part Survival series concentrating on his tracking skills to locate bears, wolves and leopards. However, he admits he hates crocodiles. “They are so unpredictable because they strike without warning. One minute they appear docile, the next lashing out.”
Although Ray’s respect for the natural world and its inhabitants has established him as a positive force, he stresses that, away from the cameras, he is the antithesis of celebrity. “When I am running courses, including an annual expedition to the Arctic, I'm a totally different person and sometimes people are shocked. I teach properly, and don't like people who come just because they want to meet me or take my picture." You have been warned!
Meanwhile, there’s a chance to get up close and personal with Ray at The Lowry. “I’m really looking forward to meeting the folk who have been my television viewers over the past 20 years. There’ll be the chance for them to put questions to me and I hope I can inspire them to explore this wonderful part of our country.”