By David Saunders, Health Editor | UPDATED: 08:28, 26 June 2020
Hit Channel 4 series The Island with Bear Grylls returns, but this time there’s a twist. For the first time there’s money at stake and it’s everyone for themselves. The reimagined series – Treasure Island with Bear Grylls – will once again see 12 ordinary Brits marooned for 35 days on a remote.
We wanted to find out more from the main man himself behind the Island and what’s going to be happening.
This is the first time you’ve dropped money on to the island, what made you decide to shake up the series in this way?
Well this is something I’ve wanted to do with the show for a while. It’s been a natural evolution, you know?
With season one the whole premise was just totally original, then we’ve gone through so many of the big things in society that are powerful and relevant for people, from ageism to wealth to gender and this was the last one that we purposefully, I personally, held back until now. But we always knew, it’s such a powerful force in all of our lives and it can have such pull for good and bad that once we introduced this it would be a whole new level.
It feels like it’s happening at the right time, having done these other angles on the show before, but this one was always going to be a crowning glory really. What happened was amazing, it really was.
You mentioned that you think this is the right time to introduce money, what do you mean?
Well, I think with money, so much of society is driven by it. I understand it, it’s natural, but it’s such a powerful force in everyone’s life. But it’s interesting because ultimately money is neutral, it’s us that distils power to it and I always think money amplifies what we are.
It really does expose human nature, doesn’t it?
It does. I think the island full stop does that. It just amplifies so much of who we are and it strips it right back. Looks, material things and all the things that society places so much value on, and so actually, if you don’t have it and it’s taken away what do you really value?
And then you start dropping money back into the equation and it’s like dropping grenades onto this island, it really was like that. We would watch the footage come back every day and we’d be like, “Oh wow!” You couldn’t anticipate how people reacted and you never know what people’s characters are like.
You never know them really well because it’s just words, and until I hear you’re good under pressure, you never really see what people are made of and that’s the art of the island.
What were you shocked about the most when you saw people’s reactions to the cash?
How powerful the draw is, and how people’s values can change when they get dazzled. That’s the flip side of the coin and the positive so that by the end it was incredibly inspiring seeing people’s journeys of looking in that mirror and saying actually, “What is this for?
How much does it mean to be able to do good things with this and help people and support people and let’s start to plan amazing things for other people.” Suddenly you see this light starting to shine through the cracks. I’m always interested, and we gave people an amnesty at the end, for a day, where everybody had to declare what they had.
It’s such a driving force in society and we wanted to say, “Hold on. What’s the real value of it and what are the lessons from this”, you know?
Do you think the way they all deal with the money will spark arguments between viewers over what they would do in that situation?
Yeah! There is going to be so many arguments like that. I think one of the lessons is that the real wealth in all our lives isn’t always found just in hard currency. What are you after, money or happiness? Surely happiness matters more and do you need money for that happiness?
I do think that sitting with those guys around that fire at the end, there was a real sense of what we have in life, these shared experiences show perspective on life and perspective on our families back home and our perspective on our work and our own values, it is priceless, you know that matters more than just some cash in your pocket.
There’s something beautiful when people realise that the real wealth in their lives is found in relationships. It’s a really beautiful thing to experience for yourself and it’s a beautiful thing to see in other people, especially when they’ve had a real journey, when it didn’t start off like that.
One islander Ben said he went on the island obsessed with the trappings of wealth, came off the island and within weeks had sold all his watches and his car…
Ben had a pretty strong argument for saying he really found riches on the island. And that’s a really cool, positive thing from Treasure Island.
What are your thoughts about money?
Well I think it’s always easy for somebody who has money to go, “It’s not a driving force of my life.” So I’m mindful of that, and I don’t want to belittle it because people have real battles financially.
All of us are different, but for me the raw pursuit of money has never been a huge driver for me, that’s just the honest truth, it really hasn’t, otherwise I would have never joined the Army! I would have become a numbers guy maybe, because I would say the chances of what’s ended up as my career working out is so small.
I say this to my teenage boys that there’s been a huge amount of luck involved in my career, and if I’d have been after just money, I would have picked a different career in the outset.
I mean, as a young person I just wanted to really follow my heart and I loved adventure, loved the relationship with people under pressure on a big mountain or in a jungle or on an island, I’ve always thrived off that.
So that’s been a much more motivated thing for me. I do think at the same time, my dad used to say, “If you really do what you really love, not always but pretty often, money will kind of follow. But chase the money and it’s a bit like a butterfly, it will fly away. But if you just keep on doing what you’re doing and then a butterfly comes around it’s a nice surprise.”
I’m not saying it’s always like that, but it’s felt like a little bit in my life. I’ve loved adventure and the survival side of things and doing that has brought me my career.
You don’t seem to be someone who chases fame either, we don’t see you at many showbiz parties or on red carpets?
Well I think, none of that is real, it really isn’t! I see it so often in people and especially Running Wild guests, a number of people talk about that and they’re seeing the whole cycle. If you chase that stuff, it’s so transient and it’s never enough.
I am telling this to myself as much as you, you’ve just got to remember this stuff’s not real. The real stuff in your life is found in your relationships with those you love. It’s your family, your children, and trying to find work that is fulfilling and makes you smile. And the other side of it is that I’m not only quite shy at those sort of events, I don’t actually enjoy them. I have a much more extroverted sister who’s always going, “God you’re rubbish at these things.”
She’d love it, she’d love to go to all those parties and events, I just find it very uncomfortable, it’s just not my natural place. I love being with good friends, sat with your over the wall somewhere, I’m genuinely more comfortable then and I enjoy that. I love the mountains, I love being in these places with great friends. But being at a big party and being in a big room of people and it’s all loud, there’s an awful lot of showing off, there really is.
I actually haven’t been to something for so long that I swore this summer that I would go to one. I won’t say what it was, but I went to one of the big parties in London and after 10 minutes I was like, “This is why I don’t come, this is such a dark side of society. Every guest was desperate to tell everyone else how famous and successful they are and it just makes me curl in a ball.
What did you think when you found out that Ivar Mountbatten was on the island?
Well the casting is so key on the island, you know, it’s getting that right and trying to get a fair cross section of society. But when it comes to dropping money, it’s just another interesting dynamic to have somebody who is a Lord. At one point I think he was arguing saying he had more need of the money because his mortgage was bigger and he has school fees for the kids. I can see the logic but that’s an example of where views can differ. Some people will listen to him and wouldn’t necessarily see it like that, it’s very interesting.
Mano is a leading brain surgeon and says his time on the island has made him better at his job, he feels he has more clarity of thought to deal with intense operations. what do you think about that?
That’s amazing, see that’s cool, that’s not just about happiness, actually now you’re saying it’s made him more efficient. That’s the main thing, you’re less clouded by crap. What a waste of energy is all these envy and greed emotions are for all of us. It’s such a waste of emotion. I love that story of Mano, that’s great.
Jack was branded the Mowgli of the island and you praised his behaviour on the island…
I really meant it, his journey was incredible, he has my full respect. He did that the hard way. Through cheerfulness and through kindness and through helping other people and by selflessness and it really, really shines bright as you watch those episodes.
It’s not rocket science, but it’s incredibly difficult when you’re blinded and dazzled by cash. You know? It’s very easy, everyone talks like this when I’m driving them in on the boat.
And I smile because I know as soon as the bright lights come on and that cash is waved, people act differently and sure enough you don’t know who any of the real heroes are until you’re really under pressure, you’re really hurting, you’re really hungry, thirsty, scared and then £100,000 is waved in front of your face. Then you learn about who the heroes are. And Jack was one of them.
What motivates you to keep working when you don’t have to given the success you’ve had?
I really love it, and The Island is a great example of what I love in that you go and take these guys off to the edge of the world and you see that light and pride in their eyes when they come back. It is a quiet, respectful, humble, confidence that you cannot buy anywhere.
Your money can’t buy it, you’ve got to earn it, you’ve got to earn this through blood, sweat, endeavour, massive failure, you’ve got to learn it by facing fears, you learn these lessons on The Island and those that endure, invariably have this feeling at the end. I see it every time. There’s a light in their eyes, it’s quiet assurance, and it’s really powerful. So I did this stuff, why? Same reason why I’m Chief Scout.
It’s about the outdoors and what scary, tough, cold and desperate experiences give people, is that quiet sense of we need each other, and sometimes you’ve got to reach out a hand, together we’re stronger, and I can be really proud of myself. We see that through The Island, we see that through the Scouts, we see it through Running Wild, and it’s the reason I do my job.
What would make you want to call it a day then? Can you see that day happening?
Well I would love to do a lot of all of this stuff, but without being filmed! That’s the answer to that! The bit I struggle with is being on camera. I actually find it difficult, I don’t really enjoy having a camera pointed at me. So I think maybe there would be a day where we just do this without the cameras.
But I want an adventure and the empowerment of these experiences always to be part of my life. Whether it’s through kids or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, what a cool thing to have in your life, why give that up?
You mention Running Wild, you’ve taken some amazing famous figures and political figures into the wild, is there anybody else you would love to take out on your adventures with you?
Yeah, the list of great guests grows. But the one thing I’ve learned is that I don’t talk about who are target list is until we’ve got them! We’re lucky with that show, we just keep attracting amazing individuals. I’m very grateful for that privilege to show them our amazing world.
Shows like Treasure Island and Running Wild is about getting people outdoors. Why do you think it’s more important than ever to get people outdoors?
I think it’s because we grow so much, it’s where character develops, you know? It is what Baden Powell the founder of Scouting said, “A week in the field is worth a year in the classroom.” Scouting is based on that and I see it with all our TV shows, it’s the same thing. When speak to the guys once they are off the island, “What do you learn by sitting through a typhoon with no shelter, no fire, you’re cold, hungry, you can’t learn that in an office”.
There is something intangible, but our shows are rich in friendships and in hardships and they never give up spirit. Ultimately that’s what the outdoors, and the wild teaches us. If we learn these things there, we become so much more powerful in life because we think, “Oh this bit’s easy. I remember that time we were stuck in that jungle or stuck wherever,” you know? And that empowers you, it’s all about being empowered for your everyday life.
These guys aren’t going to go back to another island in a hurry, but they’re going to use these lessons they’ve learned about wealth and each other and that sometimes putting your head down and keeping going helps you for the rest of your lives, you know?
Do you think the more we get outdoors, the more inclined people are going to be to save our planet?
Yeah, I mean that’s definitely the other side of it. To understand why the whole climate change mess is so important, you’ve got to see it. That’s the reason Barack Obama wanted to go on the journey with me, he’d studied the science and he said, “I’ve seen all the science, I understand that, but I want to see it.” And I think when you stand up close you see the effects of climate change closer, whether it’s some animals who, like on Hostile Planet, the show I did where you actually see the devastating effect on wildlife all around the world from climate change, you see litter on an island in the middle of the Pacific.
That’s the classroom, isn’t it, for all of those guys on this show, one of the lessons they came back with is they’re never going to throw a bit of plastic onto the ground because they’ve seen it on an island.
Does your heart drop when you see all the impact of what we are doing to the planet?
I really see it all over the world, everywhere I go. We come from a generation where the older people debate it and young people want to solve it, and I see that. I’ve just been to the World Scout Jamboree in America, 50,000 young kids from all over came from different countries all united in a message that we have to tackle climate change. We have to sort out plastic.We have to reduce fossil fuels. This isn’t like, “Let’s debate whether or not it’s a good idea”, this is like, “Do it, do it, do it”.
I’m proud to encourage that in these guys and trying to shine a light where it’s most powerfully seen. I feel like it gives us all hope when you’ve got kids like that, being such loud voices for others, but it’s got to come from the politicians, you know? So that’s why having Narendra Modi in the wild was so powerful, I did that show because he said, “My vision is to clean up India.” And the message is you’ve got to do it.
Words are words, you’ve got to actually do it, you’ve got to lead. So taking him on that journey was important.
We need to get you with Donald Trump because he doesn’t believe in any of it…
I know! I think Ivanka really understands it and I’m always hopeful that there are not many people who don’t get persuaded to do things by their daughters, so I just really hope that her understanding on this will rub off, eventually, on him. Let’s pray!
You’ve done so much, you’ve achieved so much, have you got anything left on your bucket list that you still want to tick off?
Well, you know, all the things of achievement, all of that is tins and pots, you know, tins and pots, nothing more. The real wealth, like Treasure Island says, is around us all and in our relationships, in our family, and that’s a constant thing, you never stop giving to and trying to invest in and protect and treasure.
So yeah I love all the TV shows we do as a team, I’m super proud of being Chief Ambassador in World Scouting and the influence that young people can have there. Our Be Military Fit legacy, that’s really important to me because that’s so rooted in our veterans and empowering them with businesses after they leave the military. But all of this stuff is the same thing really, it’s about empowering people through adventure, and I hope I’ll do that for a while.