If anyone is likely to tempt a group of celebrities into a frozen lake, it is Wim Hof.
A man on a mission, the Dutch extreme athlete (aka The Iceman) has spent the best part of five decades supercharging his health via cold exposure, adopting the self-titled ‘Wim Hof Method’ that involves a combination of breathing, cold therapy and commitment in the name of health and happiness.
He encourages others to try the same – and his latest recruits (the 62-year-old already counts the likes of Matt Damon, Justin Bieber and Oprah amongst his devotees) are the willing participants of BBC One’s brand-new reality show, Freeze The Fear With Wim Hof.
The six-part series, hosted by Holly Willoughby and Lee Mack, follows eight famous faces as they give up their warm, cosy lives to live in the Italian mountains in sub-zero conditions.
There, the group – made up of Patrice Evra, Gabby Logan, Alfie Boe, Tamzin Outhwaite, Owain Wyn Evans, Dianne Buswell, Professor Green and Chelcee Grimes – will face a series of daunting cold challenges designed to push their minds and bodies to the limit. All the while under the guidance of Hof.
“Through the cold, through deep breathing, you can master control over your mind, your body and your fear. ‘Grab the bull by the horns’ as we say in the Netherlands!” begins Hof, who discovered his love for the cold some 46 years ago in an icy park.
“The first big challenge for the celebrities is jumping into the icy water of a frozen lake,” he reveals. “Most of these celebrities hate the cold!
Think of a thick layer of ice and disappearing underneath it into a totally different world. Once you’re down there, it’s scary, claustrophobic.
You lose control. It’s too cold! But it’s all about facing your fears and getting a hold over them. In the end, of course, it was a great experience.”
He continues: “Later in the series, these celebrities were spending 10, 11 minutes in icy water, no problem. Fully tranquil, fully serene, in control.
This is the way to deal with stress. And they showed within a couple of episodes how to tackle that. It was majestic! The change is transformational.”
He certainly knows what he’s talking about, having garnered some 21 world records, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for more than 112 minutes.
His moment of clarity came after he found himself grieving the death of his wife, Olaya, in 1995.
“She had depression and had spiralled into darkness. I was left alone with four kids to look after and no money, dealing with the deep emotional agony and yet needing to be strong for my children. It was devastating,” he shares. “The children made me survive but it was the cold that brought me back to life. It healed me.
“That is the message I want to share. This is what I found. I want to share the love. I don’t want anyone else to be in the same stressful situation that I was left behind in.”
Armed with his motto ‘what I am capable of, everybody can learn’, Hof’s energy is infectious and his belief unwavering in his bid to seek calmness.
“The science is behind it, there is no doubt about it,” he pleas. “This [show] is a great window to bring it to the world – and the world needs it right now. Too much confusion, too much depression, anxiety and darkness, and we just make it go away because we face our fears.”
His unique method combines three ‘pillars’: breathing techniques leading to more energy, reduced stress levels and an augmented immune response; cold therapy to reduce inflammation and fortify the immune system, balancing hormone levels, improving sleep quality and naturally elevating mood; and finally, commitment, armed with focus and determination to master body and mind.
“I am the man who has done all the field work, who is tranquil, peaceful, powerful,” he reasons. “It’s an entertainment show, of course, but my role is instructional, and I hope it will make people at home think about themselves too – and maybe even start practising the breathing on the sofa.”
Willoughby, 41, is a convert. And in fact, was taken by Hof’s teachings prior to landing the gig.
“I’m always looking for things to make life a little bit easier or a little bit better,” says the This Morning presenter and mum-of-three. “And when a friend went, ‘Oh there’s a guy called Wim Hof and he does his breathing thing’. I’m like ‘Well, I’ve been breathing since the day I was born’. That I can do!
“Eventually, as the whole process was going on, I was so jealous of what they [the celebs] were doing,” she confesses. “Because you could see the transformation, you could see the change, you could see what they were coming away with. And it’s infectious.
“Even though I wasn’t jumping in the cold water, I still came away with changes to my mindset, just by being around it. For a show that’s set in the cold, it has a whole lot of warmth.”
Comic Mack, 53, was admittedly more sceptical. “I totally believe everything Wim’s doing, I am just trying to be cynical for the sake of bringing in those that don’t believe in any of this…” he offers. “But it’s all true. He absolutely believes he can change the world. He’s a bit mad…!”
“I am bloody crazy!” Hof responds, smiling. Though there’s clearly method in his ‘madness’. So what does he hope people take away from the show?
“A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away! Anybody can do it! That is the message of the show!” he says excitedly. “Try it and see for yourself. Get into a cold shower and do some deep breathing.
The cold trains the cardiovascular system, stress goes down, energy levels go up, that’s the BOOM! And deep breathing calms your anxiety making you feel more confident.
“Stress can come in many ways: emotional stress, mental stress, bacterial stress, viral stress, inflammation, the stress of being isolated in Covid times, the stress of having to meet goals at work,” he lists.
“And by using these tools, you will be much more in tune with your body, have much less stress, better energy and more confidence in yourself, so you can conquer your fears.”
Freeze The Fear With Wim Hof starts on BBC One on Tuesday, April 12