Ben Fogle: "I remember"
…watching my father operating on a dog
I don’t know what the operation was, but I would have been about six years old and it was in central London. He had his veterinary clinic in our house and his operating theatre was down in the basement.
My favourite thing was coming back from school and watching him operate on whatever he had there—dogs, cats, guinea pigs, lizards, parrots. I’d hope that one day I’d be a vet. That was my childhood ambition.
…my summers in Canada
I spent summers on the shores of Lake Chemong in Ontario, with my late grandparents Aileen and Maurice. They were completely fundamental to who I am.
We used to go out for seven or eight weeks every summer from the ages of seven to 15, and that’s probably the biggest memory of my childhood. There was fishing, swimming and building rafts on the lake with my sisters and my Canadian cousins.
…going to boarding school at Bryanston, Dorset
I was 14 years old and I absolutely loathed it for the first year because I had debilitating homesickness. I came to love it though, and now have an awful lot to thank it for.
I don’t think I would be where I am without the lessons I learned at boarding school about self-sufficiency, looking after myself and not necessarily always deviating to my parents when I had to answer a question.
…when I was at university, I joined the Royal Naval Reserve
I was a midshipman for a year or so. I did think about joining the navy to become a naval officer, [but] decided at the last minute that I didn’t want a career where I was answerable to other people.
I realised early on that I wouldn’t be very good if I was accountable to a single boss.
…after my degree, Getting a job working at Condé Nast, at Tatler magazine
I spent a little over a year as a picture editor, and then I applied to go on Castaway in 1999. I decided I wanted more excitement and adventure. Castaway was filmed over 13 months and there had been no TV documentary quite like it.
My abiding memory is happiness. I loved the whole experience—the farming, the self-sufficiency, the beauty of the place. Obviously I missed my family and friends, but I enjoyed everything else about it.
I wouldn’t be doing what I do now without Castaway. For me, it was the starting point of a whole new life.
…seeing a pretty blonde girl with a dog in the park.
It took us about five or six months before we struck up conversation. I then invited her out for a drink and the rest is history.
It was about 2004 and we’d been walking our dogs in Hyde Park. Marina had—and happily still has—a chocolate Labrador, Maggi, and I had a Labrador called Inca, who I had on the island in Castaway.
…The Teatime Islands was the first book I ever wrote
I’d thought about becoming a travel writer when I was very young, and I’d always been fascinated by the idea of these very remote islands in other corners of the world that were British. So I wrote a book about the places I visited—including the Pitcairn Islands, Tristan da Cunha and Diego Garcia.
It was a huge test for me to write 100,000 words, as I had never excelled at English and wasn’t academic. It’s one of my proudest achievements: writing a book, selling it and seeing it do very well.
…capsizing halfway across the Atlantic
It happened while in a rowing boat with James Cracknell in 2005. It was one of those moments where I couldn’t see how we were going to get out of it.
The boat got hit by a wave—we were able to right it and carry on, but it was a good couple of hours of struggling. I’ve never rowed an ocean again, it rather put me off.
…thinking that life is full of lucky breaks
I still don’t know why I was chosen to go on Castaway. Most of the people had some sort of vocation and I didn’t come with very much at all, so I think that was very much a lucky break.
The BBC then picked up on me and asked me whether I wanted to present on Countryfile and Animal Park with Kate Humble—another lucky break.
…learning to adapt to being away from my family
Marina and I have been married for nearly 10 years now and we’ve been able to make our lives work. We’re definitely more solid, especially as we’re now adapting to life with two small children, making it work for them as well. [But] it’s not easy for any of us.
It’s my career and it’s what makes the money, so there’s no easy way out of it. It’s still a work in progress, trying to find that balance between being away and spending time with my family.
…never being happier than in the Western Isles
I still feel like I’m home when I’m there. But obviously in terms of people, I’m never more content than I am when I’m home, which is now in London. Being with my family is what gives me the greatest pleasure.
I don’t know exactly what it is about the Western Isles that appeals to me—it might be the time in my life and what it meant to me, or its white sandy beaches, the skies, the rain, the sunshine, the turquoise water… everything about it. It’s unspeakably beautiful. I’ve travelled to over 100 countries and I still find it the most captivating place on the planet.