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Bear Grylls, a much talked about name, is probably the world's best known living adventurer. However, he is not necessarily known for his adventures, but rather for his successful books and TV shows. But before he could give survival tips in all those media, he had to learn how to survive, right? What is the background of the most recognisable face in the business of survival and what are his most incredible exploits? 🤔
Despite his high profile, sources are divided as to where he was born, some say he was born in London, others say he was born in Bembridge, Isle of Wight, and there is even a source that says Grylls was born in County Down, Northern Ireland. So let's just start this story by stating that Bear Grylls was born in the United Kingdom on the 7th of June 1974.
His real name is Edward Michael Grylls, but his nickname "Bear" came very quickly, a week after his birth to be exact. It was his older sister, a week after he was born, who gave him the nickname, and since then, that's what everyone calls him, so much so that the general public has no idea that he is called Edward Michael.
Bear has athletic blood in his veins, his grandfather and great-grandfather were cricketers. Indeed, from a young age, young Edward learns to climb and sail, then parachute jump and karate. Most importantly, he is curious and eager to discover the world, especially the dangerous and unfamiliar places that force him to go beyond his limits.
His limits, he will have the opportunity to go beyond them, after leaving school, Grylls served in the British Special Forces, in the 21st SAS regiment from 1994 to 1997. There he was trained as a soldier in hand-to-hand combat, desert and winter warfare, survival, climbing, parachuting and explosives. This knowledge, especially in terms of survival, would be passed on to his fans years later.
He later became a survival instructor and was sent on two missions to North Africa. His service in the British Special Forces came to a dramatic end with a serious parachute accident in 1996. His parachute did not open, he survived but broke three vertebrae. 🦴
But this accident did not stop him, of course Bear Grylls is a sportsman, but where he shines the most is in his philosophy. At this point in his life, at 21, Bear is full of dreams, like becoming the youngest person to climb Everest and discover the world. He knew that with three broken vertebrae he would not achieve his dreams, so he fought to get back on his feet as soon as possible.
"Why is it that the finish line always tends to appear just after the point at which we most want to give up? Is it the universe's way of reserving the best for those who can give the most?
What I do know, from nature, is that the dawn only appears after the darkest hour.” Bear Grylls, Mud, Sweat and Tears
Coventry Scouts groups have a visit from Bear Grylls. Uploaded to Commons by Rahat, 6 October 2012, 12:17, Source: Bear Grylls, Author: Jamie Gray from England. (CC BY 2.0)
Last name: Grylls
First Name: Edward Michael "Bear"
Date of birth: 7 June 1974
Occupation: Former SAS soldier, survival instructor and honorary lieutenant colonel, author, television presenter and businessman
📚 Books: Bear Grylls is the author of many books, to list them all would be irrelevant and far too long, so here is a non-exhaustive list of Bear Grylls' books:
- Facing Up (UK)/The Kid Who Climbed Everest (US)
- Facing the Frozen Ocean
- Born Survivor
- Bear Grylls Outdoor Adventures
- Mud, Sweat and Tears
- True Grit
📺 Television: As with the books, the list of shows where Bear Grylls is cited would be endless with no more or less than 90 series or shows where he is credited.
- Man vs. Wild
- Running Wild with Bear Grylls
- You vs. Wild
- World's Toughest Race
- Into the Wild
- Bear's Mission with...
The Feats of the World's Most Recognizable Adventurer
1998 - Climbing the Highest Mountain on Earth at 23
Only 18 months after his skydiving accident, young Bear Grylls travelled to Nepal to try to get to the top of the world. On 16 May 1998, aged just 23, the former SAS serviceman climbed Everest, the world's highest mountain at 8,849 metres high (≃29,000 feet). At the time, he was the youngest person to achieve this feat. A record that will be beaten by a handful of climbers, the record being held by Jordan Romero, who reached the summit at only 13 years old, good luck to those who wish to beat it... 🏔
Neil Laughton and Bear Grylls on the summit of Mount Everest 16 May 1998 Author: Neil Laughton (CCO - 1.0)
Climbing Everest was Bear's childhood dream, a dream that almost cost him his life twice. His adventure in Nepal lasted three months. To begin with, 4 climbers died while Grylls was there, 2 froze to death and 2 fell, enough to discourage the average person.
The young adventurer almost fell into a crevasse too while at 5,800 metres (≃19,000 feet). Fortunately, his rope-mate managed to hold on before he fell completely and died. He also almost got caught in an avalanche that would most likely have killed him, it only passed 30 metres away from him (≃100 feet).
"The special forces gave me the self-confidence to do some extraordinary things in my life. Climbing Everest then cemented my belief in myself." Bear Grylls
2003 - Crossing the North Atlantic, in an Open Inflatable Boat otherwise it's too Easy
Relief location map of Atlantic Ocean, 1 February 2012. Author: Tentotwo (CC BY 3.0)
It seems that Everest wasn't enough for Bear Grylls, so in 2003 he decided to conquer the Atlantic with 4 other people. Their goal was to cross the North Atlantic Ocean in an open inflatable boat of only 11 metres(≃36 feet), an expedition of about 4,800 metres (≃3,000 miles). This is the first crossing of this area in an open inflatable boat ever made. They set off from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and arrived at John o' Groats, Scotland.
During the expedition, Grylls and his team had a near-death experience (yes, again) off the coast of Greenland. Bear explains that they faced a huge force 8 storm 800 km (≃500 miles) off the coast of Greenland that nearly capsized the small boat. Between icebergs, icy winds and gigantic waves, the former SAS soldier says there was nothing he could do except hang on to the boat. 🌊
"There was nothing we could do apart from saying our prayers and hold on to each other and to that boat and pray we came through it, which we did but it was a truly terrifying experience" Bear Grylls
It was during this trip that he received the honorary title of Lieutenant Commander of the Naval Reserve.
2005 - The Champagne Mumm Altitude Challenge, an Atypical Dinner
📷 Credit: Peter Russell's Youtube Channel
In 2005, along with David Hempleman-Adams (businessman and mountaineer) and Alan Veal (head of the Royal Navy's free-fall parachute team) Bear embarked on a new challenge as crazy as it was improbable. The aim was to organise the highest official dinner ever made, and to do this, Grylls trained with over 200 parachute jumps. Dressed in mass garb (and oxygen masks), the 3 men ate in a hot air balloon at an altitude of roughly 7,600 metres (≃25,000 feet). 🍽
Ironically, despite the fact that Bear was extremely high, this was not the highest Bear had ever been in his life. This amazing event was organised in aid of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the Prince's Trust. The Duke of Edinburgh's Award is a philanthropic initiative established in 1956 to encourage young people to reach beyond their limits and contribute to the community. The Prince's Trust is also a charity founded in 1976 by Prince Charles to help young people in need.
2007 - Paramotor over the Himalayas, Bear sets world records
📷 Credit: Discovery's Youtube Channel
When I told you that the Champagne Mumm Altitude Challenge was not the highest Bear has ever been, I wasn't kidding. There's no stopping him now, only 2 years after his last record was broken, in 2007, the former SAS serviceman achieved another feat, which would once again force him to go beyond his limits.
Grylls' goal was to fly over Everest in a paramotor, but he was not allowed to fly anywhere around Chomolangma Feng 1 because of Chinese airspace. Bear therefore flew next to the roof of the world in the Himalayas (which does not detract from his achievement). For good reason, the star of Man Vs. Wild took off at an altitude of 4,400 metres (≃14,400 feet) to reach the symbolic point of 9,000 metres high (≃29,500 feet), which is absolutely enormous.
At this altitude, the air is very thin and the temperature is -60°C (-76°F), so despite the out-of-this-world view, it was no picnic. The previous record in this category was 6,102 metres (≃20,000 feet), so Bear beat the previous record by a wide margin. The event was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK and on Discovery Channel in the rest of the world.
Grylls was extremely scared during the experience, not least because of the lack of oxygen, but as he explains in his autobiographical book: 📕
"If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere."
Bear Grylls, Mud, Sweat, and Tears
2008 - Climbing an untamed peak in Antarctica
Looking at Bear Grylls' track record, you'd think that breaking records would be a piece of cake, in 2008 alone, he broke two. Grylls travelled to Antarctica with 3 other people to climb one of the most remote unclimbed peaks in the world.
Antarctica HDR. Author: House Photography. (CC BY 2.0)
Although the main objective was to raise money for a children's charity. Bear and his team also aimed to test the operation of bioethanol powered jet skis in extreme conditions to promote the use of alternative energy. Finally, they were also to use a wind-powered kite-ski for the same reason.
This last means of transport cut the expedition short as the adventurer broke his shoulder while hanging onto a piece of ice at over 50 km/h (≃31 mph). At this speed, the Man Vs. Wild star was thrown off and landed on his shoulder on the ice. This accident put an end to the expedition, although it took the rescue team the whole weekend to arrive due to the extreme conditions imposed by the White Continent. 🥶
2008 - Longest Indoor Free Fall
For his second record of 2008, Bear Grylls, along with Al Hodgson (double leg amputee) and Freddie McDonald managed to achieve the longest continuous indoor freefall. Sorry to disappoint those who wanted a juicy anecdote, but for once, Grylls didn't nearly die. The previous record was 1 hour and 36 minutes, the 3 men beat this time by only a few seconds, however, the record has been broken since. So even when he's not risking his life, Grylls still manages to come up with a crazy anecdote. 😎
As usual, Bear broke the record for a charity, this time it was for Global Angles. This charitable organisation fights to provide as many resources as possible in disadvantaged areas to break the cycle of poverty.
2010 - Crossing the Northwest Passage for the Environment
📷 Credit: beargryllsweb's Youtube Channel
Bear Grylls definitely likes to cross risky areas in small boats. This time, he travelled to the Northwest in 2010 with four other people in an ice-breaking rigid inflatable boat. The aim was to raise awareness of melting ice and to raise funds for Global Angels, with whom he had already worked in 2008.
During the 13-day expedition, Bear and his small crew faced the same kind of problems as during their North Atlantic crossing in 2003 (huge waves, ice blocks to avoid, etc.). Grylls did not have a near-death experience this time, but one of the crew members had quite a shock. A man named Ben took a piece of metal to the face, the rest of the crew had to deal with the waves, the ice blocks and Ben was confused and bleeding from the face.
Apart from this accident, there were no problems (if you don't consider storms and freezing temperatures as problems). Taking a small boat was important for the team to be able to get to hard-to-reach areas. Bear and his team stopped at a small island where they found some burials. It is possible that the bones belong to some of the members of the Franklin expedition of 1845.
Grylls was horrified to see how fast the ice was melting, some experts say the Northwest Passage should have no ice in summer by 2030... Bear was torn between awe and wonder, between the catastrophic melting of the ice and this magical landscape. 🤩
"this is really the most spectacular place on earth" said Bear in an interview
To list all the adventures of Bear Grylls would be endless, this man has seen more of the world than the vast majority of us. Especially since the expeditions described above are only the accomplishments Bear has made outside of his many successful shows.
Few people on this planet have had a better TV career than Bear Grylls. Even though he is now known as the hero of Man Vs. Wild, he did a lot of TV before he became the success he is today.
Bear got his start in advertising with his small but growing fame after his Mount Everest feat and his first expeditions. From deodorant to retail to cereal, Grylls first showed his talents on camera in less glamorous roles.
Successful and rewarding shows
But if you know Bear Grylls, it's because he's hosted a number of successful adventure and survival shows. He has been the hero of 15 shows to date, so this article will only cover the main ones to avoid being redundant and too long.
Bear Grylls. Author : The National Churches Trust (CC BY 2.0)
Let's start with the series that made him famous, Man Vs. Wild (2006-2011):
Also called Ultimate Survival or Born Survivor: Bear Grylls (the show even has another name). The concept is simple, our adventurer presenter is sent into a hostile environment (often with very little equipment - knife, canteen, ropes). He has to get back to civilization as quickly as possible, giving survival tips to the viewer.
A simple concept that proved to be very effective, it is one of the most watched programmes in history, having reached around 1.2 billion viewers. Its success is also critical, the series was nominated for an Emmy Award. Man Vs. Wild ended in 2011 due to contractual disagreements, although Bear would later work again with the broadcaster, Discovery Channel.
His next big hit was 2014's The Island with Bear Grylls, which won two BAFTAS. Despite some controversy, the show was a success. Hosted by Bear Grylls, the show tests the ability of its contestants to survive on a deserted island. The series has even been adapted in other countries, with the famous explorer Mike Horn in the French adaptation. 🏝
Also in 2014, Grylls hosted another show that quickly found its audience, Running Wild with Bear Grylls. The show did so well because of its simple yet ingenious concept, with Bear accompanying a celebrity on an adventure in a hostile environment. Some of the stars who have appeared on the show are world-class celebrities such as Michael B. Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Julia Roberts, Lena Headey and even former US President Barack Obama to name but a few. As with The Island, a French version with Mike Horn was broadcast in France.
Grylls has also worked with major streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. Respectively with the Emmy-nominated You Vs Wild, The World Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge and Hostile Planet, also nominated for an Emmy.
To finish on the adventurer presenter's biggest successes, Bear holds the world record for social impressions in the most popular infotainment on earth. This historic record was broken in 2019, when Grylls did a special episode of Man Vs. Wild with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Broadcast in over 180 countries, the event has so far received 3.6 billion impressions. It has become the most popular television event in the world to date.
Bear has also appeared on many popular talk shows such as Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Despite his many successes and astronomical numbers, Grylls has not escaped much criticism, often justified. 😤
Anecdotes and Scandals
Often for cost or security reasons, many of the shows with Bear were faked.
- Like the time the adventurer-presenter showed us "wild horses" that were brushed and shod.
- Another episode supposedly set on a remote South Pacific island was actually filmed in Hawaii.
- Even more surprisingly, Grylls had to escape the fury of an active volcano even though the volcano was completely extinct, and the show used special effects and smoke.
- The Island with Bear Grylls has been accused of sexism for excluding women from the first season.
There are many other controversies about Grylls' shows, which undermine the immersion and credibility of his shows. However, it should be remembered that even though Bear is a few feet away from civilization instead of in the wild, the advice he gives is still perfectly useful for survival.
Despite the many tricks and sandals in these shows, Grylls is still a survival expert who has done things that few people can boast of having had the courage to do. So here are the top 10 most intriguing (or sickening) Bear Grylls anecdotes:
- He drank Yak blood
- He soaked his urine in a scarf and put it on his head to keep from getting dehydrated
- He ate snake 🐍
- He drank elephant dung juice 💩
- He used the carcass of a sheep as a buoy to float on the water
- He ate live spiders 🕷
- He fought an alligator and won 🐊
- He skinned a camel to use its corpse as cover 🐫
- When Barack Obama was filming with Grylls, the president agreed to eat a leftover salmon left by a bear without calling on his taster to "live the thing"
- A bee stung him during a shoot, anaphylactic shock nearly killed him 🐝
Bear Grylls is not Limited to Expeditions and Broadcasts
The adventurer and presenter is also a best-selling author, selling over 20 million copies worldwide. His autobiography, Mud Sweat and Tears, spent 15 weeks in the Sunday Times bestseller list, making it one of the best-selling autobiographies in the world. 📖
Bear is also a motivational speaker, giving speeches to share his experiences, values and advice around the world. 🎤
In 2009, Bear Grylls became the youngest Chief Scout in the UK since Robert Baden-Powell in 1920. An honorary position he held until 2018. On 16 November of that year, he became the first Chief Ambassador of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. Scouting has long been an important part of Bear's life and he often visits scout groups when he has the opportunity. ⛺
"I'm very proud and humbled to take on this new role as Chief Ambassador of World Scouting and continue to promote the great work Scouting is doing across the globe. Scouting is a worldwide force for good that unites young people with positive values and an adventurous spirit. We aim to make a difference in our communities, help young people learn new skills, and be kind to all people.” Bear Grylls
As you've seen from Bear's many exploits between 1998 and 2010, the adventurer and presenter has often raised money for a number of organisations. In addition to the charitable efforts already mentioned, Grylls has worked with:
- Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
- He has raised money for his friend who lost his legs
- He has appeared in ads encouraging people to donate money to help the victims of the 2011 New Zealand earthquake.
- He is an ambassador for the Trusk Trust
- Bear participated in the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) fundraiser for injured marines
In the same vein, Grylls advocates kindness and goodwill as some of the most important qualities to have:
"We had a sergeant called Chris Carter, who was killed in Afghanistan. I always remember the first desert deployment I did with him. The helicopter to pick us up was delayed by a few days. I was out of water and really struggling. I remember him giving me one of his last cupfuls - and he was in bits, you know. It gave me more strength than the water gave me. I told the story to his family many years later after he'd died. I don't remember him for his fighting or brilliance, but for his kindness.” Bear Grylls
Bear Grylls has had an exceptional career in some of the most select circles such as television with his hit shows or the army with his numerous honorary ranks. His travels make people dream, his exploits command respect and his quotes are truly inspiring, there are no other men like him.
Today, Grylls continues to do charity work, broadcast and communicate these values. He is married to Shara Grylls, with whom he has three sons. The five of them live between London and their private islands off the Welsh coast.
How else could I end this article than with Bear's motto, which, despite its simplicity, sums up the man's life rather well:
"courage and kindness ... and never give up!" 💪