Star Interview: Ray Mears

Ray Mears
Ray Mears

Talking to survival expert Ray Mears it becomes clear very quickly that he takes bushcraft extremely seriously. I realise this will be no interview full of jokes about the funny things he has eaten or the dramatic times when he has nearly died.

He knows his craft too well.

Ray Mears will soon be sharing more of his bushcraft wisdom and tales of survival tips with audiences in Northampton when he arrives at the Royal & Derngate on Monday, October 21 to present his show, called An Evening With Ray Mears – The Outdoor Life!”

So what can people expect?

“I will be talking about my experiences in the outdoors. I will be talking about some practical topics to do with being safe and attitudes that are necessary in the wild. There will be a little bit of philosophy and hopefully it will be an inspirational evening.”

Ray has become a household name due to his amazing knowledge of survival in the wilderness and the many TV programmes in which he has appeared, including Track, World Of Survival and Trips Money Can’t Buy with Ewan McGregor. He has also written 10 survival books, including his autobiography (published last month).

For Ray, his interest in the outdoors grew from his childhood.

“My interest started as a child,” he said. “I became fascinated with tracking animals and I wanted to follow foxes. And eventually I thought it would be nice to stay out in the evenings and I would have a greater chance of seeing them, particularly in the mornings, but I didn’t have any camping equipment. At the school I went to, we had to do judo, it was a lesson, and the man who taught it, it turns out, had been behind the lines in Burma during World War Two. I, as a young lad, said to him ‘well I won’t be able to camp out, I haven’t got any equipment’ and he said, ‘well you don’t need it, you need these sorts of skills, this is what we used to do’ and that is when the door opened and I stepped through and I haven’t stopped learning since.

“What he taught was an interest in these sorts of skills and the attitudes that go with them, those are the key things. He was a wonderful mentor. But in my life there has been a quest for these skills and searching them out and finding out how to do things and that is something that continues today; you never stop learning.”

Ray jokes that, as he is still around to talk to me, it is obvious he has never made any terrible mistakes when it comes to staying alive in remote climates, but he does tell me: “Once I was working with a colleague – he was a professor of archeobotany – and we were exploring which foods our ancestors may have eaten. He had a hunch that a particular toxic plant could be processed in a certain way and we had attempted this method he suggested and cooked this particular root and I was very sceptical at the time but he was very convincing. So we tried it and we were eating the result and I said to him ‘so, umm, are you sure this method works?’ and he said ‘theoretically it should work’ and I said ‘so why is my mouth swelling up?’ We laughed, but it had worked and no harm was done.”

Today Ray still runs Woodlore, the school of bushcraft he founded in 1983. He said: “Survival is the shorthand of bushcraft, but you teach it to pilots and to soldiers. It is a very brutal and necessary subject; a very important subject. Bushcraft is the longhand, it is the more beautiful subject, it is the repository of knowledge from which survival skills are gleaned. When it comes to the types of person we get on courses you cannot say ‘it is this type of person, or that type of person,’ it is every type of person you could meet walking down any high street in Britain. One thing they have in common is they all have an interest or a passion for nature.”

And as for the worst thing Ray has ever had to eat? (I had to ask). Ray said: “Everyone asks me that and my answer is always Brussels Sprouts, I also don’t think they are edible. I can’t stand them, I think they are absolutely revolting.”