An invitation to Battersea Power Station to celebrate the launch of Bear Grylls’ latest TV series means only one thing – that ‘the Bear’ would be performing an abseil down the side of the famous London landmark, thus displaying how he has lost none of his derring-do after countless seasons of the hugely successful ‘Born Survivor’.
The waiting throng all knew this was going to happen – the only question was from where on the searchlight-drenched walls of the power station he would appear – surely not from the top of one of the chimneys? (now that would be impressive). The air of inevitability was quickly dispelled, however, by the pyrotechnics that were to follow. Shooting flames several hundred feet high (the new series is called ‘Escape From Hell’ after all) were projected onto the side of the power station, while enormous explosions went off all around, and a huge sound system pumped out a cacophonous soundtrack of, well… hell. In fact so impressive were the flames (real and otherwise) that residents on the other side of the Thames were moved to phone up the fire brigade to report that “Battersea Power Station is on fire”, and several fire engines duly turned up minutes later.
Once Bear was safely on the ground and he’d revealed that for him the best bit of the stunt was “peeing off the side of the building”, the gathered press and dignitaries were ushered into a screening room where we were treated to a preview of the new series, kicking off on the Discovery Channel on October 7th. Bear was interviewed on-stage by Richard Bacon, who skilfully alternated between questions of open-jawed disbelief and mischievous leg-pulling (example: when Bear explained how he used a dead seal’s skin as a jacket to keep him warm when swimming in the Arctic, Bacon suggested that he was lucky not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or he might have been clubbed).
So what about the series? Well it looks pretty good actually. This time Bear is re-telling the stories of a variety of unlucky outdoor folk who have found themselves in life-threatening survival situations, but somehow – through sheer will or ingenuity, or both – have made it back to civilisation alive. The stories range from a crystal meth-smoking snowboarder who found himself lost in the Canadian Rockies (funny that…), a competitor in the Marathon des Sables who got caught in a sandstorm for 8 hours and drank bat’s blood to stay hydrated, and a Frenchman who survived in the jungle by eating frogs and other assorted jungle minutiae.
In the programmes, interviews with the survivors are cunningly cut between clips of Bear re-creating their epic escapes and suggesting what they might have done better or made their ordeals that much easier. Asked if there were any messages he was trying to get across with ‘Escape From Hell’, Bear responded that the survival instinct in humans – or these particular individuals, at least – is so strong that our physical and mental abilities are raised when put in life and death situations. He also touched on the notion – one that will be familiar with many trekkers and mountaineers – that one mistake or unlucky break can lead to a series of incidents that make your situation ever more worse.
As well as being impressed with the slick editing and graphics (including ‘heads-up-display’ type grid/technical info that’s overlaid on the video), we found that some of the real survivors were seriously entertaining, even laugh-out-loud funny at times (or maybe that was the complimentary Champagne kicking in?). For example, the American runner lost in the desert sounded like a cariacature of an Italian Mafioso (think MTV’s infamous Mike Strutter), as he spluttered out.. “it was at this point that I knew this was SOME–F**CKING–HIKE”. Or the Frenchman who kept reiterating just how delicious the frogs he caught in the jungle were.
Love him or hate him (and I reckon some of his harsher critics should try dismounting from their high horses for once…) you can’t deny that Grylls is pure entertainment, and it’s no surprise that his popularity among kids particularly is sky-high. If you can put your scepticism aside and buy into (or at least tolerate) Grylls’ made-for-TV adventure hero persona – then I guarantee you will find ‘Escape From Hell’ entertaining at the very least – and you may even learn how to create fire using just some chewing gum and a battery.