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Ed Stafford: First Man Out – How I Made It interview: ‘You can’t make this show harder… we’re going to get hurt’
Ed Stafford talks about how a survivalist and explorer copes in lockdown, the joys of bushcraft and the jaw-dropping new series of First Man Out on Discovery Channel.
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“I suppose I did go into survival mode. A lot suddenly changed.” Ed Stafford, a man who makes his living travelling the world and as a survivalist, is looking back at the strange events of 2020.
Not only did the Discovery Channel explorer suddenly have to find new ways to make a living, but he also had some big events going on at home.
“We had twins and my wife has been pregnant the whole time, so the silver lining has been getting loads of time with her and spending lots of time with my boy,” he said.
“I know a lot of people have suffered, a lot of people have died, so I’m not dismissing that at all, but for us, it’s been a nice family time actually.”
Stafford is back on TV screens this autumn with a new series of his hit survival competition First Man Out, in which the presenter races against skilled opponents in some of the most dangerous environments on the planet - from glaciers and deserts to high-altitude marshlands.
In an exclusive BT.com interview, we caught up with Stafford to find out some behind-the-scenes secrets from the making of the show, and to discover how a true survivalist copes in a global pandemic…
'It’s harder than I thought being at home with my family'
Despite being someone who regularly travels the world for work, Stafford doesn’t have much time for people complaining about the restrictions that 2020 have brought on us all.
“I think everyone who has had their travels curtailed is a bit frustrated but equally, it seems a very minor thing to worry about with all the troubles in the world,” he said.
“Not being able to travel as much is not a big deal. It’s only a year isn’t it? Sometimes I get more annoyed at the people grumbling about it than I do the situation. We’ve just embraced all the possibilities and opportunities.”
The hardest challenge for the 44-year-old has been learning how to live under one roof with a pregnant wife and young child.
Who is Ed Stafford?
- He holds the Guinness World Record for being the first human ever to walk the length of the Amazon River
- Ed’s first son Ran is named after British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes
- He thought he’d be a stockbroker, but he failed to get a job in the City
“What I have learnt about myself? I think I learnt that it was harder than I thought being at home with just the family,” he admitted.
“The early days of lockdown when we only had one form of exercise, I felt the release of the stresses and pressure as I went off for my run off over the fields every day and I could see the village fading into the distance behind me.
“There was some freedom in that. And I think that was very privileged, I know some people couldn’t have that ability.
“But I think everyone felt the same thing, uncertainty, claustrophobia, struggling with mental health problems and it was about looking for the little things that could ground you.”
'I don’t think the show could be any tougher'
The latest series of First Man Out was filmed entirely in China, which was a new challenge for Stafford.
“It’s so diverse,” he said. “There were high-altitude marshlands, desert areas, island-hopping off Hong Kong, high-altitude cold weather with glaciers.”
Stafford said he wouldn’t choose the word “enjoyable” for the brutal challenges he faces in this series, preferring the adjective “intense” to describe his latest adventures.
“You’ve got to make these shows tough, because the viewers can see if you’re not. If you’re not pushing the boundaries, the viewer feels cheated,” he said,
However, the explorer believes they may have reached their limit in pushing the danger factor. One member of the crew, who was looking after a helicopter drone capturing aerial footage, ended up with a pulmonary edema as Stafford raced across 4,000-metre high mountains.
“There were a number of occasions, where I think this series we made it too tough. We risked altitude sickness and it was dangerous territory. We’re not fed, so our decision making gets confused," he said.
“At the end of that episode, I said 'I don’t think you can push us any harder, because we’re going to get hurt. I don’t think it should get any tougher because I think you’ll get an accident'.”
'Two days after the shoot, they removed her hamstring'
It may be a brutal race for Stafford, but he had no trouble finding keen competitors to push him to the limit on the show.
In episode three, he takes on Hollywood stuntwoman Ky Furneaux, who was so determined to take part in the series that she hid a terrible injury from the crew.
“Ky is very competitive. She’s extraordinary. She’s an Australian Hollywood stunt woman and two days after the shoot, she had a hamstring removed from her leg.
“It had been screwed on and the screws were coming loose and tearing through her leg. She was in excruciating pain throughout the whole race but she wouldn’t tell us because she was afraid they wouldn’t let us race. She’s hard as nails.”
Other competitors in the new series is Kiwi bushman Josh Hames (“James is part-Maori and you can see that passion in his eyes”), a US marine who is also a ninja, and flint knapper Will Lord, a man who Stafford considers a father figure.
“Will’s home is ridiculous. You walk in and there are bear skins on the floor, the ceilings are caked in tar because he uses oil skin lamps. It’s like going into the dark ages. There is a cauldron on grates in the kitchen and it’s all smoky. It’s literally like they live in the middle-ages,” he said.
“Having someone like him on the show adds credibility because he’s an expert in his field. And I really looked up to him. He taught me how to make a longbow, he showed me how to start a fire with friction. And the biggest one was making cutting tools out of stones.
“We knew we’d have a hug at the end of the show. It was like a dad vs lad rugby match.”
'Getting outside is the cheapest and natural way to become a healthier version of you'
During lockdown, Stafford has been developing an online bushcraft course to give fans and young viewers a helpful guide on simple tasks like sharpening knives, building fires, cooking and chopping down trees.
Stafford said people are probably reaching their limit when it comes to “how many dog walks you can go on” during lockdown and hopes people will be inspired to take on new challenges outdoors.
“The more skills you have, the longer you can stay out and it’s good for your soul,” said the explorer.
“It’s good for your mental health in this horrendous period of uncertainty and introspection. It’s one of the cheapest and natural ways to become a healthier version of you.”
Stafford fears for future generations if we keep heading down the dark avenue of new technologies and don't consider how he we balance them with the natural world and great outdoors.
“I do see the pratfalls and downfalls of people spending too much time in front of their TV and on their phones,” said Stafford.
“I’ve lived on a desert island with my wife and boy and seen the positive effects that can have on all three of us.
“Phones and tablets, it’s all new technology right now and we’re not managing it right.”
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