It’s late May and 8days.sg is on a Zoom conference call with Ben Fogle. At this point, the British explorer and TV journo has been sequestered with his wife and two kids in their Oxfordshire home for about three months.
Life under lockdown is like “an expedition,” says Fogle, 46, who's spent the downtime with his son Ludo, 10, and daughter Iona, eight, turning half of their garden into a vegetable patch. They even built a little cabin there.
In some ways, Fogle has become just like the people he hung out with on his BBC Earth docu-series Where the Wild Men Are (or New Lives in the Wild, as it’s called in the UK). “I’ve utilised a lot of these experiences that I’ve had over the years [on the show during quarantine]," he exclaims.
On Where the Wild Men, which just dropped its seventh season, Fogle meets the individuals who “have the fortitude and resilience to go against the grain” to uproot their families to far-flung corners of the world to create their own paradise in the wilderness, away from hustle and bustle of the big city.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fogle says the show is “particularly pertinent and poignant”. “The people I’ve met on this series have severed ties to [the modern] world, and they make their own loo roll, produce their own food, have access to their own water supply. So they have absolute freedom that many of us who are quarantined right now are dreaming of.”
He says, “Long [before the pandemic], they have all embraced a slow [pace of] life.” They’re so attuned to their simpler, off-grid, self-sustainable lifestyle that they don’t suffer the same kind of anxieties the rest of us do when we’re cut off from our rat-race, co-dependent existence.
When Fogle checked up on some of these isolationists recently via e-mail, “They all said exactly the same — nothing has changed in their lives one little bit [since the outbreak]. As far as they’re concerned, their world is functioning exactly how they did before. If anything [the lockdown] made their life more ‘wild’, with cleaner skies and fewer aircraft in the air.”
“‘Isolation’ for a lot of people means loneliness, but very rarely have I encountered lonely people in the wild,” Fogle explains. “Loneliness is partly a state of your mind, and if you’ve chosen and you’ve been proactive with the lifestyle that you’ve created, there’s no need for loneliness.”
In other words: They’ll do just fine. “I think they need to worry about me more than me worry about them. They are very hardy, tough individuals.”
Are they as tough as Bear Grylls? Not exactly. “Bear Grylls is very much of a survivalist,” says Fogle who is a friend with the Man vs Wild star. “He is in a battle with nature but all of the people that I lived with [on Where the Wild Men] are not really survivalists. And that’s the big difference.
“Bear has perfected the art of surviving in the most hostile environments, whereas these people have gone through that stage of survival and they’ve started to thrive and make a beautiful life and make it as comfortable as they can. There’s a notion that the wilderness in general is a battle, but my attitude is more like a dance with nature.”
And Fogle can’t wait to resume this man-and-nature boogie once the lockdown is over. “I don’t think Where the Wild Men Are would work over a Zoom call,” he says, with a laugh.
He hopes to touch base with a more diverse group of off-the-map migrants, and not just white people which the show predominantly features. “I am aware of that [under-representation], says Fogle who’s been trying to locate one remote inhabitant in Hongkong for a while (is he referring to Yeah Man?)
Where do Fogle usually find these secluded settlers? With the help of “an amazing team of researchers who have perfected the art of finding the unfindable,” he says. And they usually track down the subjects on — of all places — social media.
“Surprisingly, for all of their isolation, a lot of these people still remain connected to the web,” he continues. “It’s the one thing that we humans seem to be unable to sever our ties with, and a lot of people share their lives online, so all it takes is a search through YouTube and Instagram to find little gems of individuals who have created lives in the middle of nowhere.”
Elsewhere, Fogle would also love to rope in his family on the show as well. “I started out in TV [on a programme called Castaway] 20 years ago in an experiment in which I lived for a whole year on Outer Hebrides, an island off Scotland, with 35 other people and it changed my life. I always thought that one day, I would go to live on a remote island off-grid with my own family.”
Fogle adds, “I’m hoping by next year, we will be able to start exploring, re-visiting people, and meeting people that have really used the COVID-19 epidemic to change their lives. Believe me, there will be many people who, once lockdown has eased, will be heading off to their own wilderness.”
Where the Wild Men Are airs Tue, BBC Earth (StarHub Ch 407), 9.55pm. It’s also available on BBC Player.
Photos: BBC Earth