Despite his father’s parliamentary calling – he was a Surrey MP between 1970 and 1997 – Bear Grylls says he never wanted to stand for political office.
“In the old days, if you wanted to change society, you had to be prime minister,” he says. “Nowadays if you want to inspire or help people learn, you can do it so powerfully through TV. There is a different power now, and in many ways it’s harder for politicians compared with celebrities to win the respect of young people. It is easier through my job because young people dig the outdoors.”
He might not chase political power, but Bear still thinks he has one or two things to teach the next generation about how to win at life. So what would be the Chief Scout’s advice? What are the Bear Necessities of life?
Get fit… “School gives you Latin and maths, but no one is telling you how to eat healthily. Surely how to be fit and healthy is a fundamental part of life. I love seeing people develop confidence through getting fitter and trimmer.”
Outdoor classes for all… “I’m a big believer in outdoor education and empowerment and doing things with friends. Having outdoor adventures builds a pride and confidence that you wouldn’t get in the classroom. Outdoor classes should be part of the curriculum.”
Ban computer games… “We’re all involved in the same battle with our kids, and it’s hard because it’s such a cultural thing. But I think that being on the computer all the time erodes imagination. Over new year our family spent a week away on a sailing boat. We purposely took no computer games, and after a couple of days of meltdowns, it was amazing. The kids loved it. I don’t want to be a woodland bore because I’m not like that, but the best things in life aren’t things. We have that written up on our kitchen wall.”
Climb mountains… “I think kids get a hard time. We go to some tough estates with the Scouts, and I find that kids don’t lack ambition, they lack opportunities. If they don’t have opportunities, they get frustrated, go defensive and the hoodies come up. But when you give them opportunities and take the shackles off, they love it. I take seven-year-olds up the mountains, and I see these massive smiles come across their faces.”
Take risks… “You have to teach kids to manage risks. I have friends who don’t expose their kids to any risk, and that’s so disempowering. My kids know how to use knives safely and the irony is, they’re less likely to cut off their hands than children who have not been taught, because they know how to use a knife. It’s not about being a bush-craft bore — these skills can be applied to the rest of life.”
Community service… “Show me a group in this country that doesn’t think it’s a good idea for 16-year-olds to do some form of community service. For me, it’s learning about people from different backgrounds, whether it’s seeing how rubbish is collected or how nurses are trained. That way you learn about contributing to the community. No voter would think that’s a bad idea.”