From meeting grown men who love My Little Pony in Manchester, to getting naked with full time nudists in Bricket Wood and visiting a time travelling cult in Italy, presenter Darren McMullen does it all in his new show Outsiders (10pm, May 9, National Geographic Channel), in which he discovers the most unusual subcultures in Europe.
“I broke two ribs chess boxing, I almost had my nose cut off by medieval knights while jousting, I nearly lost a finger with some Vikings in Sweden, I almost had a ninja break my back while pulverising me into the ground – and it was still the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” says the Scottish presenter, who explains that his best loves are travel and people.
McMullen reveals that even as a boy unusual people fascinated him. “My mum would always laugh and joke about the fact that if they couldn’t find me, I’d be talking to the town drunk or the homeless guy on the corner on the bench, who everybody claimed was a multi millionaire, but chose to not use his cash,” he says, “I like people who are a little bit wacky.”
But this show is not about exposing people’s weaknesses or poking fun at them, “I didn’t want to make fun of these people,” he says, “I wanted to stick to the philosophy – don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”
To prove it, he tried all the subcultures he encountered, no matter how daunting. “I was almost molested by 71-year-old twin prostitutes [in the red light district in Amsterdam]” explains the presenter. “I did jump in the [shop] window to give it a go,” he continues, “and I got rejected quite badly, nobody paid any interest in me whatsoever. It might have been something to do with the fact I was wearing a leather G-string and a mask, but it’s not good for the ego.”
McMullen maps out five places to visit if you want to give an unusual subculture a go…
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It’s a place I went to years ago, and I’ve always found it fascinating. I’m not a Club Med or Tiki kind of guy. When we went we worked our way in on the edge of legality, we went into the favelas and went to favela funk parties and got to see the real Rio de Janeiro. It’s all been cleared up in the lead up to the World Cup and the Olympics, but I’m sure you can still find that in Rio. It’s a real eye opener; you’ve got Copacabana Beach with some of the most expensive real estate in the whole of the country, and right on the hill next to it you have tin shacks that are illegally built, with gangsters, 10-year-olds wielding AK47s, and drug dealers. It’s a real bizarre place, but fascinating. I loved it. I went to Brazil for a two-week holiday and got lost for three months.
The Federation of Damanhur in Italy was absolutely amazing; these are the people who claim to have built time machines. They say they go back to the lost city of Atlantis and make small changes in history to affect things for the better. They have a very well thought out, and almost believable, way of explaining how they go back in time. The way they live is lovely too, they all live in big communities, and there are around 30 of them living in one house. They all come down of a night and share a dinner table and live like one big family. They are all very very intelligent folk, these aren’t people who you would struggle to have an intellectual conversation with.
I was really accepted into the Turkish oil wrestling community. Oil wrestling is a really important part of their culture, it has been going on for 600 odd years, if you ever get the opportunity to check out two massive lubed up guys digging into each other’s kispets (or little leather pants) and grabbing onto anything you can to body slam somebody, do it. It was a heck of a lot of fun.
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Japan is always fascinating; we could do a whole season of Outsiders in Tokyo. They sell dirty knickers in vending machines, they have robot war clubs, with bikini-clad babes driving over-sized robots in boxing rings – it’s got it all. If you’re looking for a really wacky holiday, this is the place to go. It’s great to get in with a local there though. Lots of the really, really fun places they don’t let tourists in. Work your way in with a local and see the real Japan. It’s an eye-opener.
Rope-bondage takes place in the Flying Dutchman Pub, they maintain it’s not erotic, it’s art. I suppose it depends what emotion it conjures up in your body. To a lot of people there, it was just an art form and there were a lot of people just drawing and taking artistic shots, it’s all about the special knots and trying not to catch a vein, because you can actually kill someone. It’s incredibly dangerous. Then there are the people who get turned on by it as well, if you want to find out what kind of person you are, get yourself down to the Flying Dutchman in London once a month. Chess boxing was also brilliant, it takes place in Islington they have big competitions every couple of months, and it is a hybrid of sports – boxing and chess. You may be in the ring with somebody playing chess and then the bell goes and you put your gloves on and batter the bejesus out of each other for three minutes and it’s ding ding, back to the chessboard. You either win by knockout of checkmate. It’s the ultimate sport – a test of brains and brawn.
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Watch Outsiders with Darren McMullen at 10pm, May 9, on National Geographic Channel