Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week sees competitors endure training with some of the world’s toughest special forces. That’s a bit of a departure from some of the things you’ve done recently…
Definitely. Coming after filming The Insider, a series of some quite dark stuff, it felt good to do something different. It’s the perfect mix of two worlds I love – there’s the fun entertainment part but a challenge element to it too.
The SAS motto – Who Dares Wins – could easily apply to your career…
In a nutshell, I only do stuff that I’m genuinely interested in. I’ve got to a place where, for want of a better phrase, I’m dancing to the beat of my own drum and I’m in charge of where my career goes. It’s really nice because for so long other people have steered what I do, but for the last five or six years that hasn’t been the case and
I think that’s really changed how people see me. Filming the kind of documentaries I’ve made has given me access to worlds you would never otherwise see; they shift the way you look at the world and that’s something I’m really drawn to.
Could you cut it in the SAS?
No way – the competitors are made up of the kind of people who run marathons for fun. They were a million times tougher than me, including the women, most of whom would be able to batter me at any of the challenges. They were all so strong and well-trained and such finely tuned machines – it was incredible to watch them go.
What did the show teach you?
I learned that the most successful people were able to separate how they were feeling from what they were doing. They had this incredible mental strength which meant that even if they were carrying a massive weight in 35-degree heat for ten kilometres they were able to say, “I’m just carrying this box, I’m not thinking about how long I’m carrying it for, I’m just keeping going.’’ It’s quite a good lesson for life.
You’ve been in some tricky situations – The Insider series took you behind bars in Texas and on to the front line of drug cartel wars in Mexico. Were you ever scared?
The way I get through is by focusing on the show as a whole and thinking that I’m potentially starting some interesting conversations – if I keep that in the front of my mind I’m able to silence the voices telling me that I’m in a dangerous environment. That said, the situations I find myself in are often more upsetting than frightening. In Mexico the thing that struck me most about the people I met is that they’re in a place that they love and call home but which also happens to be unbelievably dangerous, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. That’s just incredibly sad.
A lot of your documentary work is for BBC3. Is that audience important to you?
I’ve grown up with that audience because I’ve been out there for years – there are people in university who’ve watched me their entire lives as I’ve done everything from pre-school stuff to teen shows, entertainment, drama, radio and now factual. As you age your interests shift and develop and fortunately there’s a generation of kids who have been able to grow with me, not just in terms of age but interests as well.
In this “post-truth” age do you think it’s more important than ever to engage with the younger generation?
I think there’s a glut of information online and on screen that is heavily weighted towards the superficial, so for there to be programming that adds value is imperative.
You’ve been pretty busy. What’s next?
I’m actually about to go to about three or four different countries for the next series of The Insider, as well as visiting Uganda for a Comic Relief project. So between now and March I’m pretty much all over the world. I’ve got very good at packing a suitcase efficiently, put it that way!
Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week is on tonight at 9pm on BBC2