Extreme adventurer Ed Stafford on eating tadpoles, nudity and bad energy

"Isolation is a powerful thing – and not to be underestimated. A man's mind in isolation is sometimes something to be scared of"


The British survivalist with a penchant for nudity is back on the Discovery Channel tonight.


In his show Marooned, Ed Stafford is left high and dry in inhospitable places, equipped with nothing but an emergency phone, medical kit and a camera.

We asked him how he ended up as a full-time adventurer and whether he’d recommend tadpoles as a snack…

In tonight’s episode, you face intense sunlight and freezing temperatures in Patagonia – which is harder to cope with?

In all honesty it’s the cold that scares me. Especially in just a pair of shorts, barefoot, in Patagonia – the end of the Earth! But that’s probably why I took my eye off the ball: I was so focused on getting a nice warm fire going that I disregarded the strength of the sun and got taught a humiliating lesson. I had to ask for a shirt to be brought in by the supporting crew that were in a camp a few miles away. They left it for me to pick up and wear as I’d got badly burnt and couldn’t afford to allow it to worsen. Days of the Costa Del Sol coming back to haunt me!

And you subsist on wild woodland salad, tadpoles and ant eggs – which was the tastiest? 

The salad was tasty – if a tad insubstantial. Would have been great for my pre-wedding diet. The tadpoles – as inconspicuous as they sound – were one of the worst-tasting things I’ve ever put in my mouth!! Essentially, if you think about it, tadpoles are just small sacks of intestines with a tail. And we all know what intestines are full of. Each swallow made me wretch and I’ve eaten some manky things in my day.

On a raft at Lacandon sink hole in Guatemala

Why did you fall ill on the island in the Philippines? 

Coron Island had bad energy about it. I know I sound like a hippy saying that, but the more time I spend alone and with tribal people, the more in tune I am to the energy of places and situations. It was the local rubbish dump for locals and full of broken glass and leaking dead batteries. It was a part of nature that seemed disconnected and broken. I felt shit as soon as I arrived and struggled to even stand on day two. I developed cellulitis in my leg (self-diagnosed as I’d had it before in Borneo) and just felt like I was wasting my time there.

It’s an interesting episode for me because it also took me back to the haunting memories of Olorua (an island I was dumped on for 60 days completely alone) where I fell apart before I made a life for myself. Isolation is a powerful thing – and not to be underestimated. They use it as the worst punishment in prison and they use it to break terrorist prisoners. A man’s mind in isolation is sometimes something to be scared of.

What was it like being abandoned in Arctic Norway? Presumably not naked?

Norway had me worried because I was right on the Arctic Circle, but it was actually remarkably like Britain in the winter. I was allowed clothes in this episode and I felt comfortable in the forest by the fjords. Food (in the form of mussels) were plentiful and I learned how to build a long fire to keep my whole body warm at night. My fire was so good that one night I set fire to my shelter and almost cooked myself alive. Luckily everything was so damp it was easy to put out.

Keeping warm in Norway

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How did you become a full-time adventurer?

I was never really into adventure or expeditions until I left the military. I was trying to get a job and there was a long list of very, very boring ones provided by a company called the Officers Association, who help ex-army officers get jobs in real life – really boring estate agent-type jobs.

Then there was an advert for an expedition leader in Belize for gap year kids on a conservation project. That was the moment where I was like: hang on, what I learned in the scouts doesn’t have to be applied seriously in wartime situations; it can be a really fun career as well. That was when I realised expeditions were the life for me.

How did you end up with your own TV show?

I’d done expeditions for seven or eight years, sometimes with volunteers, sometimes with film crews. I was a tour guide but in an extreme way. And I just thought: I want to do something massive, something that I can be really proud of.

I’d read books about people who’d kayaked the Amazon but I’m rubbish at kayaking so that was out. And then I twigged that nobody had ever walked the whole length of the Amazon before. So I decided I’d do it and film it as well because a mate who worked on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here told me to take a camera because it would make amazing TV. Two and a half years of filming made two one-hour films, which were shown on Discovery and Channel 4 amazingly. 

But how did you end up naked?

Discovery said: “We want you to go and do something else”. I had no intention of doing another two and a half year walk so I realised I’d have to make it harder. So I started stripping out everything: help from other people, food, equipment. And eventually it got to: If you were dropped off on a desert island, stark bollock naked for two months, would you be able to survive? I really didn’t know if I would be able to do it or not so it was a bit of a baptism by fire!

Drinking water from a tortoise shell in Namibia

What was your lowest moment in this series?

The Philippines. It was a miserable experience and I was haunted by the worst days in my past. I couldn’t wait to leave.

And your favourite? 

Tickling a fish under a river bank in Argentina. I’ve never caught a fish with my bare hands before and the sheer surprise that I actually got one was incredible. I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat shouting “I’ve tickled a fish. I’ve tickled a fucking fish!”

Marooned with Ed Stafford returns on Thursday 22nd September, Discovery Channel at 9pm

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