Touted as the next David Attenborough, Simon Reeve’s latest four-part documentary series Incredible Journeys – the first episode of which aired on BBC Two on Sunday 24 January – highlights the BBC presenter’s most memorable adventures around the globe from the past 15 years.
The series opens with a focus on the people he’s met along the way, from a moving encounter with a 10-year-old boy working under dangerous conditions in a glass recycling factory in Bangladesh to the Burmese human rights campaigner who led him undercover into the country in 2010.
But, despite his adventurous career, his life beforehand might not be as some expect. Ahead of the series airing, the presenter shared stories of his battle with his own mental health, telling The Mirror that he was a “whisker away” from suicide.
Having not gone to university, he didn’t have any qualifications and faced long term unemployment, and at the age of 17 he said he “spiralled down into quite a dark place”. It was the words of a job centre worker that became his lifelong mantra, urging him to “take things step by step", which allowed him to find hope in the simple act of walking.
It was when he was given the chance to work in the post department at a national newspaper that his life turned around. His career then went from strength to strength when he began conducting investigations into arms dealing, terrorism and organised crime. The research and conclusions he came to formed the basis of his first book The New Jackals, which warned of al Qaeda and preempted terrorist attacks.
In recent years, Reeve has travelled around little known regions of the world for BBC documentaries and has had a near-death experience after contracting malaria in Gabon, been detained by the KGB (the primary security agency for the Soviet Union) and dodged bullets on frontlines.
What Reeve wants to highlight in his new series, Incredible Journeys, is that “you can still make a go of life if you’ve had a tricky start” and his success is thanks to luck, hard work and his troubled past. Having written about his upbringing and his travelling adventures, we take a look at the titles that turned him into a Sunday Times best-seller.
From his honest tell-all autobiography that traces his own inspiring and moving personal mental health experiences to his travelogue of a 23,000 miles trek through the tropics, these tomes may just provide some welcome wanderlust and hope during these trying times.
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‘Step By Step’ by Simon Reeve, published by Hodder & Stoughton
Equal parts an inspiring account of Reeve’s determination and adventurous spirit, as well as a field guide to some of the most remote parts of the world, Step by Step is a vivid and fascinating title. Reader’s may be surprised to learn of his early life struggles with mental health, owing to his onscreen persona, but this traces his journey to inner peace.
‘The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the future of terrorism’ by Simon Reeve, published by Northeastern University Press
Having started his career in the post room at The Sunday Times, the then editor moved him to the newsroom at which point he began honing down a career as an expert on terrorism. The New Jackals was his first book and the one that can be accredited for launching his career as it was the first title on bin Laden and al-Qaeda, it famously warned of future apocalyptic terrorist attacks. Reeve traced and interviewed bin Laden supporters, as well as senior FBI, CIA and Asian intelligence officials, and laid bare classified documents, in order to detail the existence, development and aims of the most dangerous terrorist organisations pre-9/11.
‘One Day in September’ by Simon Reeve, published by Faber & Faber
Following the success of The New Jackals, Reeve became well-known for his research in the field of terrorism. As such, One Day in September is a definitive account of the Munich summer Olympics terrorist attack in 1972. Palestinian terrorists held 11 Israeli athletes and coaches hostage, and more than 900 million viewers followed the chilling, 24-hour event on television as German officials tried to negotiate with the terrorists. Reeve’s provides a dramatic account of one of the most significant attacks of its time, explaining what happened, documenting the aftermath and revealing the extent of Israel’s covert revenge operation. The documentary of the same name went on to win the Oscar for best feature documentary.
‘Tropic of Capricorn: A Remarkable Journey to the Forgotten Corners of the World’ by Simon Reeve, published by BBC Books
Confronting the most important issues of our time – environment and the climate crisis, poverty and globalisation – Reeve’s takes us on his 23,000-mile journey around the southernmost border of the tropics. More than a simple travelogue, the presenter is motivated by a passion to learn more about the forgotten corners of the world, discovering new sights, different rituals and desperate poverty. Tropic of Capricorn was accompanied by a four-part BBC Two series of the same name.
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