Simon Reeve


From humble beginnings at Highbury College in Cosham to encounters with box jellyfish and green-bottomed bush tucker Down Under. We spoke to Simon Reeve about his latest Australian adventure and how it all began in Hampshire...

If you enjoyed Simon Reeve’s exotic escapade around the edge of the Indian Ocean, you’ll be pleased to hear Simon’s back on the BBC in early summer with more adventures around the world’s largest island. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that Simon was located closer to home in Hampshire.After a stint on the dole, Simon finally landed his first ‘proper job’ as a post boy at The Sunday Times when he was 19.Keen to get his life moving in the right direction, he managed to persuade his employers to send him on a basic journalism course at Highbury College in Cosham. "I begged the people at the newspaper to give me a chance in life because I’d been a complete failure at school in London," he explains.Simon packed his life into his lime green Triumph Spitfire and moved to Portsmouth, where he lodged with a local family around the corner from the college."I spent a lot of time by the side of the road trying to fix that car. The most stupid thing I’ve ever bought!" he laughs.Highbury College proved to be a much more adult setting than school and Simon threw himself into it with gusto."I realised that I had a chance, and that if I took it then the newspaper would be pleased and they’d give me more jobs and responsibilities. I owe an awful lot, if not everything to Highbury College. They really were quite an inspiring lot! I’m not saying it was the making of me, but I doubt I’d be where I am now without them frankly. They gave me that leg up at a critical moment after I’d failed everything else academically. The course was a bit more practical and the lecturers were brilliant - they got you really involved and motivated."When he did get time out, Simon could often be spotted embracing student life: "There were a lot of pubs involved down in Southsea!" he laughs. But his hard work certainly paid off as fast forward a decade or two and Simon has just returned from the second of three trips to Australia for a BBC travel series."We can’t claim to be covering the entire country, even in three months - it’s big! But we have been putting in a fair amount of miles - I think we drove 2500 miles on the last leg."Simon and his team have already travelled from Darwin in the north, across to the Great Barrier Reef; and cruised down the east coast, taking in the cities and countryside. The final leg of his journey will take him south from the red centre and across to Perth on the west coast – where he assures me he’ll be trying a few very important Australian exports at the Murray River vineyards!"The programmes I do are a mixture of travel, adventure and issues," Simon explains, "to give you a taste there was a period when one day we were filming a story about how koalas are endangered in eastern Australia. How they are suffering a lot as the suburbs expand and they are being run over by cars. We went to meet people who adopt koalas and care for them in their homes and visited a hospital where doctors are looking after these incredibly sweet and lovely animals."Then the next day, we met members of a motorcycle gang, who are said to be one of the big organised crime groups in eastern Australia. They were these massive, macho, pumped up blokes covered in tattoos who had this absolutely fearsome reputation, but were, of course, incredibly welcoming and hospitable. It was just the complete contrast... one day koalas, next day motorcycle gang. It is that exotic mix that is part of the excitement of the journey to Australia," he explains.And it seems excitement, and perhaps a little (controlled) danger, is exactly what Simon is after. One highlight from the trip that really upped the danger quotient involved man-handling the most deadliest creature on the planet!"We went to Cape York, an extraordinary wilderness on the North East of the country with a venom hunter. He’s a professor who hunts down the box jellyfish – to take samples of its venom."They are studying the venom in the hope that they can come up with new drugs to treat our most intractable human ailments, and because the cocktail of elements within the venom itself is so sophisticated, they can disentangle it and hopefully use some of the components to create new pharmaceutical drugs."One sting from these complex creatures can mean certain death, yet Simon still donned a "rather-too-thin wetsuit" and got into the water with them."I was quite scared!" he explains, "yet it was exhilarating as got to the point where I was holding a box jellyfish in my hand. I don’t think I had a glove on either! But I had the safe end of the jelly fish and not the lethal end!"Despite the deadly tenants, Australia’s shores attract over a million visitors a year to dive amongst the single largest living organism in the world: the Great Barrier Reef. Simon flew out with a reef pilot whose job it is to pilot huge container and coal ships through the Great Barrier Reef without hitting any of the pristine habitat."It’s a hell of a job!" Simon explains. "At some points the ships are just a metre off the bottom."Back on dry land, another adventure involved Simon spending the night with a unique military unit."Norforce are largely made up of indigenous aboriginal soldiers who are absolute specialists at surviving in the great vastness of the northern outback. They patrol and guard Australia’s northern flank from drug and people smugglers."We got fully togged up with camouflage gear and paint and they took us out on patrol overnight. I had a sore throat, so they brewed up a couple of ant’s nests to make a really delicious, citrusy smoky tea, made from ants with bright green bottoms."Whilst Simon enjoyed a bit of bush tucker with his companions, he was moved by the significant relationship between the soldiers."There is such a troubled history and ongoing situation between Aboriginal Australia and white mainstream Australia, so it was really beautiful to see the camaraderie - it almost brings a lump to my throat to remember it."As well as the outback, Simon also sampled some of Australia’s cosmopolitan cities and was bowled over by Sydney."I’d never been before, but it is a really impressive place. I went out for a couple of jogs, just to get a bit of distance and see more of it from street level, and I felt like I was on a film set!"When Simon isn’t away filming, he’s happy to be at home in England with his 22 month-old-son, Jake."I’m not as keen to be away these days. It’s my job and I love doing it but I recognise that my principal duty is to be a dad. I have to balance the need to earn the money and be there to change nappies."What I have been really lucky to experience, is going to lots of countries, and actually coming to the conclusion that, yes, it does rain a bit here, but Britain is actually pretty damn good. We live in a very beautiful country."