Megan Hine is the woman who makes sure an environment is safe for Bear Grylls and his companions. She talks to Georgette McCready about the fascinating business of honing survival skills in the wild – and in the office
We managed to track down adventurer Megan Hine between her sorties to test wild places for Bear Grylls’ new series of Running Wild, in which he takes A-list celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Ben Stiller on real-life adventures, for a phone interview. The signal is terrible. Through crackles I ask her where she is: “London,” she replies laughing.
I was talking to Megan ahead of her appearance this month at The Bath Festival. The 32-year-old British survival consultant has built up an event-filled career from her lifelong love of the outdoors. As a six-year-old she climbed Snowdon with her father. She says: “I was lucky. When we were kids we used to get home from school, climb over the fence and explore. Our mother didn’t mind if we came home muddy, or with a few tears in our clothes. And I was just as able as my brother.”
Megan has endured all kinds of physical challenges, from eating tree ants and tree frogs to staving off hungry lions by maintaining an all-night vigil to keep a camp fire alight. She’s slept without a tent in the Arctic Circle, fled on the run from armed opium dealers and spent six months after university living in a leaf shelter she built herself in the Lake District.
She’s a real inspiration for other adventurous spirits, who may have thought that a career taking calculated risks in the great outdoors could only be had by joining the army.
We may be familiar with contestants on reality shows such as The Island – for which Megan and her partner carry out risk asessments – foraging and fishing for food on exotic islands. But, I asked her, is it really possible for someone in the countryside of the UK to survive on foraged food?
“Yes, of course it is,” she says, but then explains why it’s important to research which berries and funghi are edible and which poisonous. “If you were ever stranded and weren’t sure which plants were edible I would advise you not to risk it. You can live without food for three weeks, so it’s safer not to eat something that might be poisonous.
“When we’re researching abroad I always ask the locals, whose backyard it is, what they eat.”
Megan leads outdoor workshops for all kinds of people, teaching them survival skills. “We then send them out for 24 hours to build a shelter, find and purify water. Yes, they find it tough but they’re so elated once they’ve succeeded. There is a childish delight in overcoming the challenge.”
But not all of us are going to find ourselves miles from the nearest Waitrose with only our wits and the wilderness. Which is why Megan has written a book, Mind of A Survivor.
“I’m very excited about it. I wanted to explore the notion that in extreme cases only a minority of people actually survive. What makes those people different? I believe they all have similar traits that enable them to make it through. These include creativity, intuition, adaptability and acceptance of the situation.”
“I believe people can learn to take these skills and adapt them to dealing with modern life, to that day when someone piles an impossible stack of papers on your desk at work or you have the worry of a big presentation. I think it’s a very British trait to be hard on ourselves, we need to be able to give ourselves a pat on the back, to celebrate our achievements.
“Yes, they find it tough but they’re so elated once they’ve succeeded. There is a childish delight in overcoming the challenge…”
“It’s very easy to get into a negative state of mind. But, imagine you’re standing at the top of a cliff and someone tells you that you have to jump into the water below. It’s natural to be afraid, but you can face that fear.”
Megan takes people out of their comfort zone into the great outdoors, where they face fears and phobias, from spiders to heights. “You show them how strong they actually are. Resilience training is a great transferrable skill to coping with everyday life.”
The woman Bear Grylls has described as ‘stronger than 99 per cent of the men I know’ states simply that gender is not an issue when it comes to survival. She’s direct but also warm and funny when she talks: “In fact it’s been shown that in distances of over 100 miles women do better than men.
“Don’t forget, when you’re out there, the outdoors doesn’t care what gender you are. It can’t see you or judge you. Only society and our own inhibitions get in our way.
“Actually,” she adds, “women are very capable because we’ve grown up multi-tasking.”
Is there anything she craves while she’s surviving in the wilds? Most of us would probably have a long list – comfy bed, hot shower, clean clothes, tea, chocolate – but Megan says it’s Cheddar cheese she longs for most. But she says she has to be careful not to eat too much on her return as her body has become unused to rich food.
Hear Megan Hine talk about her life and career and her new book, Mind of a Survivor on Sunday 21 May 12.45pm at the Assembly Rooms, Bath. Tickets are £9, concessions £8. Visit: bathfestivals.org.uk to book tickets for The Bath Festival. Visit Megan’s website: meganhine.com.