To be completely honest with you, I had no idea who Simon Reeve was. I’d never heard or seen any of his TV series, which I was apparently alone on. He’s been on the scene for a long time, creating well-crafted and interesting documentaries; travelling to many strange, exotic and even dangerous places all over the world. (Including some places that don’t even exist on maps!)
I had gone with my mum to one of his evening talks in Harrogate, since it was going to be on until quite late and I didn’t want my mum to go on her own – that and it was nice to spend the evening together, since it’s not something we get to do as much. I wasn’t particularly excited for the evening when it came to sitting down and listening to someone I’d never heard of before. Turns out it was a very interesting and thought-provoking evening.
My mum had bought the tickets for the evening about a year ago, so we were sat on the second row. I was sat thinking how long it was going to take, and even wondering if I was going to be able to stay awake. I was also fairly distracted, since I’ve had a lot on my mind recently. Hence, I didn’t exactly walk in with an optimistic mindset for this evening, which wasn’t really a good idea.
He started off by giving us a background into his upbringing, and what his life was like. He described how he grew up in East London and was a troublemaker from a very young age. Which was a bit typical, who isn’t a bit naughty when they are a little kid? But then he gets into when he was older, more towards being a teenager. The troublemaker instinct seemed to have stuck, but in a bad way: Skipping school to drink in the local pub, stealing and various other not-so-good activities. He skips ahead to when he was older and had left high school with next-to-no qualifications to his name, finding himself lost, jobless and spiraling into depression.
It’s always darkest before the dawn. When he came to his lowest point as he described himself literally standing on a bridge, considering the worst option, he managed to come to his senses and head home. This part of the evening really did grip me, maybe not because it resonated with me, but because these are the sort of things that are spoken about more and more today, with mental health becoming more prevalent all the time. Thankfully, he was able to get help, and was able to start trying to push himself. After some heart-warming anecdotes about his small journeys that were on the road to his recovery, he tells us how he came to get his first job – a mail room at a newspaper.
In the 80’s he was now working in the post-room at a major newspaper. Maybe not a very glamorous start, but he didn’t require any qualifications whatsoever to get the job, which worked to his favour. After getting to grips with the job, he was able to do little bits and bobs for other people that worked there, busy-work, but he began to network and get more involved.
Then came his first big break: he was instructed to track down two south-African terrorists who were reportedly staying in Boston, in Lincolnshire. He described how scary yet exhilarating the experience was, and he was hooked. That’s when more doors started to open up for him, and how this led to his intrigue in terrorism in general, especially after the 1993 World Trade Centre attack.
He then began long-winded and frantic research into Al-Qaeda and wrote the first book ever published on Bin Laden. He told us how this book, pretty much sat dormant on shelves for the longest time. Then, 9/11 takes place. On that very day he told us how the books were suddenly starting to sell, and how his phone rang non-stop for a year. He was thrown into the spotlight and interviewed by major American news outlets almost right off the bat.
Even if his success came from a dark place in human history, it gave him his chance to shine, and really put all his hard work to good use. His book was the only one in the world at the time that had researched Bin Laden, which was quite something considering after the events of 9/11, almost everyone on the planet became aware of this terrorist figure.
Suddenly, Simon Reeve became a very interesting figure himself. He was offered to do his own TV series in the early 2000’s and took the chance straight away. His series was about countries that “didn’t exist”. Typically, these were countries that weren’t represented by the UN, and/or not even recognized by the UN entirely. He spoke about some of the extremely odd places he ended up travelling to, and sometimes very dangerous places. One he told us about at some length was about his visit to Somaliland, neighboring the infamous Somalia. Telling us how Somaliland was a democratic state, that had its own elections, and wasn’t as corrupt as its neighbouring country. He then told us how he ventured with his dedicated crew into Somalia, and how terrifying the experience was for him.
It was becoming very clear that these early experiences with his first series were what got him hooked on the travel aspect, and showing his audiences these different places, their cultures and what they were like, as many people would never dream of venturing outside their yearly holiday to Spain. He encouraged everyone to go outside of their comfort zone; whether it be travelling to somewhere new, trying a new activity, or even just trying something different to eat. He had a point – we don’t discover anything unless we’re pushed outside our comfort zones. We get all too familiar and end up getting stuck in a rut, and lose that flavour of life we could be experiencing firsthand, rather than just sitting in front of TV screens and living through others. Not to say that watching TV is bad, but when it becomes our only ways of discovery, perhaps we need to sometimes take a step back and step out of that comfort zone and just try something new, even if it is only something small and relatively risk free – that would be progress.
In Conclusion, I went into the evening knowing nothing about Simon Reeve, who he was, or what he does, has done, or will do. I left knowing what felt like an intimate amount of detail about his life when he was younger, and some of the more extreme circumstances he’s ended up being in over the years of his detailed and often hazardous work. I wouldn’t have said I was his biggest fan, but I did find myself interested to look into some of his ongoing work – the series he’s got aired at the moment “Mediterranean”, which has been interesting and insightful – since most would assume that this would be covering parts of Europe they’ve gone on holiday to; but instead showed us his ventures into Northern Africa, Palestine, and exposed some of the seedy underbelly in places like Sicily.
As many people I know are already well aware of who he is, I would feel a bit silly recommending watching his series or getting into his work – so many people already do, and religiously watch anything new he brings out, much like when David Attenborough brings out a new series. I feel as though I’ve missed out having not heard of him sooner, but better late than never. I’m officially a fan; I’ll be reading his latest signed book at my leisure.