You may have seen globetrotting TV adventurer Simon Reeve on your screens as part of the countless travel documentaries he has filmed for the BBC. But whether or not you have heard of the ‘craziest man on TV’ as he was described by the Sunday Times his autobiography released in 2018 is worth a read. Packed with life lessons and brimming with titbits of wisdom garnered from his journeys across epic landscapes, dodging bullets on the frontlines of conflict, exploring the most beautiful, dangerous and remote regions of the world. As told in his Time interview the book describes his life encounters wherein, he has ‘squared up to Somali gunmen, resisted arrest in Russia and survived life-threatening malaria in Gabon’ and he is ‘part of a new breed of presenter stealthily breaking the binary mould occupied by the majority of people who appear on the telly’.
Beginning with the gripping tale of his troubled youth – failing in school, indulging in destructive acts for the pure satisfaction of rebellion and finally teetering on the edge of a bridge on the verge of suicide – he goes on to talk about the moulding of his career into something fantastic and the journey that got him there. His anecdotes of the time he spent working at the Sunday Times first as a post boy and ascending the ranks to staff writer and editor are both humorous and inspiring to a young reader. The book provides an account of his journey towards travel presenting, his true love, following a series of failed books and a series with Kevin Spacey that did not materialise but provides the reader with the comedic exploits of Hollywood A-listers in London. Though now a TV presence and public influence in Britain, his initial chosen path was as a writer investigating Al Qaeda and Bin Laden prior to 9/11 when they eventually came to the attention of the world, and with them catapulted Reeve into the spotlight as the ‘man who predicted 9/11’.
The second half of the book moves on to describe his first travel documentary, an epic journey through Central Asia visiting countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan struggling to establish themselves and their economy with captivating tales such as the ceremony of kokpar in Kazakhstan involving gripping a headless goat whilst duelling on horses – almost a tribute to medieval jousting. It then continues to describe his journey to document unrecognised countries such as Somaliland and the accounts of war, violence and the day to day struggle of people existing in such countries truly strikes a chord with the reader. The content explores many themes that are at the forefront of politics, news and society today including poverty, mental health, war, migration, environment, the resilience and suffering of humanity and the very idea of travel itself. He recognises his privilege not just as a someone from a stable country, but also as a traveller able to access and film the remotest corners of the world.
Reeve’s writing style is reminiscent to me of Gandhi’s ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’, wherein he is able to describe events succinctly without losing the poignant undertones and the message he is trying to deliver. From start to finish the book is an easy read and though a cliché, I found myself truly unable to put it down and felt that the tales of his childhood resonated strongly with the reader. The book is an immense journey, much like his life and travels – you will find yourself inevitably on a rollercoaster of emotion. This truly is a one of a kind autobiography and provides unique perspectives – as Chris Evans said reviewing the book on BBC Radio 2 it is ‘ a real page turner’.