The past decade has seen Simon Reeve become one of the most prominent faces on British television, at least in terms of travel broadcasting. It’s quite an impressive leap, as this book makes clear, from the teenager who left school with barely a qualification to his name and at one point found himself depressed and perched on the edge of a bridge, contemplating letting himself fall into the traffic below.
After a career writing books and fronting TV shows from around the world, this is the moment where Reeve reflects on his own backstory, and the unlikely series of events that led to where he is now. ‘In many ways the teenage me is a far cry from the guy on TV. But I’m still much the same person, with most of the same failings and still some of the old fears,’ he writes. ‘Too many people think it’s just hard work, study, mindset and focus that determines your journey in life... Life, often, is about luck.’
The book is roughly divided in two, the first half covering his school years and his unexpected, but impressively rapid, rise through the news room at The Sunday Times. The second delves behind the scenes of his early BBC television programmes, a consequence of the sudden international exposure he received in the wake of 9/11 (Reeve was the only author who had written extensively about al-Qaeda prior to the attack).
What has become his distinctive style – a noticeable absence of scripts and rehearsals, plus a fondness for happily approaching random people on the street and following them into dark and slightly dodgy environments – was honed on shows such as Meet the Stans and Places That Don’t Exist, relatively shoestring programmes that were nevertheless received positively. While there is little about his more famous series, such as Equator, which may disappoint some fans, it’s nevertheless fascinating to discover how a troubled teenager evolved into the charismatic TV personality we see today.
As he tends to do in his shows, there are frequently moments when Reeve will pause a particular story to share some informed and thought-provoking facts about a relevant issue that is clearly important to him, anything from climate change, to the plight of refugees, to male suicide. It’s a very honest account of the world as he has seen it, from Acton to the ends of the Earth.
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