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Interview with Levison Wood

23 February 2017 | London Calling

When it comes to stories of incredible wildlife encounters at the most exotic corners of the globe, there are few who can beat Levison Wood. The TV explorer has made his name trekking through some of the world’s wildest environments. Wood’s latest expedition, however, brings him to Brighton, as he continues his UK tour An Evening with Levison Wood at the Theatre Royal. We talked to the adventurer about his experiences and the tour.

“There was the 20-foot python we nearly walked over in Uganda, and in the last expedition I got a hug from a sloth in Panama,” the 34-year-old says with the tone of someone checking off a shopping list. “Oh, and we got charged by a hippo on the Nile.” Surely an ex-paratrooper and intrepid adventurer like Wood can’t be afraid of a hippo? “They’re pretty lethal, actually,” he corrects at once. “Hippos kill about 40,000 people a year in Africa. You have to be very careful, because they hide in mud pits along the river and when you least expect it they rush out and charge you – and they can move as fast as a horse.”
 
Anecdotes like this come thick and fast when you’re talking to a man who has spent the last five years traversing some of the world’s most untamed and impassable places. From his initial expedition along the Nile in 2013, to the 2015 trek across the Himalayas, to his most recent journey tracing the spine of the Americas from Mexico to Colombia, Wood’s attitude to modern-day exploration has proved pretty unique and the former army officer has been hailed by everyone from Michael Palin to Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
 
“I was quite an adventurous child and pretty much everything I did was geared towards what I’m doing now – be that doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award as a teenager or travelling on my gap year and all those sorts of things,” he explains. “In the Army I got qualified to lead expeditions, and then when I left I decided to take the plunge and make a full-time go for it.

Levison Wood
Levison Wood
 
“It’s a huge privilege to be able to travel and it’s very rewarding to show people places they wouldn’t normally see or go to. There’s always new adventures to be had and places to be seen in the world of exploration and I think people should always go and travel and see the world with their own eyes.”
 
Having walked the 1,800-mile route across the American continent – a journey which took him through the most inhospitable jungle on the planet, the Darien Gap – Wood is now gearing up for another mammoth expedition. This time he’s embarking on a 25-date trip around the UK, touring An Evening with Levison Wood. On 27 February, Wood will be appearing at Brighton’s very own Theatre Royal.
 
“It’s building on the series and the books,” he says of the event. “I’ll go into a bit more background information about what led me to do what I’m doing now, and also it’s going to be more interactive. People will have the opportunity to ask anything they want – and I’ll try to be honest and give them advice.” It might even give the relentless Wood a chance to revisit his own achievements. The rugged adventurer concedes that there’s always “a bit” of trepidation whenever he sets out on an expedition. Months of detailed planning beforehand, however, make it difficult to get too concerned.
 
“It’s quite strange really – you don’t tend to think too much about what it actually entails,” he explains. “You don’t have too much time to feel anything about it because you’re thinking and planning too much. It’s not until I actually get on a plane and step off that I feel, ‘Hang on, this is what I’m about to do now...’”
 
And it may be just as well. Wood has survived experiences that would shred the nerves of even the most hardened explorer. In 2014, Matt Power, a journalist accompanying him on his Nile expedition, died from severe heatstroke. The tragic event, in Wood’s words, “called into question the ethics of the expedition”. Then during the Himalayan venture a car crash nearly took Wood’s own life: “You don’t think,” he assesses the episode succinctly, “you just bounce.”
 
For the relentless Wood, however, giving up is just not an option. “There’s a lot of people invested in these things, and your reputation is on the line.” What really drives Levison Wood, however? He smiles roguishly, “It’s the fear of getting a proper job I suppose!”.
 
 An Evening with Levison Wood at Theatre Royal in Brighton is being held on Monday 27 February. For tickets, see the ATG Tickets website. His book, Walking the Americas, is published by Hodder & Stoughton in hardcover at £20.
 
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