Bear Grylls’ backbone

TV survival skills expert and former British soldier Bear Grylls reveals his ultimate source of strength

Bear Grylls covered in mud
Bear Grylls enjoys having a job where he can climb trees and get covered in mud!

The Island With Bear Grylls is back as of late March for a third season, featuring 13 men and women abandoned on a remote, uninhabited Pacific island for a month, prompting The Telegraph's Gerard O'Donovan to rightly ask: "Why would anyone put themselves through this hell?"

Bear Grylls tweeted excitedly just hours after the season premiere: "Thanks for watching everyone – highest ratings ever for @TheIsland @channel4 – and it only gets better! This series is explosive."

The former Special Air Services soldier has been through his fair share of hell himself; he climbed Everest, broke his back in a parachute accident, led the first team to circumnavigate the UK on jet skis, made the first unassisted crossing of the Arctic Ocean in an inflatable, and created a world record for the highest open-air dinner under a hot-air balloon at 7,600m.

Why would anyone put themselves through that? His answer, quite simply: he loves it.

"It's what I've always wanted," he told Relevant magazine. "I never wanted to be very smart or very rich, I just wanted to follow my dreams and have loads of fun. And I am really lucky that I have a job that involves climbing trees and getting covered in mud."

And his "backbone", the underlying strength to perform these things, Bear has systematically credited to his faith.

"My Christian faith has helped me through so many difficult and lonely times," he says.

"Some say that Christianity is a crutch. I say it may be so, but it is also my backbone."

What has made Bear endearing to his fans is not just his courage but his humility and willingness to admit his need of God's love.

In his autobiography, Mud, Sweat And Tears, Bear revealed how he first encountered God. He says his faith "has provided me with a real anchor to my life and has been the secret strength to so many great adventures since.

"But it came to me very simply one day at school, aged only 16.

"As a young kid, I had always found that a faith in God was so natural. It was a simple comfort to me: unquestioning and personal. But once I went to school and was forced to sit through somewhere in the region of 900 dry, Latin-liturgical chapel services, listening to stereotypical churchy people droning on, I just thought that I had got the whole faith deal wrong.

"Maybe God wasn't intimate and personal but was much more like chapel was...tedious, judgmental, boring and irrelevant.

"The irony was that if the chapel was all of those things, a real faith is the opposite. But somehow, and without much thought, I had thrown the beautiful out with the boring.

"The precious, natural, instinctive faith I had known when I was younger was tossed out with this newly-found delusion that because I was growing up, it was time to 'believe' like a grown-up.

"It took a low point at school, when my godfather, Stephen, died, to shake me into searching a bit harder to re-find this faith I had once known...Stephen was like a second father to me...He died very suddenly, of a heart attack...I was devastated.

Bear Grylls
Bear Grylls

"I remember sitting up a tree one night at school on my own, and praying the simplest, most heartfelt prayer of my life: 'Please God, comfort me.'

"Blow me down...He did.

"My journey ever since has been trying to make sure I don't over-complicate that simple faith I had found. And the more of the Christian faith I discover, the more I realize that, at heart, it is simple. (What a relief it has been in later life to find that there are some great church communities out there, with honest, loving friendships that help me with all of this stuff).

"To me, my Christian faith is all about being held, comforted, forgiven, strengthened and loved...The irony is that I have never met anyone who doesn't want to be loved or held or forgiven.

"Yet I meet a lot of folk who hate religion. And I so sympathize. But so did Jesus. In fact...he went much further. It seems more like Jesus came to destroy religion and to bring life.

"This really is the heart of what I found as a young teenager: Christ comes to make us free, to bring us life in all its fullness. He is there to forgive us where we have messed up (and who hasn't), and to be the backbone in our being.

"Faith in Christ has been the great empowering presence in my life, helping me to walk strong when so often I feel weak...I had stumbled on something remarkable that night up that tree. I had found a calling for my life."

Shadow of a legend >>