AN AUDIENCE WITH SIMON REEVE
Town Hall, Birmingham, Sunday 23rd September, 2018
Simon Reeve has been making documentary series for the telly for 15 years, during which time his travels have taken him to some pretty (and ugly) extreme and dangerous places. Tonight he’s in Birmingham, promoting his autobiographical new book – a brave man indeed.
He seems extra-pleased that we have come out on the evening the BBC is broadcasting the final episode of its gripping drama, Bodyguard, and consoles us with a reminder that catch-up TV exists.
He begins with talk of his pre-telly existence and it’s quite a revelation. He hails from Acton, West London, a far cry from the Oxbridge stomping ground of many of his TV predecessors and peers. He speaks frankly of troubled teenage years, of underage lunchtime drinking, gangs, riding in stolen cars, and of a period of mental illness that brought him to the brink of suicide. Who would have thunk it of the good-natured, affable chappy from the telly? Goes to show you never know the battles someone may be fighting.
Within a couple of years, Reeve’s life had changed unrecognisably and he worked his way up from a job in a newspaper post-room to investigative journalism, before writing the first-ever book about Osama bin Laden. 9/11 happened and Reeve was called upon to speak onscreen as a pundit. His own career in television was soon to ignite. It’s not my aim to recount all the details of Reeve’s story – he does it so much better.
His is an infinitely likeable personality and his anecdotes (whether they be of getting lost in a minefield or of precarious toilets in faraway places) are gripping, informative and entertaining. The man seems to embody what the BBC is all about. Much of what he relates is funny; some of it is moving, and all of it is thought-provoking. Reeve is visibly moved telling the story of a young boy his team rescued from a beggar’s shackles. That boy went on to become a leading light in tiger conservation. How many are denied their potential? It is incalculable.
There is a clear message for everyone: the best time to do something, to go somewhere, is and always will be now. And (here is where things turn a little bit school assembly) he recites his rules of How To Travel (responsibly, respectfully, sustainably, adventurously…)
The show runs over and there’s still a brief Q&A to come, but no one seems to mind. I am so inspired by the spirit of adventure, I am happy to risk missing the last bus.
I queue to get my copy of his book signed and suddenly there he is, bright-eyed before me, alive with the adrenalin of having just come off stage. I burble inanely, absurdly awestruck, as we shake hands and he signs the frontispiece. I hand over my phone so we can pose for a selfie together. We smile at the lens and it’s not bad. It looks like Simon Reeve grinning next to a mortified bust of Shakespeare. He thanks me for coming and I intone “Goodbye” like a weirdo and bumble my way to the exit.
When I look at the phone, the picture is gone. I must have fumbled and deleted it. Damn.
But I have the memory of the taking of that photo and the words we exchanged (mainly about the couple next to me who had a sotto voce barney just before showtime) and that is kind of the point. Reeve is all about living the moment rather than experiencing it through a phone. And I am inspired to do more, to go farther, and to crusade against single-use plastic – but first, there’s that final episode of Bodyguard on iPlayer…