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Ground Control to Major Wood

He trudged the length of the Nile, dodged Honduran gangsters and was almost arrested for vagrancy *erm* on a motorway in Champagne, but the burning question is... will explorer & TV presenter, Levison Wood, brave Barnstaple?

Levison Wood river backpack

Ahead of his appearance at Barnstaple’s Queen’s Theatre in March, the latter-day Lawrence of Arabia recently took a short walk down the M3. Muddy Hampshire caught up with him en route.

You’re recently back from another long journey. Can you give us a sneak preview?

Last summer I journeyed through one of the most contentious regions in the world – the edge of Europe from Russia to Iran. I filmed a lot of it myself, with a light footprint crew who came out in stages. The series aired over the summer, but you can still catch it online. I’m currently fulfilling a lifelong ambition to circumnavigate the Arabian peninsula starting in Iraq and finishing in Lebanon. Both journeys have had their challenges, but they’ve been an incredible, eye-opening experience.

What’s your favourite place to write?

It depends where I am, but I moved into a new house recently and built a little library with a nice, old desk and views out over the park, so that’s where I’ll finish writing my next book.

You’re touring the UK in spring. What stories are you planning to share? 

I plan to talk about my expeditions walking the Nile, the Himalayas and the Americas, as well as what has inspired me along the way, and how I went from being in the Parachute Regiment to forging a career as an explorer. I’ll talk about the challenges and pitfalls; the dangers and the rewards of a career as a professional traveller. I’ll also share some stories from ‘behind the scenes’ that don’t make it into the TV series. I hope I’ll inspire people to go on their own adventures, make people laugh and challenge their perceptions of places. I’m very fortunate to be able to do this for a living.

Describe your show in three words

Why we travel.

Can we look forward to some musical standards?

I wouldn’t advise it. I’m tone deaf.

Will you be walking between venues?

Not if I can help it.

Where on the tour have you never visited before? Anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?

I’m really looking forward to Harrogate, as I used to live nearby when I was in the army. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Dunfermline before, so I hope to have chance to explore before the show.

What do you enjoy most about touring?

I do a fair few shows and events each year, ranging from small intimate venues to concert halls, but I love the challenge of speaking in front of hundreds of people and trying to keep them entertained. It’s great to be able to share my experiences.

How do you prepare for a show?

I’ll be relating anecdotes from some of my major expeditions and sharing my photography and film footage, so there’s a lot of preparation that goes into that. Immediately before the show I try and take it easy. Maybe catch-up with friends or family for a quiet meal. That helps me to relax.

If you could invite ten special guests (living or dead) to sit in the front row, who would they be?

I’d invite my exploration heroes along, although it would be terrifying to speak in front of the likes of Captain Scott, David Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Stanley, Samuel Baker, Eric Newby and Shackleton. I also really wish my grandparents could be there. They passed away before I started doing all of this. Luckily, my parents try to come along to at least one or two of my shows. That’s more than ten, isn’t it?

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked by a member of the audience?

I can’t recall anything particularly strange, but people should feel free to ask away. I usually get a lot of practical questions. What’s the worst food you’ve eaten (bush rat), what make of boots do you wear (Altberg), how many changes of clothes do you get through (not many – two or three max). That kind of thing. Kids ask some really good questions, as they don’t self censor.

Do you ever get stage fright?

I sometimes still get nervous before an event, but you have to get on with it. I haven’t frozen yet.

What’s on your tour rider?

I have fairly simple tastes, but I sometimes like a Gin & Tonic before I go on stage. I’m not much of a diva, am I?

Will there be a book about your experiences? 

There’s one out now called Eastern Horizons which recounts one of my early travels when I hitchhiked from England to India in 2004 and set the tone for my later expeditions. The Arabia book will be published later in 2018, but the paperback of Walking the Americas comes out in January ’18 for those that didn’t manage to get the hardback.

An Evening with Levison Wood, Thurs 1 March, 7.30pm. The Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple. 

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