Battle of the TV bushmen: Ray Mears’s latest assault on ‘boy scout’ Bear Grylls’s reputation is just the tip of the iceberg

Ray Mears accused his junior of putting viewers’ lives at risk with unsafe advice

In one corner, Bear Grylls, the shark-wrestling former SAS man who once took a nap inside a camel’s carcass. In the other, Ray Mears, the spear whittler from Surrey who survived a helicopter crash and secretly helped police in the hunt for Raoul Moat.

The quiet rivalry between Britain’s best-known outdoor hard men that has crackled for years burst into flame today after Mears accused his junior pretender of putting viewers’ lives at risk.

“Some of the things [Grylls does] are crazy,” Mears said in an interview to promote his autobiography. “Leaping off cliffs into water when you don’t know what’s in it. If a 15-year-old was to copy him and impale himself on a pram leaping into a canal... because they were inspired by it, I would think that was his fault.”

Mears said he had become a TV survival expert in part to “put right the damage done by Rambo”. He added, in an interview in The Guardian: “Everyone thought of this word ‘survival’ as aggressive, militaristic and rather stupid. I wanted to show that this knowledge was healthy.”

Grylls is every inch that Rambo figure, throwing himself into apparently deadly situations in series including Man Vs Wild. While Mears might sit by a river in the Rockies crafting a canoe out of birch bark, Grylls would be up to his waist in the water, sinking his teeth into a live salmon and sucking the fluid from its eyeballs.

Mears previously dismissed Grylls in 2008 as a “showman” and a “boy scout”. “I think the viewer knows that if you want to really know how to take care of yourself in the wild, I’m the person to talk to,” he told the Radio Times.

Asked if he watched Grylls’ shows for tips, Mears laughed, replying: “Yes – on how not to make television programmes! As far as I am concerned these people are just showmen. I welcome competition, but I want to see real experts, not boy scouts pretending to be.”

A year earlier, Grylls had been exposed for living in comfort when the cameras stopped rolling. In one sequence set on a desert island in Hawaii, the Old Etonian billed himself as “a real life Robinson Crusoe”, only to retire to a hotel after dark.

But his on-screen escapades have turned him into a ratings hit for the BBC and the Discovery Channel in the US. Millions watched him urinate into a rattlesnake skin, sling it around his neck, and drain it into his mouth to survive the heat of a desert.

Grylls, 39, is the son of a Tory peer and grew up on the Isle of Wight. He later joined the army but broke his back in a parachute accident while serving with the SAS, only to recover to become one of the youngest climbers to conquer Everest. TV and book deals followed. He now lives on a houseboat on the Thames with his wife, Shara, and their sons, Jesse, Marmaduke, and Huckleberry.

The presenter has so far decided flattery is the best survival technique in the face of Mears’ assaults. “Ray has given me a bit of a grilling in the press but it would be so easy for me to come out fighting,” he said in 2008, warning his rival, “I know all the inside stories because we’ve had the same crew on a lot of things so I could really go to town but I don’t want to.”

Mears, 49, grew up in Kenley, now part of Croydon in South London. After poor eyesight ruled out a career in the Royal Marines, he became obsessed instead with bushcraft and developed his skills before becoming a teacher to other would-be bushmen, via a brief stint in the City.

He began his TV career with the BBC in the early 1990s. While filming in Wyoming in 2005 he and his team were doused with fuel after their helicopter crashed. None were hurt seriously and Mears used his skills to administer first aid.

In 2010, Northumbria Police called Mears after Raoul Moat had gone to ground in woodland. Talking about the experience for the first time this week, Mears said he had got to within 20 feet of the suspect in a murderous shooting spree after tracking him for eight hours. Moat later shot himself dead after a stand-off. “It was a real-life hunt,” Mears told the Gloucestershire Echo, “within my skill set but outside of my comfort zone.”

Top trumps

Ray Mears

Years 49

Height (ft) 6

Strength 32

Hardman roots 25

Knife skills 37

Fire-starting 76

Animal bothering 35

Bad eyesight ruled out a career in the Marines but Surrey-raised Mears wins big hardman points for surviving a 2005 chopper crash and tracking Raoul Moat through woods in 2010. Go-to guy for  anyone stuck up a creek without a paddle. Most at home when whittling spoons by a campfire.

Bear Grylls

Years 39

Height (ft) 6

Strength 43

Hardman roots 20

Knife skills 18

Fire-starting 48

Animal bothering 90

Posh Bear went to Eton but hardened up in the SAS until a parachute failure broke his back. Later scaled Everest before doing tough stuff on telly, sometimes retreating to a hotel after filming. Most at home while wrestling crocs, sucking fluid from fish eyes or using a rattlesnake skin as a vessel for his own pee.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent