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
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'