Me And My Home: Bear Grylls

When he's not off on an expedition, the explorer enjoys a life afloat with his wife and son on their Thames houseboat. By Joey Canessa
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The Independent Online

I was brought up on the Isle of Wight. As children, we were always encouraged to climb and explore, and I have spent my life so far in constant search of adventure. After leaving school, I joined the army and then, in 1994, the SAS. Unfortunately, I had a nasty accident two years later, when I broke my back in a free-fall landing in Africa, and was forced to spend months in rehabilitation. I felt as though my plans for Everest were shattered, but I had clung on to this dream since I was a little boy and couldn't let it go. Thankfully, over time, I made a full recovery. I made plans for my Everest expedition, which went ahead in 1998. I became the youngest Briton ever to complete the climb, at the age of 23.

I was brought up on the Isle of Wight. As children, we were always encouraged to climb and explore, and I have spent my life so far in constant search of adventure. After leaving school, I joined the army and then, in 1994, the SAS. Unfortunately, I had a nasty accident two years later, when I broke my back in a free-fall landing in Africa, and was forced to spend months in rehabilitation. I felt as though my plans for Everest were shattered, but I had clung on to this dream since I was a little boy and couldn't let it go. Thankfully, over time, I made a full recovery. I made plans for my Everest expedition, which went ahead in 1998. I became the youngest Briton ever to complete the climb, at the age of 23.

After Everest, I left the SAS officially and began work on my book, Facing Up, describing the experiences of the expedition. The book did well, reaching the top 10 bestsellers list, which is great. I hadn't anticipated the amount of publicity and I found myself inundated with requests for interviews. I began to present talks to audiences based on what I had learnt from my adventures, and these, along with trying to finish the book, kept me busy.

In those days, I was effectively homeless, living in a van or sleeping on friends' floors. When I met Shara, though, this all came to an end; we wanted to marry, and the van wasn't big enough for both of us! My public speaking meant that I had to be in London a lot of the time, but we were short of money, and didn't know how we could afford to live there. Luckily, we came across this houseboat by chance, and bought it immediately. It had previously belonged to a Polar explorer, and was a bit of a wreck, very sparsely furnished and run-down.

The boat is 100 years old, a steel-hulled Dutch barge, and although it's a bit scruffy on the outside, Shara has worked her magic on the interior and turned it into a cosy home. It's rather like the Bat Cave, surprisingly luxurious on the inside. We have three bedrooms - one for Jesse, one for us and one that is full to the ceiling with ropes and parachutes and all my expedition equipment. There are two bathrooms and an open-plan kitchen/sitting room. We are connected to mains electricity and the water supply here, and have all the domestic advantages of an ordinary home: a dishwasher, a washing machine, carpets, central heating and even broadband.

When we bought the boat it had a pitched roof which I removed and replaced with a flat deck, to give us open-air space. It's the equivalent of quite a big garden, by London standards, with a barbecue, a canoe, a swing, a pull-up bar, weights and a hammock.

Soon after Jesse was born, in 2003, I had to add fencing to the deck to stop him dropping off the edge. I used wooden trellising at first, but Jesse's a bit of a climber too, and now I've had to put netting up over the trellis. I don't worry unduly about him falling overboard. We keep a very close eye on him, but when I'm away it is harder for Shara than it would be if we lived in a Victorian semi in Wandsworth. We are beginning to consider a move to a more orthodox home before the next baby arrives.

I have recently added an outdoor bath, which is supplied with hot water from below. Jesse and I take lovely rooftop baths together when the weather's warm, to the surprise of the people living in the flats alongside. If they thought we were strange houseboat-hippies before, I don't know what they must think of us now.

We love living on the boat; it's a tranquil refuge in a big, scary city. There are 10 boats moored together here, and we form a very happy, if slightly eccentric, neighbourhood in a city that is generally bereft of community. It is uniquely well-placed for transport, too; Shara and I nip up the river to Sainsbury's, tying up at the steps and then heading straight back home again with no hold-ups. The boat is also great for getting into the City; it's a very relaxing way to travel. And in the summer, I swim in the river. We hardly feel we're in London most of the time.

There can be complications, though. There were problems when we had Sky television installed recently; the contractor had to string the cables from a post on the river bank over to the boat, but was very reluctant as he wasn't insured against drowning. In the end I climbed the pole and did it for him.

After climbing Everest, I completed three more record-breaking expeditions, including an unassisted crossing of the Arctic Ocean in an inflatable boat in 2003, as one of a team of five. That adventure resulted in another book, Facing the Frozen Ocean, which has been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award. More recently, I have been working on a series for Channel 4, to be shown in July, about life in the French Foreign Legion.

My next challenge will be the world's highest formal open-air dinner, to be enjoyed strapped beneath a hot air balloon at 25,500 feet, followed by a leap from the dinner table into a high-altitude sky-dive. We are working towards that at the moment, with the date set for 30 June this year.

Since Jesse's arrival, I try to limit any expeditions to two or three weeks' length, but there will always be another challenge out there.

'Facing the Frozen Ocean', Pan Macmillan, priced £7.99 in paperback. 'Escape to the Legion', Channel 4, 13 July, 9pm.

www.beargrylls.com.

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