Ben Fogle talks Englishness, confusing titles and his plans to be Prime Minister to Kelvin Patterson #satire

Umbrellas, marmite and queues - Ben Fogle's astonishing insights into what makes The English

You have a book out – The English – how did that come about?

My agent rang and said: “Ben! I’ve been thinking – someone should write a book about ‘The English’ because nobody has done that since the spring – and – Christmas is coming and this is exactly what your demographic will want – and I said: “Wow! Yes! I’m English! I live in England! I know some English people and I actually speak English – so this is right up my street!”

I bet you met some interesting characters along the way.

I visited the Swanage branch of the BNP and they were saying to me – why is it so wrong to drunkenly wave the St. George’s flag while singing Nazi marching songs and demanding that all the Pakistanis leave – that’s not being ‘racist’ it’s being proud to be English! And I thought: “Gosh! They are absolutely right. You never hear North Koreans being rude about their land. Why can’t the English be proud of being English and a bit more jolly patriotic with it!”

What research did you do for the book?

I spent time looking at other people on a trip to a supermarket with my wife – until the security guards asked me to stop because there had been complaints. I worked out that English people don’t like others to stare into their shopping trolleys and built the whole book from there. I also noticed that “The English” buy marmite presumably because we like to eat it on toast. Oh and as a nation we are very polite! People say thank you and please and they like to form queues. Crazy to think we have gone through so much of our history without anyone noticing that. That was twenty pages so then I padded it out with some observations about Wimbledon and Labradors. People love labs!

Remain or Leave?

Leave. Defintely. We English are natural leavers and it will all be fine. Think about it. We leave our homes in the morning to go to work without WW3 breaking out! What’s the difference? So enough of “project fear” let’s deploy our stiff upper lips, brew a nice strong cup of English tea, pack an umbrella, just in case it rains and just jolly well get on with it.

You have a new series out

Yes it’s called “New Lives in the Wild” – when I first saw that title I asked my agent: “Who is New? Is he or she famous? I’ve never heard of them.” She explained that  we had already done a series called “Lives in the Wild” so this was a ‘new’ one. Confusing!

What’s it about?

Research shows that “English” people – yes them again – don’t want to watch “indigenous” people in jungles or learn anything about how they might be living on TV – no – they want to watch “white people” who speak English and have a lot of money trying to build nice homes in exotic places instead.

What was your favourite destination?

We went to Guatemala to meet this guy “Dave” who was building a luxury resort.  Every day was a fight for survival for him. He lived almost three miles from the nearest hypermarket, his internet connection was ghastly and he struggled to make ice with his existing fridge. There’s a lovely moment in the film where I get to advise an old woman on how best to carry a new freezer on her back up the hill to his lodge. In Spanish! I actually speak Spanish!  It’s great to feel you made a difference to people’s lives.

And a tribe in Papua New Guinea wanted to make you their God?

I met the Puedam people who had never met white people before and they were all nudging each other and winking and laughing – which I was told is their tribal way of showing fear. After I’d reassured them and read them some of my book they said “Ben please teach us how to be more like you Ben. Teach us to be English gentlemen Ben!” And then did the nudge and winking thing again. Odd thinking about it now that they could all speak such good English – presumably they’d learned it from another tribe.

Any plans for the future?

Once the next Channel 5 series is over, I’d like to be Prime Minister. I’ve done a marathon. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve been on TV. I think running the country is no different to doing those things – just with a few more sums.

Ben Fogle – thank you.

 

KJP