“People assume that just because you’re on TV, you must be illiterate” vents man of the world and of words, Levison Wood, as he talks to Carl Marsh about his travels across the globe.
What was the catalyst for you to leave the army?
I did five years in the regular army and I went to Afghanistan. But I ended up breaking my leg with a bit of mischief when I was riding a horse in Mexico, which meant that I was going to be on limited army work duties for a good six months. I thought to myself, “do I stay in the army and piss around for a while, or do I take on a new challenge?”
When you left the army, how did you decide on the career path that you took?
When I left I didn’t really know what I wanted to do – I had a vague idea that I wanted to write, and my interests have always been in travel writing and so on. I left the army with a pretty vague plan but ended up volunteering for a charity that builds hospitals in Malawi, and I worked out there for a bit. I drove some ambulances down from the UK to Malawi and that was very rewarding as well; it inspired me to do more expeditions. Me and a mate set up a company that set up trips for other people. That’s how I got into this, by organising big expeditions for private clients as a guide, effectively.
I used that as a bit of a platform to do my own photography and writing; I ended up writing travel articles and bits for guide books like Lonely Planet and those sorts of things. I wore lots of different hats but it was all related to travel and adventure. Eventually I figured if I wanted to make a name for myself, I needed to do a big expedition and that is why the Walking The Nile idea came along.
Was that idea all down to yourself then?
It was. It was something that I wanted to do because I’d driven the length of Africa before, in 2011, so thought – why not walk the length of the world’s longest river? It took a couple of years of planning and preparation – building a team, getting a book publisher, getting permits and visas, and so on.
Had you not got a publisher or got the TV programme made, would you have still done it anyway?
Yes, I was going to do it anyway, that was the point. You’ve got to back yourself once you commit to these things. If you go in half-hearted, people won’t back you, and then you won’t get the publisher and the TV deal and everything else. You have to say to yourself “I’m doing it, and that’s it!”
The last journey I did [for the book Arabia: A Journey Through The Heart Of The Middle East], I did without a commission, without any sponsors. It was entirely self-funded! Me and a couple of mates, we all chipped in and just did it. We filmed it, and the idea is to sell it to the highest bidder. It’s not for Channel 4, this will be going elsewhere, just wait and see on that one.
Do people make presumptions about you based on your TV appearances?
You know, what frustrates me sometimes is that because people see you on the TV, then you are just a TV presenter and that’s all you’re allowed to be good at. There have been instances where people have asked me if I had a good ghostwriter or stuff like that! I write my own books, that’s what I am proud of and passionate about. Just because you are on TV, you must be illiterate [laughs] – that does my head in, so I just want to set the record straight.
Levison Wood: Journeys Through The Badlands And Beyond, St David’s Hall, Fri 2 Nov. Tickets: £27. Info: 029 2087 8444 / www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk. Arabia: A Journey Through The Heart Of The Middle East, price: £9.99. Info: www.levisonwood.com