LEVISON WOOD: ‘WE’RE ALL EXPLORERS – SO LET’S GO SLAY SOME DRAGONS’
Critically acclaimed author and explorer Levison Wood will be taking to the stage for his third UK tour this autumn – The Art Of Exploration.
As an explorer, Levison has travelled thousands of miles through some of the world’s most testing environments. He is known for his epic journeys like walking the entire length of the Nile River, trekking across the Himalayas and circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula – charted in his books and TV series, including Walking The Nile, Arabia With Levison Wood and Walking With Elephants.
Travelling across the country, Levison will visit 15 towns and cities with his entertaining new two-hour one-man show. In The Art Of Exploration tour, he will share his experiences and learnings from his travels, his Army career including serving in the Parachute Regiment and the front-line of Afghanistan, to his photo-journalism assignments in the Congo and Nepal.
Audiences can look forward to fascinating anecdotes and honest experiences, as well as getting a glimpse at the world through Levison’s eyes thanks to his own photography and video footage from his extensive travels.
Tickets are on sale now from nothird.co.uk
Questions to Levision:
YOU’RE A VERY BUSY MAN, TRAVELING THE WORLD, FILMING AND WRITING. WHAT ARE YOU UP TO AT THE MOMENT?
I am really busy and I’m glad to be back! It’s very much catch-up time, for projects that have been on hold and are now back in action.
Before Covid, I used to spend eight or nine months of the year abroad or travelling. I’m currently working on five projects back-to-back and will be going to around 20 countries this year, including some new ones, but I’ve got a little bit of a break and I’m enjoying being back at home.
I live in central London, Zone One. And I love the contrast of it – that I can get off a plane from anywhere in the world, and be home, in my bed, eating food, pretty quickly. It’s great to know that when you’re camping up in mountains for a few months, then I can enjoy the city.
DO YOU THINK GROWING UP IN THE COUNTRYSIDE HAS INFLUENCED YOUR CAREER – THAT FREEDOM AND SPACE, COMPARED WITH CITY LIFE?
I grew up very much in the country, in North Staffordshire. I used to walk to school every day, but I’d think nothing of jumping on my bike and cycling off for 15 miles to go and see a friend.
I don’t think I even went to London until I was 10, 12 maybe, but I was always interested in seeing the world.
I loved living in the countryside though, and I was lucky to have two teachers as parents, who gave me a curiosity about the wider world. I knew there was more to the world than my village, but a lot of people didn’t think like that – it was the centre of their universe. But that’s probably what encouraged me…
YOU SPENT FOUR YEARS IN THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE THE ARMY – AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHAT TO DO NEXT?
My first love was always travel.
I did a very clichéd gap year when I was 18 which taught me independence and I loved it. At 22, after university, I hitchhiked part of the Silk Road, which left a real lingering impression with me; visiting places which had been in the news with these dreadful reputations, but from my experiences they were some of the most hospitable places on earth.
Going into the Army, I knew I wasn’t going in for the long-term, but I didn’t know how to make a career out of travel. I had a boyhood fascination with travel so then, when I left the Army, I used the knowledge I’d gained to write a plan. It was a list of things I could achieve and was good at, with goals and aspirations, and they all met in the middle with a five-year plan of how to get there… Write a book, go to certain countries.
I ended up running a business taking travellers and tourists to places other people couldn’t get them to. Before I knew it, I was smuggling journalists across borders and taking rich people on wild holidays, all while writing and taking photographs.
The expedition to walk the Nile was my big break. I had built up a portfolio of photography by that time and having Channel 4 commission the series Walking The Nile was the absolute game changer. Funnily, being on TV was one thing not on the plan. To become an author was my main aim.
But my approach [to that plan] was very structured; things I could write about, listed one to five, and how to get funding. It was like a military operation I guess, and it paid off.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the success. For me, one book published was ‘life complete’ and I’m now 10 books in.
WHAT WAS IT THAT ATTRACTED YOU TO EXPLORATION?
My dad was a teacher and fed me books. I read a lot as a child, tales of Greek mythology, Lord Of The Rings-type stories, I remember reading The Odyssey at about 10. All these books were about people going off slaying dragons, climbing mountains, and I remember thinking ‘I haven’t done that’ and wanting to.
People think that there aren’t ‘dragons’ to slay in the modern world – but there are. They are just different beasts and you create the dragon for yourself, to find your own quest. It’s a case of finding your own concepts to follow and explore.
OF ALL THE PLACES YOU’VE VISITED, DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE DESTINATION?
I’ve been to something like 120 countries now, so it’s very difficult to identify a favourite from them all. How do you compare the Arctic North with Greece? But it’s more about who you’re with and what you’re doing.
One of my favourite trips was with a bunch of mates on a road trip from Nottingham to Malawi. We went through 27 countries and covered 10,000 miles to deliver an ambulance. It’s always stuck with me as a bloody good trip.
There are also places I’ve fallen in love with, like Nepal and South Africa, and that’s often for the nostalgia of the trips I’ve had there. But I will also go and drink beer on a beach in Ibiza for a chill – it’s not all adventure travel. I love that too.
AND IS THERE ANYWHERE YOU WANT TO VISIT THAT YOU HAVEN’T YET?
I haven’t explored a lot of South America – I’d love to do a proper expedition to Colombia, and parts of South East Asia too, somewhere like Papua New Guinea.
THE ART OF EXPLORATION IS THE NAME OF YOUR LATEST BOOK – WHICH THE TOUR IS BASED AROUND. TELL US ABOUT THE BOOK…
The Art Of Exploration was born out of lockdown, as it gave me time to sit down and contemplate, reflect and take stock of everything I’ve done. That’s how it was formulated, from looking at how travel and exploring fit together with everything else in our lives.
I think for a lot of people, me included, it was a time of trying to understand what was important and where was important, and the book looks at how to integrate those things into normal life.
I go into detail about the five-year plan I set on leaving the Army, and how that was just as applicable to me as someone who was in a career transition, as it would be to someone leaving uni who wants to become a writer.
SO, WHAT IS THE ‘ART OF EXPLORATION’?
It’s a mindset, and having an explorer’s mindset in the way we think about everyday life. We are all explorers in our own right.
Human beings have evolved to be curious by genetics. It’s a tenet of humanity. Twenty per cent of humans are pre-disposed to be more curious than others. Looking back to the nomadic times, some tribes travelled and continuously moved on, some became farmers and set up permanent homes.
And to a greater or lesser extent, we can cherry pick the benefits of that to serve our daily life needs better in modern society. It’s about using those lessons and values we have learned through the years, and also those of others in history and who we have met along the way. Things like leadership, team work, determination, morals and ethics.
It’s a philosophy and in a way it’s a self-help book, seeing what we can learn about ourselves from this mindset. It’s not about how to pack, it’s not about simply how to travel, it’s about life.
It’s how to plan and think, setting goals, identifying what motivates you as an individual, what’s driving you as a person, and how to go forward using the ideas I picked up from my time on the road as a travel professional, as an explorer and in the Army.
WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT FROM THE ART OF EXPLORATION TOUR?
Coming in the aftermath of Covid, this is going to be a very fresh tour from my previous ones, as I want to use the opportunity to talk about those lessons I learnt in writing the book.
I’m really focusing on the things I have learned from travel, to inspire people where they are going to go in their next phase of life.
It’s been more than three years since I did a tour, so there’s plenty to catch up on!
EARLIER THIS YEAR, YOU VISITED UKRAINE FOLLOWING RUSSIA’S INVASION AND PRODUCED A SPECIAL DISPATCHES FOR CHANNEL 4. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT AND WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE?
When the war kicked off, I was following the developments very closely – I have that interest from my own military background. I was concerned this could turn into World War Three and wanted to see for myself what was happening on the ground.
I was discussing it with the MP Johnny Mercer, who also comes from an Army background, and said ‘let’s go out there’. We did it almost undercover in a way, to get out there as a fact-finding mission.
Compared to other war zones I’ve seen, it was very different to say Iraq and Afghanistan. It most resembled Syria, in that it wasn’t low level insurgents fighting like seen in Afghanistan… This was a nuclear power invading another country.
Visually, it was in some ways like I imagine World War Two to have looked – lots of trenches, tank traps, tanks rolling down the motorways. It was pretty intense. In Kyiv, as air raid sirens were going off, you’d be thinking ‘Is it my hotel this time?’.
When you’re in [military] uniform, you’re a target. As a civilian, and when you’re wearing the press vest, you have to make a virtue of that fact. But then as we saw when we were out there and since, Russians are targeting journalists, so it was no real protection.
I think the Russians didn’t expect the fight back. But now, seeing Putin almost pushed back into a corner, that’s concerning too. It has exposed the Russian weaknesses, what their actual capabilities are, but they are a nuclear power, so there’s a lot of caution needed. Everyone thought the Russians would take the capital in like three days. Yet, here we are, months later and it’s not happened.
YOUR VISIT WAS IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE INVASION. WOULD YOU RETURN AGAIN NOW?
I would love to go back, to support the Ukrainians, but for now that’s best served through the media as I can keep the spotlight on the issues, supporting causes and charities who are helping people out there, and that’s more my focus right now.
It’s totally horrific that they have been invaded. The governments of Ukraine and Russia had historical links, but now Ukrainians are saying ‘No, not at all, we have been betrayed’. There’s going to be a long, deep-rooted hatred between these countries.
I’ve seen people online saying that NATO should be doing this or that, and that membership isn’t all that. No. That’s not the issue. It’s Russia that has invaded, no one else is to blame.
YOU’VE SEEN FIRST-HAND THE IMPACT OF WAR, AND AS A SOCIETY WE ARE MUCH MORE AWARE OF THE CHALLENGES FACED BY EX-SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN. WHAT IMPACT HAS MILITARY SERVICE HAD ON YOU?
A lot of friends from the Army have suffered from mental health issues and trauma. I have been very lucky not to have experienced that myself, but I have seen the impact – friends have killed themselves or have really struggled after service.
When you have been to and seen places in conflict, extreme poverty, violence, it puts everything in perspective. You don’t worry about the little things in life. You don’t get roped into the nonsense we have going on in this country. It makes me realise how lucky we are.
I am very passionate about these issues and have a focus on keeping the spotlight on them. There are amazing organisations out there helping veterans, but it’s a very real concern and I want to support people who are suffering through media and charity work.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHERE TO VISIT NEXT AND WHAT PROJECTS TO SUPPORT?
That’s something that Covid has changed for me, I believe. I am more picky now and I’ll only do a trip I’m passionate about. I get offered trips all around the world, and I do say ‘no’ more often now.
Two areas I’m particularly passionate about are conservation and children’s education, and how they can go hand in hand – supporting children to learn how we protect the planet for the next generations, and that is at the heart of how I choose my projects now.
Iconic species are dying out at a rate not seen since the times of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. For example, in my lifetime, the population of elephants has halved. Deforestation is the biggest issue. Climate change is the effect, not the cause. The only way to stop that is changing the way we live. You can’t just hold it off anymore – we need deep systemic change to our ways of living, globally.
I work on education with UNICEF, on the education of children to lead more sustainable lives – making them more aware of the impact they have on the planet. We’re on the cusp of a population explosion, which is a worldwide problem. We have to support communities in developing countries in Africa and Asia to give them the best opportunities. For example, if people are having 10, 15 children in a family in Kenya – what chance do the elephants have, and in turn what chance do we have, because there will just not be enough resources to go round.
There are a lot of issues I could be involved with, but I like to think I’ve chosen the ones which will have the greatest effect.
The Art Of Exploration Tour Dates
Wed 12 Oct Harrogate, Royal Hall
Thu 13 Oct Newcastle, Tyne Theatre
Fri 14 Oct Kendal, Westmorland Hall
Sun 16 Oct Basingstoke, The Anvil
Mon 17 Oct Portsmouth, King’s Theatre
Tues 18 Oct Cambridge, Corn Exchange
Thu 20 Oct Guildford, G Live
Fri 21 Oct Buxton, Opera House
Sat 22 Oct Cheltenham, Town Hall
Sun 23 Oct Yeovil, Westlands
Wed 26 Oct Yarm, PAA Theatre
Thurs 27 Oct Warrington, Parr Hall
Fri 28 Oct Birmingham, Town Hall
Sun 30 Oct Stoke, The Victoria Hall
Mon 31 Oct London, Cadogan Hall