United Kingdom’s Ben Southall is a resolute adventurer who has impressed and inspired millions around the world with his unbelievably exciting exploits. In 2009, Ben Southall won the much publicized ‘Best job in the World’ to become the caretaker of Hamilton Island off the Australian coast beating 34,000 other applicants. Ben spent the following few months, exploring the Queensland’s exquisite coastline, filming and blogging about his experiences.
Earlier in 2008, as a part of his solo adventure, Afritrex, he took an ambitious expedition to circum navigate Africa in his Land Rover, ‘Colonel Mustard’. He covered more than 65,000 kilometers across 38 countries, climbing Africa’s highest mountains and running several marathons in the process.
The British adventurer has worked with various TV, radio and print media networks, including the BBC, CNN and Oprah Winfrey.
You gained a degree in Automotive System Engineering so what inspired you to become a traveller?
My very first travel experiences were with my family but only as far as the north of Scotland – some of the finest natural landscapes in the world. I think what really ignited my passion was a trip to South Africa in 1997 which opened my eyes to different places, cultures and people and from there on in I’ve just continued to feed my desire to learn as much as I can about the world and what makes it tick.
You bagged the ‘Best Job in the World’! How did it happen? What saw you through the interview for the Job that nearly 35,000 people applied for?
In 2007 I took on my first BIG overland expedition, driving around the entire African continent. It took me a year and when I returned to the UK I didn’t have anything lined up for future work or plans as the previous three years had all been about planning and saving for what I thought would be a once in a lifetime adventure. Ten days after I got back to the UK the advert went out for the Best Job, looking for someone who could go on an adventure and write all about it – something I’d just spent the previous 365 days doing. It all fitted into place rather well.
The application process took place over four months. Getting my application video even noticed from the other 35,000 applicants was one of the toughest parts – it had to be something fun, informative and well put together – one minute isn’t long to sell yourself! From there, all the way to the final I just told the story of who I was, the adventures Iâ€™d ben on and my insatiable appetite for making the most of our time on Planet Earth. At the end of the final I really didn’t think I’d win but everyone told me I was the obvious choice so I must have done something right!
We have long known the Great Barrier Reef from traveller’s perspective. How have you come to know the reef as a care taker?
I’ve built up a very special relationship with the GBR over the last five years. Initially for me I was blown away by the sheer size, scale and beauty of this incredible underwater wonderland. Viewing the reef from the air is really the only way to fully appreciate how vast it is, but then snorkelling or diving brings into perspective exactly how much life lives there and how important it is to the balance of the world’s oceans. I’ve now been lucky enough to visit over 70 islands and also spent four months kayaking the entire length of it during my Best Expedition in the World. The Australian government has a huge responsibility to look after it for future generations, a role which is seems to have forgotten with the expansion of the coal shipping terminals which will blight the Queensland coast over the next few years.
What are some of the most unforgettable and intense moments you’ve experienced?
There are so many incredible experiences I’ve had getting up close to nature – the moments that cant be planned, but simply happen. I’ve watched a Humpback Whale give birth, scratched the shell of a passing turtle, fed Sharks and spent many, many hours underwater just sitting on the ocean floor watching the marine life go about it’s everyday business. But swimming alongside feeding chains of Manta Rays off Lady Elliot island has to be one of the most beautiful.
Australian scientists say the Great Barrier Reef will be “pretty ugly” within 40 years due to coastal development. What are your views about saving this fragile ecosystem?
The Queensland and Australian governments along with GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) are doing wonderful things all along the coastline to help protect the reef from the impact of humanity. It is the most protected coral reef system on the entire planet – but there is always more that can be done, locally and internationally. The warming of the world’s oceans are a symptom of climate change that everyone has a responsibility for. It’s up to wealthy governments, like Australia, the US and China, to reduce their emissions and carbon output to help lessen our footprint on the earth for future generations. On a local level the government could think further than just the length of their term in power. Pandering to the might of the coal industry is a selfish decision that will permanently change the coastline throughout Queensland and the resulting port expansions, dredging and increase in shipping will ultimately damage the GBR for the tourism industry and the world as a whole.
You kayaked 1600kms along the Great Barrier Reef retracing Captain Cook’s ‘Voyage of Discovery’. What inspired you and how was it following in his footsteps?
I’ve always loved a new challenge and having climbed mountains and run marathons in the past decided I needed a new challenge – this time on the water. The original English adventurer, James Cook, has always been a source of motivation for me. The early explorers were REAL men, setting out into the unknown to discover the world – something it’s very hard to replicate today! The expedition retraced his journey along the Queensland coast, weaving in and out of the islands, stopping off to document the life I found there, both above and below the water. They were four of the most exhilarating, tough and wonderful months of my life!
8 Days, 8 Peaks in 8 States of Australia! What inspired you to keep up with the tight schedule? And how was the feeling when you stepped on top of the 8th peak?
I’d never been the quickest in sport at school, always coming 2nd or 3rd so setting out to run further or achieve more became my performance goal. Having climbed Africa’s five highest peaks in 2008 I came up with the idea for the Aussie 8 whilst out on a run (my best thinking time!). It had only been done in three months previously, so we were guaranteed a record, but the project was really to showcase some of the beautiful, less-visited parts of the country in order to inspire other people to get outdoors and explore themselves. Reaching the summit of Bartle Frere, Queensland’s highest, was a great achievement but we still had to get all the way down again before the clock stopped. The fact that ALL of the itinerary worked exactly as we’d planned was the biggest revelation of the lot!
You have explored Africa and Australia quite extensively. What is next in the pipeline?
There’s always another adventure in the pipeline! Next is a world record attempt in New Zealand this November – to complete the nine Great Walks (545km) in nine days. Something that’s never been done before. Then next year I’m shipping my Land Rover to Singapore to drive it back to the UK over eight months with my wife Sophee. It’s going to be an amazing next two years.
You fielded 124 interviews in 24 hours! Was it overwhelming? What were the things or thoughts that helped you sail through the ‘record-breaking’ day?
The 24 hours following the announcement that I’d won the Best Job in the World were crazy. The world’s media were watching, all wanting to know what it was like to have won. The adrenalin was flowing through my body and I honestly didn’t have time to stop as I went from one TV interview to the next, then onto radio, then onto the phone for the newspapers and back to the start, over and over! I had a job to do, that was the serious side of the Best Job, to sell Queensland to the world and I took the role in high regard and always wanted to do my best.
Your Land Rover, Colonel Mustard, seems to have played a great role in your outdoors and expeditions. Tell us something about it. Any particular reason you named it ‘Colonel Mustard’?
My dear Land Rover yes. His name was inspired by the character from the board game Cluedo. Being bright yellow makes him stand out a bit and it just fell into place! I bought him as a standard vehicle in 2004 and have spent the last decade customising him so he’s the most comfortable bedroom, office, kitchen and safe place I can work and travel in.
What kind of surprises are there in your upcoming book ‘The Best Job in the World?’
I’d always wanted to write a book after reading so many inspiring stories leading up my first expedition in 1997. They took me away to a far off place, filled me with ideas and gave me the courage to set out and do it for myself. But what they didn’t give me were the tools I’d need to make those intial decisions – How do I seek sponsorship? How can I form the perfect expedition team? etc etc. My book, The Best Job in the World, tells the story of my previous adventures but also equips the reader with the tips I’ve used to become successful and how to avoid the pitfalls too! Life during the Best Job in the World wasn’t all roses I can tell you as I let you
into the secrets of the huge workload, jellyfish stings and the terrible relationship I was in at the time!
This interview with Ben Southall is a part of Travel Trolley's ongoing 'Best of the Travel Bloggers' series. We are interviewing and showcasing popular travel bloggers who encourage and inspire people to travel. Check out all the bloggers we have interviewed and showcased and learn about their interesting experiences, adventures, travel stories as well as useful holiday tips.