Ben Fogle's love affair with the Land Rover
PUBLISHED: 15:48 07 November 2016 | UPDATED: 15:48 07 November 2016
The Land Rover Defender has served town and country folk alike for almost seven decades, and TV presenter, adventurer and Land Rover fan Ben Fogle couldn't let the end of its production go unmarked. This month he's in Southwold with his book dedicated to the iconic vehicle. Catherine Larner talked to him
There is something very reassuring about the Land Rover. A simple, boxy shape, it’s a familiar sight on Suffolk lanes loaded with bales of hay, or by our rivers or coastline, tugging boats in and out of the water. It’s synonymous with an outdoor lifestyle, with adventure, rescue and protection, and touches all walks of society.
No wonder, then, that Land Rover drivers find, in passing traffic, they are often greeted with a cheery wave, or a friendly flash of lights. And not just by fellow Land Rover drivers – it seems everyone feels an affinity to this hardworking and vehicle with a personality all its own.
If you spot a Series 1 Land Rover travelling in Suffolk this month take good look – you might see TV presenter, adventurer and author Ben Fogle at the wheel. A lifelong fan of the Land Rover, he has written about his passion for this most straightforward and rugged vehicle, and is in the county to talk about it at the Ways with Words festival in Southwold.
He recalls earlier visits to Suffolk – specifically Walberswick – with crabbing lines in the back of his Land Rover.
“I have had a life-time fascination, bordering on obsession with the Land Rover Defender,” he says of his ‘other car’ (for the uninitiated there is a Land Rover Series I, II, IIa, IIIa, 90, 110 and Defender). “I remember playing in an old Land Rover as a young child and have been hooked ever since.”
Ben is the son of TV vet Bruce Fogle and actress Julia Foster. He found fame via theBBC reality series, Castaway 2000, which followed a group of 36 people marooned on the Scottish island of Taransay for a year.
When the programme – and the social experiment – came to an end, Ben chose not to wait with the other participants to discuss subsequent opportunities with TV executives. He needed to escape, clear his head and think about his future. He got into a Land Rover Defender with his Labrador, Inca, and drove the length of the country, through the night.
Since then, Ben has been in huge demand as a presenter. He currently hosts series such as Countrywise, and New Lives in the Wild. He has also taken part in endurance pursuits, including crossing the Atlantic with Olympic rower James Cracknell, completing the six-day Marathon des Sables across the Sahara Desert, and racing across the Antarctic. And the rugged, simple, durable Land Rover has featured throughout these endeavours.
“I use the Defender as my regular work vehicle, and I drive her around the whole country,” Ben says. “We’ve done nearly 20,000 miles this year while filming Countrywise. She isn’t the most comfortable vehicle. In fact she’s noisy, bouncy and leaky, but I wouldn’t change her for the world. She always makes me smile.” The shortcomings of the Land Rover are part of the appeal.
“She’s a mirror to us. She has her failings, but by admitting her weakness we love her all the more. She reminds us of a simpler time, long before the computerisation of cars. She reminds us of the innocence of youth, a time when a car felt more like a car than a space ship.”
Despite the versatility and worldwide appeal of the Land Rover Defender, production came to an end in January this year after 67 years. Ben wanted to mark the end of the line for this iconic machine, so decided to assemble his memories and find out more about the brand and the people who drive it.
“The range and diversity of the Land Rover is quite extraordinary,” he says. “I had no idea just how influential the car has been in creating the foundations of our society.
“They were used to help build our transport and communication networks and they have been key not only in the maintenance of that infrastructure, but also the security and welfare of our nation. The police use them to quell civil disorder, the military use them in warfare and the UN in peacekeeping. They have been used for humanitarian aid and to transport Her Majesty the Queen safely across the world.”
Ben hopes his book, called Land Rover: The Story of the Car that Conquered the World, will serve as a record of the contribution this unassuming but significant vehicle has made on so many lives.
“It is said that for more than half the world’s population, the first car they ever saw was a Land Rover Defender. It is a classless car, a vehicle in which you could drive through an inner city estate, a rural farm or a royal palace and blend in.
“There really are so many stories, it was difficult to know where to begin. I broke them down into genres – military, police, the Royals, farming, expeditions. I used different vehicles, people and stories to tell each tale.
“I’m not a petrol head. I know very little about cars, and I hope the book will appeal to similar folk. It is full of anecdotes about the role the Land Rover has played, so it is much more than just a book about cars. It uses the Land Rover as a means of telling the story of the 20th century.”
Ben Fogle is speaking at Ways with Words, Southwold on Sunday November 13, at 1.30pm. www.wayswithwords.co.uk
His book ‘Land Rover: The History of the Car That Conquered the World’ is published by William Collins 9780008194222