Travel Talk

Celebrities tend to travel rather a lot. We get their views on the good, the bad and the best experiences they've had.

People couldn’t get over how pale I was. It made me realise how varied the world is”

The globe-trotting TV presenter tells Angela Sara West about her record-breaking charity challenges and adventures around the world with friends and family

Helen Skelton is as well known for her adventurous exploits as she is for her TV career, with roles presenting Blue Peter and Countryfile opening doors and feeding a taste for adrenaline-fuelled activities and philanthropic wanderlust.

Children's TV was a gateway to action and adventure, leading vivacious Skelton to undertake incredible challenges for charity. She’s not only famously kayaked the length of the Amazon solo (breaking two Guinness World Records), but tackled the treacherous 500-mile icy Antarctica terrain, enduring extreme temperatures of -48C to reach the South Pole by ski, kite and bike. Helen’s Polar Challenge for Sports Relief pushed her limits, gaining her yet more world records.

“On Blue Peter, I had colleagues who didn’t think I was mad for wanting to take on crazy adventures, so I ran with it! You get out of life what you put in, and I get a buzz from pushing myself,” says Skelton.

Other notable accomplishments include becoming only the second woman to have completed the gruelling 78-mile Namibian Ultra Marathon, and her ‘Magnificent 7’ which saw her fly with the Red Arrows and face a daring rope bridge trial. Her most hair-raising moments? “High-wire walking between the towers of Battersea Power Station was nail biting. I was so scared I could barely breathe!”

She says living on a boat in the Amazon, not knowing where or when she would eat or sleep, was “an adventure in every sense of the word”, while driving a camper van across Turkey and travelling in India top her most memorable and exhilarating experiences. “They were trips that challenged me every single day. Turkey was scary at times… I got grief for travelling as a solo woman. I was swarmed at times in India and, in Bangladesh, people couldn’t get over how pale and blonde I was. Seeing people so shocked by me made me realise how different and varied the world is.”

Returning to her rural roots as a presenter on Countryfile, Skelton’s UK-wide adventures and travels for the show have taken her all around the UK, seeing her mud wrestling, capsized in a canoe in a raging torrent, and stuck in a dry suit after helping fish in a canal while heavily pregnant.

As an ambassador for Sports Relief and Comic Relief, Skelton’s also journeyed overseas, to Sierra Leone, Uganda and India, where she supported Operation Smile.

“I helped charities perform facial surgery on children living with cleft lips and palettes. In Bangladesh, I met children struggling with malnutrition and physical disability, while in Peru I spent time with children living on rubbish dumps and making a living there.”

She says her travels have taught her “empathy” and has top tips aplenty for staying safe abroad. “Research, research, research… Don’t travel alone. Don’t get too drunk, and keep valuables out of sight. I got mugged once for wearing earrings.”

The waterbaby was in her element living by the sea, having relocated to Canet-Plage with a toddler in tow, when her rugby league player husband, Richie Myler, signed with the Catalan Dragons in 2015. “We loved the weather, importance of life and amazing food. We never had a bad or expensive meal in Perpignan. The local market is so cheap, and we could get five litres of wine for €5 from the vineyard next door!”

The slow pace was another bonus during their two-year French stint. “We couldn’t get over how relaxed everything was, taking two hours for lunch. We’d spend summers outdoors, on the beach, people watching.”

Now back in Blighty, the future holds further epic challenges. “I’m attempting an ultramarathon relay in a couple of months, running 10km chunks with six girlfriends from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.”

Born and raised on a dairy farm, farming's in the family blood, but does her rural upbringing influence her travel choices? “Yes and no. I’m happier amongst greenery and I like fresh air. A perfect holiday to me is swimming in natural water. That said, we’ve always lived so far from cities that going to the city is always a treat.”

Summer is for switching off. “I live in my campervan. I love the Yorkshire coast, and I want to take the van to Switzerland,” while recent family winter travels took in Cyprus. “We found fantastic hidden beaches and quirky places, ate unrecognisable food and watched sunsets every day… it was perfect.”

The Congo was hair-raising, Syria is beautiful and North Korea is like another planet”

The comedian, columnist and travel writer tells Angela Sara West about braving the Congo, deserts and celebrity-filled jungles.

Pulling pranks on unsuspecting celebrities and members of the public on his pioneering Trigger Happy TV show, screened in over 80 countries, means boundary-pushing funnyman Dom Joly hears his globally-famous catchphrases worldwide.

“I get ‘HELLO!’ shouted at me in more languages than you'd think possible,” he tells me. “And I still don’t have a comeback!”

His edgy exploits as a serial globe-trotter, seeking dangerous travel spots in places most people avoid, has seen him hit some of the most hostile environments on earth: North Korea, Syria, Chernobyl.

“I’m addicted to wanderlust. There is no bigger thrill for me than the first moments in a new destination, trying to work the place out and get a feel for it. I then embark on an adventure that allows my books to write themselves,” he says.

Joly is also drawn to destinations with a dark past, and adores sharing stories of his amazing off-the-beaten-track adventures in his books and travelogues, aiming to challenge people’s perceptions of places often misrepresented and misunderstood. 

In his quest to visit the world's most unlikely tourist spots, he has skied the segregated slopes of Iran and taken in Chernobyl “before it became trendy”.

Beirut-born Joly grew up in a warzone, with shells landing literally on his back doorstep, and went to the same school as Osama Bin Laden. His war-torn childhood and subsequent travels are both a source of inspiration for his comedy TV material, along with his books, which captivatingly recount some of the scariest, strangest and most downright dangerous places he's encountered on his travels.

With a distinct taste for deserts, he’s visited the Sahara, Mojave and Gobi deserts and the legendary Empty Quarter. The appeal? “I find deserts enormously relaxing,” he explains. “They’re the only places where I unwind. They're definitely my happy place.” 

Fearless Joly believes everyone should get out of their comfort zone and ‘lose themselves’ for a month. “Head to Morocco if you’re a lightweight; Algeria, if you’re serious about it,” he advises.

The explorer describes his latest book, The Hezbollah Hiking Club, recounting tales from his epic hike with two pals trekking the Lebanese Mountain Trail from the Israeli border to the Syrian border, as a “love letter” to Lebanon. 

The highlights of reconnecting with the country so close to his heart? “I loved visiting the Hezbollah Resistance Museum, a kind of alternative Disneyland, and the Qadisha Valley, the jewel in Lebanon’s Crown.”

He encourages readers to visit his homeland, but why should it be on our travel radar? “Lebanon, at its best, is a combination of the South of France, California and Switzerland. Think pine forests, beaches, skiing, Roman ruins and the food… oh God, the food!” 

He’s felt most frightened while ‘monster hunting’ in the Congo, trekking through forests to a machete-wielding tribe whose permission he needed to reach a lake which is home to a mythical monster. It was no laughing matter when they got drunk on “jungle gin” and, after one attacked him, a petrified Joly escaped by canoe. “I’m most uneasy when I feel a complete loss of control. The Congo was hair-raising and very difficult to travel through alone.”

Cambodia, Syria and North Korea are among his favourite destinations, despite once being forced at gunpoint to go for tea after rejecting an invitation from a lorryload of Syrian Bedouin! “Mainly because there aren’t many other tourists about, although Cambodia is getting there. Syria is a staggeringly beautiful country and North Korea is like visiting another planet.”

Joly’s experience on ‘The Island’ off Panama with Bear Grylls is the hardest thing he’s ever done. “The biggest high was just surviving. I didn’t eat a thing for two weeks and lost two and a half stone, which was a bonus. By day ten, I had lost all energy and was pretty useless, plus things weren’t helped by being eaten alive by sandflies.”

And how was his experience down under, on ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here’? “Compared to the ‘The Island’ it was like an exotic spa holiday. It was the ultimate technology and social detox. I didn’t have to worry about anything for 21 days – except spiders and Gillian McKeith!”

I'm from Trinidad so I was used to seeing the odd skirmish outside the rum shop”

News veteran and journalist Sir Trevor McDonald loves balmy Caribbean evenings, hates airports, and describes himself as a coward in a conflict zone, writes Sasha Wood

As the leading newscaster of his generation, Sir Trevor McDonald  has been responsible for many landmark TV moments and has interviewed key historical figures ranging from Saddam Hussein to Peace Prize winners such as Nelson Mandela and Benazir Bhutto.

Born in Trinidad, McDonald worked as a local news reporter before moving to London to join the BBC in 1969, and has since travelled far and wide professionally.

He  says he travelled like a king for  his most recent documentary, Indian Train Adventure, covering his eight-day journey between Mumbai and Jaipur aboard the legendary Maharajas' Express. 

“India overwhelms the senses. It’s such a large country, so populous, so crowded and the driving is utterly mad. It’s something you have to do once,” says McDonald.

But it has not always been plain sailing. When he joined ITN in the 1970s he was sent to Northern Ireland during the height of The Troubles. “There were people being shot and bombs going off all the time,” he says. “I was from Trinidad and used to seeing the odd skirmish outside the rum shop on a Friday night, but I’d never heard a bomb explode before. I must admit there were times when I was scared out of my wits. I am very cowardly by nature so I learned to run.”

He reported from Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and went to Baghdad before the first Gulf War to interview Saddam Hussein. In fact, he lists Beirut among the most surprising places he’s visited, partly because it managed to remain so civilized in the midst of a raging civil war. 

“People were fighting and killing each other during the week and on Sunday morning people they came out and set up little stalls selling the finest French perfume and Champagne.  I turned up to a fine restaurant and I couldn’t believe all the tables were full,” he explains.

McDonald doesn’t always get the chance to explore when he’s on assignment, so he frequently revisits places where he’s worked: “The west coast of America is one –  I love San Diego and Santa Monica. You discover new things every time you go.”

One of the places McDonald has returned to often, after working there for many years, is South Africa. He was the first person to interview Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison in 1990 and again when he became president in 1994. The two subsequently met on many occasions and became firm friends.

“It was fascinating to watch the country go through all the traumas of what it was to what it wants to be. I saw a lot of changes, but frankly, on my last visit about a year ago, I was a little distressed that some of the changes have not been greater... and quite shocked to see some of the same slums that were there 25 years ago,” he says.

As a journalist, he has always been fascinated with meeting world leaders. He was friends with Benazir Bhutto and interviewees have included notorious despots such as Libya's Colonel Gaddafi. He has also been invited to the White House on several occasions, interviewing President Clinton and the younger President Bush.

McDonald has travelled extensively in the Caribbean, to Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts and Nevis. “My father was born in Grenada and he always boasted that their beaches are better than in Trinidad,” he says. 

“What I like about the Caribbean is that it’s always warm. Even on summer evenings here you feel you need a light sweater, but in the Caribbean you put on a short-sleeved shirt, pour yourself a large rum punch, and sit out on the verandah forever.”

Barbados is also one of his go-to places for a relaxing holiday, along with Cape Town. “The waterfront area in the city is very nice,” says McDonald.

Between travelling for work and sojourns  in South Africa and the Caribbean, the broadcaster says he has spent far too long in airports, which are his least favourite aspect of his globe-trotting exploits: “I approach them with dread,” he laughs.

That said, his time spent working in troubled destinations around the globe has nurtured a certain warmth for British aviation: “I must confess that it was always nice to get on to a British Airways flight and hear the captain’s voice – you always felt you were heading home and out of trouble.”

Once you’ve packed, take half of it out to make room to fill with lovely things from your trip!”

Angela Sara West talks to Great British Bake Off judge, restaurateur, chef and author Prue Leith, about her prolific travels and culinary adventures

Well-travelled cookery queen Prue Leith enjoys a good bake-off in Berkshire. But when not filming for the hit BBC baking show, she’s on the road promoting her books and new eye wear for Ronit Furst, or her itchy feet whisk her overseas.

“I’m in Scotland – where I am Chancellor of Queen Margaret University – three times a year, all over England, Ireland and Wales for food and literary festivals promoting my cookbooks or novels twice a month, and I visit Europe a couple of times annually.

“Since I met my husband, John, eight years ago, we’ve been to Oman, the Far East, India, Bhutan – from where I famously tweeted the winner of ‘Bake Off’! – Latin America, Dubai for their famous Desert Literary festival, and many more places
"We discovered Segways in Savannah, Georgia, which was a great way to see all the 18th-century colonial houses along streets which would have taken ages on foot.”

Leith’s also journeyed to Lesotho, taken a walking trip in Transylvania, visited Uruguay after an Argentinian riding experience, cruised the Med and the Nile, and been ballooning in Turkey. She’s also relished extreme climates, with road trips through the Arizona desert, California and Utah.

She says Laos (where she slept in a tribal chief’s hut) surprised her the most. Any other places that score highly in this cook’s book? “Bhutan, because it was so very different from neighbouring India. It was very underpopulated, the people are still largely in national dress and devoted to their royal family; the Buddhist temples dominate life.”
Leith describes her recent trip to Tokyo and Naoshima in Japan as “the experience of a lifetime”, which took 50 years for her to “dare visit” due to it being so different and a place where English is barely spoken. “But that is the attraction,” she adds.

As a child, Leith sailed with Winston Churchill, who disembarked at Madeira. She recently visited the island’s famous Belmond Reid’s Palace, following in his footsteps. “Reid’s holds a food festival, The Art of Flavours, and we just missed it. I’ll be back!”

Her time spent studying at Cordon Bleu in Paris hugely inspired her career. “France taught me that food was to be taken seriously. Everyone talked about food… something no-one did in South Africa.”

Leith returns to her birthplace, Cape Town, every year. “As a child, I hated what was then called the Game Reserve (now the National Park) but now I love a safari. Best of all is Baroque in the Bush, a combination of classical music and safari, and then a braai with a lot of beer and wine,” she says. 

This summer saw her set sail on a river cruise along the Rhone, discovering the gastronomic heart of France and giving a demonstration for Good Housekeeping. “It was brilliant, especially considering I was in a wheelchair with a busted Achilles tendon!”

Glamis Castle and Ballindolloch were highlights of her honeymoon (second time around) aboard Belmond’s Royal Scotsman train for a grand tour of Scottish castles. And Scotland is back on the menu for Leith’s milestone 80th birthday next year. “Fly-fishing on the Naver with a dozen friends. We’re also going around the west coast on the Puffer, the only remaining steam-powered boat."

So, where can we find the world’s best food? “For France, I’m out of date now. Sadly, the famous routiers where you used to get amazing food, cooked from scratch, now turn out indifferent baguettes.

“But Italy and Japan, obviously; Southern India; and, surprisingly, parts of America. I had the best grilled octopus in a Greek restaurant in Atlanta, and we were knocked out by all the local breweries making really cool beer.”

Her top travel tips? “Once you’ve packed, take half of it out to make room for an empty fold-up bag to fill with lovely things while you are away! I constantly bring back cooking equipment; I have a hopper pan from the Maldives, a chapati iron from India, and teppanyaki tools from Japan.”

When not cooking, judging, writing or promoting, where rates highly for relaxation? “My idea of R&R is a nice beach, a hammock and a piña colada. I once risked one of those expensive Austrian medical spas that feed you hayflower tea and little else, make you eat stale biscuits, and believe in colonic irrigation. I hated it!”