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Megan Hine: the woman who helps keep Bear Grylls safe

She has survived killer snakes, not washing for three months, gun-toting opium farmers and managed to keep dozens of clueless celebrities alive for outdoor endurance reality shows. Megan Hine is an expedition guide, one of Bear Grylls’ survival consultants and the woman you want to stick close to, come the resources wars: she can climb, abseil, knows which bugs to eat, and can start a fire with a tampon. And she’s warm and funny, too, so you wouldn’t mind if you were stuck on a desert island with her. As a bonus, she can catch fish with her bare hands.

We speak on the phone. She has just come back from a day of scouting locations in a Romanian forest for a TV show and is doing her best to avoid the bears. “It’s the time of year when they’re giving birth and you’ve got to be really careful about the caves.” You don’t need to be a survival expert to know you stay away from ferocious mothers and their cubs. She has seen some in the distance, but not up close, she says, adding “thankfully”.

‘Make it safe, but make it epic’ … Megan Hine.

Hine knows what it feels like to be something’s prey. There was one night, sleeping out in the Namibian desert with a contestant for a Swiss TV show, when she woke with a shock. She shook her companion awake and they watched a huge male lion, soon joined by two females, circling them in the firelight. “It was the weirdest feeling,” she says. “I was just watching these creatures and my senses, my muscles, were so tight. I was ready to fight for my life.” She only had a knife on her, which wouldn’t have saved them. “But it was almost like an out-of-body experience, being able to watch these lions and see how beautiful they were, see their muscles rippling.”

They had been living in the desert for three weeks, surviving on lizards and a handful of berries, so they were tired and hungry. “But that’s when you really need to stay on top of your game,” she says. They had made the effort to stockpile a load of wood to keep their fire going, and it was only this that kept the lions from attacking them. “Because of that preparation, I’m still here today.”

Hine met Grylls in 2007 when she had moved to the Swiss Alps to run an outdoor programme for a school. She had been running survival expeditions during the school holidays, and was looking for a way back into it full-time when Grylls’ production team got in touch. Although she has worked on many other TV shows since then, especially with her partner who does the same job, she regularly returns to Grylls’ shows, including Mission Survive and The Island, which returns to Channel 4 in the spring.

“He is an amazing character, and his team is everything to him,” she says. There are times when the team-bonding goes too far – when I ask her what the worst thing she’s ever eaten in the wild is, she says it was the time Grylls found and boiled some fertilised eggs. Worms aren’t nice, she says, but maggots can be surprisingly tasty once you get over the revulsion of putting them in your mouth. “Some of them are quite cheesy,” she says, as if this is a good thing.

Hine tests out whether stunts on survival shows will work. “We go away and make sure we can make it happen. If we can’t do it how the production team want it, we have to find a way around it and I love that creativity: trying never to say no, always trying to make it safe, but make it epic. We’ve got to make sure that if we’ve got a crew going through an area, that it’s as safe as we can make it.” This can involve clearing snakes, or testing the stability of rocks to abseil down.

‘A female survival expert brings a different atmosphere ... it dials the testosterone down’ ... Megan Hine

On one shoot in Thailand, she was leading a small group through the jungle when they stumbled across an opium farm. Guards with AK-47s spotted the group. “Getting my team moving – a couple of them weren’t necessarily very fit – and trying to run away from these people who work in the jungle and know the terrain, that took a lot of mental willpower to keep myself together,” says Hine. They were chased for four hours, over tangled terrain and across water channels and up and down ridges, in the sweltering heat. “I remember afterwards sitting down and thinking, thank fuck. It is those moments where you really learn who you are and how strong you can be. I remember making sure my team were OK, and then having to wander away from them and having an emotional moment to myself.”

Hine grew up loving the outdoors. Her father was a geologist and family holidays were spent in the UK hiking, climbing mountains and exploring forests. Before university, she took a year out and spent it in New Zealand where she trained as a raft guide, then throughout her degree in outdoor education, she worked as a part-time instructor and mountaineer. Hine feels most comfortable in the wilderness – it’s the rare, but increasingly common, trips she makes to the UK and London for work, where she feels claustrophobic and stressed. “It’s really only a few 100 years since we were primitive farmers. We’ve come so far, but we haven’t fully evolved to live as we do now – all the modern pressures.” She says we have tried to eliminate all risks from children’s lives, but it comes at a cost. “How are children going to understand risk if we don’t let them experiment?”

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‘Maybe in some ways having a woman doing what has always been sold as this extreme, manly, beard-wearing job, undermines the grrr-ness of it all’

I ask her if female survival experts approach a situation differently. “Definitely,” she says. “I think it brings a different atmosphere, it dials down the testosterone. That doesn’t mean we’re doing lesser tasks – we’re still doing the same stunts, expeditions, climbing the same mountains – but there’s a different vibe to it.” It tends to be more supportive, she says. “That doesn’t just appeal to women, it appeals to quite a lot of men, as well. There isn’t a place for macho style in survival because that sort of behaviour gets you and other people killed or injured.”

There are still times when cultural differences in the places she travels to means she has to enlist a male client in her group to deal with male officials or elders. “There is a side of you that wants to prove yourself, but I quickly realised I need to do things as near to their culture as possible. We work closely with local people and some men just aren’t comfortable, whether [because of] their faith or culture, dealing with women in a leadership position. It’s about putting your own ego aside in order to get the job done.”

Then there are the clients who are suspicious of her skills. “If you’re taking out a man in his mid-40s, they’re going to question you and I’ve had that a lot.” Does she think she has ever missed out on work? “To a certain extent,” she says. “I don’t think ‘sexist’ is the right term for it, I think it’s because [a woman in this role] is unexpected. Maybe in some ways having a woman doing what has always been sold as this extreme, manly, beard-wearing job, undermines the grrr-ness of it all. Maybe it makes them feel less manly.”

Occasional differences in physical strength aside, there is nothing a man can do that she couldn’t. Grylls once said she was stronger than 99% of the men he knew. But – the big test – has she ever scooped out the intestines of a dead camel and slept in its carcass, as Grylls once did? “No, I haven’t.” She laughs. “I would do if I had to.” Of course she would.


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