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The untold truth of Bear Grylls

British explorer Bear Grylls is best known to TV audiences for Discovery's Man vs. Wild (released as Born Survivor: Bear Grylls in his native UK), though his time on the hit survival show revealed just a small fraction of a man whose entire life has been a nonstop adventure. Born Edward Michael Grylls and nicknamed Bear by his sister at just a week old, he went on to attend top British boarding school Eton College and founded the famous institution's first mountaineering club, where he honed the skills that would give him a future in television.

Grylls has fronted many shows since then, some based on reenactments of true survival tales, others that took real people and put them into those very situations—his most famous guest being the then-serving President of the United States. Barack Obama gave the Secret Service nightmares when he joined the survivalist on a trek through the Alaskan wilderness in a special episode of Running Wild, but as Bear found out, even getting the Commander in Chief on side isn't enough to please everybody.

The magic of TV makes Grylls look like the ultimate survivor—and cynical viewers may be tempted to wonder what's been edited out along the way—but the truth lies somewhere in between. From his genuine scrapes with death to embarrassing leaks about his so-called survival shows, this is the untold truth of Bear Grylls.

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​He used to get bullied in school

Anyone who has seen his shows will no doubt be surprised to learn that hardman Grylls was bullied in school, though fans of his work actually have those bullies to thank for toughening him up. In response to the teasing he would endure, young Grylls decided to take up karate along with a few of his friends, though they began to drop out one by one and he alone stuck at it. Three years later he got his black belt and was named the youngest member of the Karate Union of Great Britain for their trip to Japan.

"We began to study and train under Sensei Yahara, one of the most revered karate grandmasters in the world," Grylls revealed in his book Mud, Sweat and Tears. "Each night we slept on the floor in small wooden Japanese huts, and by day we learned how to fight—real and hard. The training was more exacting and demanding than anything I had previously encountered. If our positions or stances weren't pinpoint accurate, we would receive a firm crack from the bamboo 'jo' cane. We quickly learned not to be lazy in our stances, even when tired."

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​His politician father was implicated in a scandal

Grylls' late father Sir Michael Grylls was a close ally of opinion-splitting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and served as a member of Parliament (MP) in her Conservative government during the 1980s. The ex-military man (he was rejected from the Navy for poor eyesight but later served with the Royal Marines in Egypt and the Middle East) backed the closing of coal mines and the roll out of a smoking ban in public places, making him an unpopular figure in northern England but to his colleagues and constituents in the wealthy south, he was a good man and a loyal politician. That was until the "cash for questions" scandal broke.

The Tory party was on its way out in 1997 to make way for Tony Blair's new Labour movement, but Grylls' plans for a peaceful retirement from politics were soon shattered. A number of Thatcher's MPs were grilled (no pun intended) over payments they received for bringing questions to parliament on behalf of wealthy businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, and a report found that Poppa Bear had "seriously misled" committee members by failing to declare payments and that his behavior fell "below the standards the House is entitled to expect of its members."

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​He's ex SAS

After leaving school, Grylls set out on his first Himalayan adventure, spending a number of months hiking in around the mountainous regions of India before eventually following in his father's footsteps.

"I spent quite some time in India before I joined the army," Grylls told The Hindustan Times. "I went out there climbing, and up in West Bengal and all around Darjeeling. I love India. We were in Calcutta for a while and then we were with the Indian Army as well." Grylls even flirted with the idea of joining the Indian Army himself at the time, but ultimately decided that he would be best served enrolling in the military at home in Great Britain.

Grylls joined the United Kingdom Special Forces Reserve in 1994 and served with 21 Regiment Special Air Service (SAS) for three years, receiving training in everything from desert and winter warfare to evasive driving, climbing, and explosives. In this time he was deployed to North Africa twice, though his second visit there almost cost him his life…

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​He nearly died when his parachute ripped

He might have only been an SAS reserve, but that doesn't mean he got to skip out on any of the dangerous stuff. Grylls' second deployment to Africa ended in a terrible accident that almost claimed his life and, by rights, really should have.

"In Africa, my parachute ripped at 17,000 [feet]," the adventurer revealed to The Guardian. "I blacked out, and on landing broke my back. I spent the next 18 months in braces and plaster. I was lucky to survive, let alone walk again."

His old school buddy Mick Crosthwaite (who co-founded Eton's first mountaineering club alongside Bear and would later join him on real climbing expeditions) also thought that his friend's number was up in the aftermath of the fall, making what he has done since his recovery all the more remarkable. "I look back and think of him in the body brace after that horrific parachute fall, and it's incredible that he survived it," he told The Guardian. "Then to look at what he has achieved since then, I'd never have thought it possible."

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​He recovered and climbed Everest

Breaking three vertebrae after a 17,000 foot fall would be enough to put most people off heights for good, and Grylls was almost no exception to that. His parachute blunder made his lifelong goal of climbing Mount Everest seem like an unrealistic pipe dream, but after wanting it for so long he just wasn't ready to give up on it.

"After breaking my back I felt that dream had been shattered and it felt out of my wildest reach," he admitted. "It had been such a dream for so long, since my late father gave me this picture of Everest that I used to keep on my bedroom wall as a kid aged eight. Climbing was where I felt natural and free and it is what also brought me close to my father."

Grylls not only lived his childhood dream when he scaled earth's highest mountain in 1998, he also made history, becoming the youngest Brit to reach the summit at age 23 and doing so less than two years after his near-fatal Africa fall. It was no walk in the park, however. In fact, Grylls very near met his end for a second time when some loose ice left him hanging on for dear life. "We were in the first stage of the Everest ascent when the ground gave way, leaving me swinging on the end of this rope, clutching at these black and glassy walls. Mick (Crosthwaite) and the two Nepalese climbers saved my life, gradually pulling me out."

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​His partner Mick almost died, too

Unfortunately, Grylls' old friend and climbing partner Mick Crosthwaite didn't manage to reach the Everest summit despite his best efforts, though he did come away with an equally harrowing near-death story. With Grylls feeling under the weather near the end of the climb, Crosthwaite decided to seize his chance and make a shot for the summit alone, but in a cruel twist of fate his equipment cost him his prize (and very nearly his life) with the end in sight.

"Mick ran out of oxygen at 28,000 [feet], just an hour away from the summit," Grylls told The Guardian. "He had a problem with his tank and collapsed in the snow. I was ill back at base and he radioed me and said, 'Bear, I think I've got 10 minutes to live'. Mick is a man of understatements, and I'd never heard him speak like that. I screamed at him, 'Keep your eyes open.' Then the radio went dead." Members of the team were able to recover Mick before it was too late, but Grylls had to complete the trek alone.

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​It wasn't his last near death experience

As if two close shaves weren't enough, Grylls' behavior in the years since his Everest ascent has been no less hazardous to his health. He had a near miss later that very year when a cameraman failed to stop on a descent in the Canadian Rockies, his wooden sledge slamming into the helpless presenter's legs at 45mph and sending him toppling down the mountain side like a rag doll. "In that split second I have only one realization: a one degree different course and the sledge's impact would have been with my head. Without a doubt, it would have been my last living thought."

From there he went on to sever his finger on razor sharp bamboo in the Vietnamese jungle, survive a rockfall in Yukon, a boulder-fall (slightly different, equally as deadly) in Costa Rica and a mineshaft collapse in Montana. And that's just the rock-based near-misses. He also came close to meeting his maker when he tackled a saltwater crocodile in Australia, came face to face with a 16-foot tiger shark in the Pacific, and was also bitten by a poisonous snake in Borneo.

"Countless close shaves. They all blur. All bad. Yet all good. I am alive."

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​He staged the world's highest dinner party

In 2005, Grylls and fellow explorer Lieutenant Commander Alan Veal broke the record for the world's highest dinner party when they flew a hot air balloon to a height of 24,262 feet and climbed down to a dinner table suspended some 40ft below, braving harsh wind chill in temperatures of minus 50 degrees Celsius. After enjoying a three-course meal together (they reportedly pulled out all the stops, dining on asparagus tips, duck a l'orange and fruit terrine) the daredevil duo dedicated the venture to Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth and skydived back down to ground with full bellies.

The bizarre get together was the brainchild of fellow British explorer David Hempleman-Adams (who had crossed the Atlantic in a hot air balloon just two years previous), and he called it the strangest record he had ever been a part of. "It was a fun stunt, but was at the same time very dangerous. There were potentially a lot of things that could have gone wrong."

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​The luxury hotel controversy

Grylls was the subject of controversy in 2008 when U.S. survival consultant Mark Weinert started talking to the British media about his time working on Man vs. Wild, claiming that the star was a fraud. Weinert revealed that during the Hawaii episode he personally assembled a Polynesian-style bamboo raft off camera only for Grylls to add the finishing touches and take the credit, and after shooting he claims the ex-military man left for a motel. And that wasn't the only time the show faked Grylls' whereabouts according to the whistleblower, who also let slip that Grylls spent a few nights in a luxurious lodge complete with a TV, hot tub, and internet access during the filming of the Sierra Nevada mountains episode.

"If people felt misled on how the first series was represented, I'm really sorry for that," Grylls told the BBC. "I'm the person that takes the rap for these things, even though I'm not always involved in the editing side of it, but ultimately it is me on screen."

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​He has a long running beef with a fellow TV survivalist

One person who you could say was less than convinced by Grylls' explanation is fellow outdoorsman Ray Mears. He responded to the luxury hotel controversy by dubbing Grylls a "showman" and a "boy scout", and while both are factually accurate (Grylls is actually the chief scout, the youngest in history), he wasn't being polite. "I think the viewer knows that if you want to really know how to take care of yourself in the wild, I'm the person to talk to," added Mears, whose opinion is so well respected that in 2010 the police actually hired him to track a cop killer at large in the UK.

The rivalry between Britain's best-known survivalists flared up like a nasty nettle rash in 2013, when Mears accused Grylls of putting the lives of his viewers at risk with his Rambo style approach to taking on the wild. "Some of the things [Grylls does] are crazy," Mears said. "Leaping off cliffs into water when you don't know what's in it? If a 15-year-old was to copy him and impale himself on a pram leaping into a canal… because they were inspired by it, I would think that was his fault."

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​His home is his church

Despite being away a lot, at home Grylls is a religious man with what he describes as "a lovely quiet faith" that he shares with his family.

"…if the point is to find community and be encouraged, then I find the best church often happens with my kids," Grylls said of his approach to Christianity. "We're at home on a Sunday. I'll get out the old piano and sing a few simple kids songs and a little hymn … That is church. We'll read a little verse. You know, 'I am holding you by your right hand.' We'll say a little prayer for each other and we're done in seven minutes. It's wonderful."

In 2016 he became the latest celebrity to talk about his time with the Alpha Course, agreeing to publicly document his experiences with the evangelistic program over the course of a whole year.

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​He lives on a remote island

When not staying on the houseboat they have moored on the banks of London's River Thames, Grylls and his family live on a remote island off the coast of Wales. It is a setting that allows Grylls to live the way he promotes in his shows, though even there he doesn't have total control.

In 2013, he found himself in hot water with the local council after erecting a huge metal slide that ended with a drop off a cliff face into the seawater below. "The slide is not for the paying public and therefore the health and safety is not for other people," Grylls said in his defense. "It's for me and the kids and friends to use when we are there. It has an element of danger to it, you do hit the water pretty hard. But do you know what? There are a lot more dangerous things around." He came in for criticism again in 2015 when he enlisted the help of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to rescue his eldest son Jesse (11 years old at the time) after he purposefully stranded him on a rocky outcrop off the island.

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​He's big in China

Grylls' 2012 bestseller Mud, Sweat and Tears was voted the most influential book in China that year, and it seemed only a matter of time before he attempted to crack the Chinese market with his brand of rough and tumble television. He did so in 2015 with a show called Survivor Games, which featured a premise similar to Mission Survive, a U.K. series in which Grylls takes eight celebrities on a two-week hike through unforgiving terrain.

Viewers complained that the show was "tasteless" and "disgusting" after Grylls asked the contestants to drink their own urine, but Grylls' success in China continued in 2017 after he invited several more Chinese celebrities to join him in the wild for one-on-one adventures, including former NBA star Yao Ming and Robin Li, one of China's richest tech moguls. The follow-up program aired under the name Absolute Wild China.

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He wants to take Trump into the wild

Grylls suffered a setback when ITV decided not to renew his celebrity survival show Mission Survive, but the channel later released a statement assuring fans of the survivalist that they have "a number of projects with Bear in the pipeline." Grylls still has both the British and American versions of The Island to concentrate on as well as the UK kids show Survival School, though a recent Radio Times interview with the presenter revealed that he is keen to lead another Presidential adventure in the wild. It's been two years since Barack Obama took part in a special episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls, and when asked if he would be interested in taking the current inhabitant of the White House on a similar trek, he issued what seemed like a challenge to Donald Trump.

"It would be amazing. Of course," Grylls said when pressed about Trump. "And, there's no doubting he's tenacious. Obama liked stepping out of his comfort zone, and that attitude is good in the wild. He told me it was one of the best days of his presidency. But I don't know… Donald Trump is a person who likes to be king and the one thing I've learnt in the wild is you're never the king. You've got to learn to put the crown down. I'm actually on the same network, NBC, as The Apprentice. But I kind of hope he's got more important things to do than to go on an adventure with me."

The Donald has yet to reply, but we're expecting a Tweet any day now. Whether this potentially classic bit of television happens or not, it is safe to say that Grylls isn't going to be leaving our screens any time soon—it seems that his years of experience have taught him how to survive in show business just as well as he can in the wild.