One to watch - Ben Fogle: New Lives in the wild - Channel 5, 9pm

It’s cold, it’s miserable, and some of us aren’t expecting any Valentine’s cards - so isn’t it tempting to daydream about how much better life would be if we could just leave the rat race behind and start again somewhere a little more tropical?

By The Newsroom
Friday, 14th February 2014, 8:12 am
Ben Fogle in the Philippines with Neil and Marge Hoag and children
Ben Fogle in the Philippines with Neil and Marge Hoag and children

Ben Fogle can certainly see the appeal. “I’m one of those people who’s been on holiday in the past, on a sandy beach beneath some palm trees, and wondered ‘can I not just string a hammock up there and catch some fish like the local fisherman, and live like that?’”

And his series, New Lives in the Wild, sees him meeting the people who have turned that dream into a reality.

Of course, not everyone who wants to get away from it all is motivated by a desire to live like they’re on holiday for 52 weeks a year.

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Fogle says: “It’s timely we’re in an age where we’re going into a triple-dip recession, where people are financially strained, unemployment is rife and I think now more than ever people are looking at alternative lifestyles.

The series follows people who have done just that, they’ve left the grid and are living in wild, remote corners of the world, living - on the surface of it - a simpler life.”

This week, Ben travels to Leyte, one of the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines, to meet 45-year-old ‘Jungle Neil’ Hoag, who was struggling to make a living as a Florida cabbie before finding love on the other side of the world.

Now, he’s a coconut farmer with an adopted family, and appears to have ditched the American Dream in favour of a new culture.

But as Fogle discovers, Hoag’s new home wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a tropical paradise.

The farmer and his young family live in a bamboo house surrounded by a harsh and unforgiving environment.

While lesser presenters may have retreated to the nearest five-star hotel, Fogle throws himself into his host’s way of life, even slaughtering a pig and doing the island’s version of the school run.

And along the way, he tries to find out why Hoag, a complicated man with a troubled past, has chosen to settle in the jungle - and whether his new existence really is less stressful than the one he left behind.

“The big question of the series is ‘Is life ever simple?’ You may avoid some of those financial worries, but it’s human nature to worry; are you going to have enough warmth, fresh drinking water, fresh food, and can you buy school books for your children?”

But even after experiencing some of the pitfalls of the ‘simple life’ first hand, Fogle hasn’t stopped daydreaming.

“I always come back thinking ‘I’m going to make my life much simpler, and my children don’t need all these toys, and I don’t need all these gadgets and clothes.

“But you soon get back into the lifestyle and the culture in which we live.”