Big Interview - Levison Wood

Date: Thursday August 1, 2019 at 1:38pm

Thank you for agreeing to speak with NCNB today…You served as an Officer in the British Parachute Regiment for a number of years, what made you join the Military?

My grandfather served for the British Army. He was sent to Burma during the Second World War to fight against the Japanese. He had the most fascinating war stories, which he regaled to me and my brother when we were kids. My dad was also in the TA. I’d also always dreamed of being an explorer, ever since I was a young boy, and many of my heroes – T. E. Lawrence, Richard Burton, Wilfred Thesiger, Robert Scott – had a military background, so it seemed like a necessary and appropriate steppingstone.

What was your time like serving and going on operational tours in the Army?

Overall it was very enjoyable. Naturally it was tough at times, but I value the sense of camaraderie and lifelong friendships I got from my time in the army. Afghanistan was an intense tour, but it was a worthwhile experience.

You are still serving as a Reservist within the Army, you recently went on exercise to Japan, what was this like?

I’d always wanted to go to Japan because my grandfather was sent there in aftermath of WW2, so when the opportunity came up to join the HAC, as part of the first ever joint UK-Japanese training on Japanese soil, I jumped at the chance.  

It was a historic exercise to strengthen British-Japanese relations. The Japanese were very welcoming and excellent to work alongside. We learnt a great deal from them, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. It stands us in good stead to plan and conduct activity together going forward.

    

During 2013 – 2014, you walked the length of the River Nile, your expedition was very popular on Channel 4, did your Military career influence your love for adventure and the outdoors?

Yes definitely. I already had a love for adventure and the outdoors, instilled in me from my childhood in the Peak District and my love of reading books of that sort. But the army gave me the opportunity to learn new skills, and qualifications in adventure training, which set me up for what I went on to do. Most notably, I took eight men on a mountaineering expedition to summit Mera Peak in the Himalayas. It’s fair to say my time with the British Army only enhanced my love for adventure.

Travelling is nothing unusual to the Armed Forces, deploying to places that your normal person would not go to. What is the most memorable place you have travelled?

It’s a bit like asking me what my favourite country is, which given I’ve been to over 100 is impossible to answer. But I travel and document my travels, to share with my readers and my viewers what life is really like in these places that tourists rarely venture. I’m always overwhelmed by the generosity of people who have so little to their name. Sudan is one of the most memorable places for their sheer kindness.  

I prepared myself for a country torn apart by civil unrest, violence and poverty, but was greeted by unimaginable hospitality and hope. In every settlement we passed through, we were offered tea, and bread, and a place to stay, to the point where we had to divert our route to avoid the locals because they were slowing us down. Still this did not stop their efforts; one man would not accept our refusal to stay in his house, so he carried his bed out to us in the desert!

What has been your greatest adventure so far and why?

All my adventures have been great, but I am most proud of my most recent journey, which saw me pass through 13 countries in the Middle East as I circumnavigated the Arabian Peninsula. The previous journeys – the Nile, the Himalayas, Central America and the Caucasus – were all preparing me for this last, and most difficult expedition. It was the first one which was not commissioned by a broadcaster, so I had to really believe in it to go ahead with it, which of course I did. Along with a few mates, I set up my own production company to film the journey from Syria to Lebanon.  

The Middle East is one of the least understood regions in the world, so it was really important for me to shine a new light on it and its people, to share a different perspective, and perhaps the real story. My new series, ‘Arabia with Levison Wood’ will be aired on Discovery Channel on Thursday evenings at 9pm, from 27th June for five weeks. I can’t wait for you to see it!

   

You have written a few books about different adventures and experiences; do you plan on releasing any more books?

I am currently writing my next book, which is due to be published within the next year. As my career takes a new direction, I’m reflecting on what a life in the boots – both my army and walking pairs – have taught me about my approach on life, and I’d like to share these lessons with my readers. It’s part philosophical, part anecdotal.

On June 13th, ‘Incredible Journeys’, my first children’s book is published. I write about twenty of the greatest journeys of all time, from Alexander the Great’s conquering of the world, to Neil Armstrong’s journey to space, and all in between. I hope it will inspire kids to travel themselves and put colour in the world of adventure; the illustration is brilliant! Next autumn (2020) I will also be releasing my first photo book. A collection of my best photography to date, from all my travels over the years. So, lots in the pipeline!

Who has had the biggest impact on your life?

Both my grandfather and my father inspired me to choose a career in the military. I also received a letter when I was in my final year at school, from an officer who had retrieved my wallet. When I wrote to him to thank him, I mentioned I was interested in joining the army, and asked for any advice. He replied with six pages of advice, highlighting travel as the most important thing. I still have that letter, and I believe those words greatly impacted my 17-year old choices too.

You are an ambassador for the ABF The Soldiers Charity, please tell us more about the charity.

ABF The Soldiers Charity provides financial and practical support to soldiers, veterans and their immediate family in times of need, even after they have left the army. I’m involved with a number of charities who support soldiers, veterans and their families. The support these charities provide is invaluable to the men and women who receive it after service. The period of transition after leaving the army can be very difficult, so it’s vital that they and their families know they have someone to reach out to when they need.

As an ambassador I endeavour to spread awareness of the wonderful work these charities are doing and raise funds by giving talks.

   

Tell us something about Levison Wood that no one will know?

Despite being a former paratrooper, I suffer from vertigo.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, any final words or wisdom you would like to share with the Armed Forces Community for 2019?

The army is a great employer and there are lots of fantastic opportunities if you go out and look for them. Never forget those you served alongside, and don’t be afraid to make the most out of your army connections when moving on to a new civilian career. We’re a community force to be reckoned with and the army will always set people on a great path in the future.

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