An Interview with Benedict Allen
What’s the worst thing that has happened to you during an event?
I was very nervous in front of my first audience, opened my mouth to begin my speech – then suddenly a sash window behind me slammed down with the noise of a bomb exploding. The audience and I jumped with fright, then sighed with relief. It broke the tension, and I cracked a joke about it being more dangerous here than in the jungle and it perfectly set up the rest of my speech.
Can you remember your first speaking engagement?
When I was just 23, it was a Literary Luncheon with actor Donald Sinden – I was famous as the “man who ate his dog to survive”, a Daily Mail centre spread at the time.
What was the last event you spoke at?
Last night, a leadership summit of EDF (the energy giant).
Which event has been your favourite and why?
To a packed theatre in Belfast – seven thousand children who were totally out of control and scary at the beginning but by the end were listening with their jaws dropped.
If you could speak at any event, past or future, what would it be?
To open a G8 summit in which our leaders have sworn in writing to save the Amazon.
Which speaker/performer do you most admire and why?
Peter Snow, the broadcaster – he has an enthusiasm about him which is utterly genuine and infectious.
What is your worst on-stage habit?
Jumping on to the stage instead of talking the safe little steps that you are provided with – I can’t wait to get up there, and I’m very tall. Perhaps it suits an adventurer to bound onto stage, but I’ve been known to fall off again.
What annoys you most professionally?
When a dinner goes on too long, and by the time you get to speak, your audience is drunk!
Do you have any riders or special requirements?
No, but people somehow assume I’m a vegetarian – because I live with remote “tribal” people. In fact, of course I eat monkeys, parrots, snakes, you name it…
Why should an organiser hire you to speak at their event?
These are extremely testing times, and (modesty aside!) no-one has more experience than me of surviving against the odds – I’ve been shot at by drug barons, been left to die by guides, stitched up my own wounds with my boot-mending kit, even had to eat my dog to survive. I enjoy convincing an audience, though my passion and through these adventures, that crises (whether in business or in the real jungle) need not be a bad thing: we are more alive when we are really up against it. At a more personal level, I want the audience to understand that life’s not about how many times you almost die, it’s about how many times you live.
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