Maidenhead’s Nene Overland create truck for Ben Fogle to tackle the countryside and London’s mean streets
10:10 18 May 2015
What else would he need other than a Land Rover Defender? Photos: Tom Critchell, courtesy of Land Rover Owner Magazine
Ben Fogle is a regular face on our TV screens and is no stranger to adventure. He has never been a ‘studio’ presenter and can usually be found ‘on location’ somewhere in the world. Recently he has presented the ‘New Lives in the Wild’ series that followed people giving up on the rat-race, moving out of town an finding a new life in the country. The intrepid guide wondered whether these extraordinary individuals and their incredible experiences might tempt him to move his own family out of London and away from the comforts of the city.
Is it daring or downright crazy? Ben wanted to discover the truth about life in tough, harsh conditions, where doing battle with Mother Nature is a daily reality. And what better vehicle could he ask for than one that is just at home competing for tarmac space with London buses and the Congestion Charge as it is climbing mountain tracks in the dead of winter.
Ben says: “I’m still doing Countrywise programmes for ITV, and I’ve set up The School of Wild in Gloucestershire. It’s a wilderness school for kids aged 8-13, a mixture of bushcraft, how to build a den, make a fire, skin a rabbit, as well as skills like wood turning and whittling, that sort of thing. It’s also aimed at families for a fun day out, to reconnect people to the countryside.”
Ben has also just launched another Royal Geographical Bursary, supported by Land Rover, which aims to support people with a dream expedition that they want to embark on. Ben adds: “I’m a member of the Cordon Rouge Club which includes just about every explorer you’ve ever heard of from the adventuring world. The idea is that we, as a group, are offering our skills and expertise to support future adventurers.”
So it is all very clear that Ben is fully wedded to an adventurous life and Land Rovers play a big part in helping him achieve that.
Andrew Harrison Smith, MD of Nene Overland, which recently opened up a showroom in Maidenhead, says: “Originally Ben was looking for a used station wagon, but as we spent a bit of time talking about the various options it became clear that he really wanted a soft-top. Eventually we found a suitable vehicle, just over a year old and very low mileage. It also had a very good level of specification.”
“Although Ben had the idea of taking the top off just for the summer I suggested going for a full-time soft-top conversion. The quality of the hoods and materials we use are second to none and driving them in the winter months is really not much different to a hard-top station wagon.”
When asked about why he chose this particular Defender, Ben explains: “Like many Land Rover enthusiasts I was torn between getting an iconic pre-80s classic or something more modern, but because I drive so many miles I decided a proper vintage vehicle just wasn’t appropriate. I needed something safer and more comfortable for the whole family.”
“I knew I definitely wanted a Defender 90. In 2001 I bought a brand new Silver Defender 90 and loved driving it all over the UK, but then the family came along and it wasn’t the most practical car and had to go. Now that the family is a bit older we’ve come back to the Defender again and I’ve been aware of Nene Overland for a good while.
“I really like the fact that they could adapt any vehicle to suit me and I’d always fancied a soft-top, there’s something very romantic about them. I know we’re not blessed with the best weather in the UK the vehicle needed to be fun as well as practical.”
“I also didn’t want anything too blingy and I really liked the idea of a modern vehicle that had a vintage look to it – like this Heritage Icon – but with all the creature comforts we now take for granted. Andrew and I put our heads together, discussed all the various options and configurations offered by Nene Overland and came up with this one. The Keswick Green colour scheme is really beautiful.”
“As a child I remember spending a great deal of time in Land Rovers. I think there’s something quintessentially British about them, and the Defender in particular. There’s a real nostalgia with whatever Land Rover you have and the Defender appeals to our romantic side of driving something more simplistic in this fast-moving technological world.”
So what does Ben plan to do with the Defender?
“This will be my ‘country’ vehicle for all my filming assignments so you will probably see it on TV from time to time. It’ll be a bit of a hybrid as far as both work and family is concerned. The only thing I need to change is replace the centre cubby box with an extra front-row seat. We should be able to squeeze both kids, our bikes and all the other kit into it.”
“I really like the Melville & Moon canvas seat covers, made in South Africa they give it a nice ‘on safari’ feel. The soft-top and roll cage are actually very practical as well as fun to use. I can just roll up the sides in the good weather. Overall the fact that it looks like it came straight from the factory like this is great. Not over the top, still has an iconic look about it.
“If you ask a child to draw a Land Rover this is what they’ll give you, a recreation of a toy car, it’s just what a Defender SHOULD look like.”
With Land Rover ceasing production of the Defender this year it will be very interesting to see whether its replacement generates as much of a loyal following. We suspect it’ll be a love-it-or-hate-it vehicle but with a 67-year-old heritage in building off-road vehicles you can bet it’ll still be able to tackle the rough stuff.
• Nene Overland will be sponsoring our 2015 Food and Drink awards. See all the nomination details and categories here.