Ben Fogle with Lynx Vilden in New Lives in the Wild, Channel 5. Photograph: Renegade Pictures
Returning for a fifth series, Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild (Channel 5) sends the intrepid Fogle to the back of beyond to meet more people who have chosen to go off grid for good. When the show debuted, it immediately put itself in consideration for the distinction of being Channel 5’s Most Thoughtful Programme. The competition has not stiffened in the intervening years.
After a five-hour drive from Seattle, a kilometre walk and a horseback ride of indeterminate length, Fogle finally discovers Lynx Vilden, a half-British, half-Swedish wild woman, who lives alone in the snow-upholstered North Cascades, at one with nature.
“Everybody’s trying to eat every- body else,” she says, “so it’s just a matter of trying to fit into that cycle.”
Vilden found peace in the wilderness after a troubled period as an Amsterdam punk, and her vocation is stone-age living: she sleeps in an earthen hut in sub-zero temperatures, and she’s currently experimenting with surviving the winter without recourse to metal tools – just bone, stone, wood and skin. She has students who come to the woods to learn survival skills from her, but mostly she’s alone.
Immediately, I begin to fear for Ben’s safety. He’s no stranger to hardship, but people don’t always drop out of society for rational or commendable reasons, and isolation can make them weird. Fogle has, by his own admission, met a lot of doomsday preppers in his line of work – people you wouldn’t want to cross, although it might actually be worse if they took a particular shine to you. Thanks for having me, you’d say, but I really must be getting back to civilisation. Then you’d hike miles through the snow to the burnt-out shell of your hire car.
As busy as she is with arrow-making and bear-fat rendering, Lynx clearly craves company. A segment about her relationship status provided an opportunity she was not going to let pass.“Is there a caveman out there?” she says, turning to the camera. “He’s strong, handsome, sensitive, spiritual, and a little bit savage. If you know him– cos he probably isn’t watching this – go tell him I’m waiting.”
Prospective cavemen might also like to know that Lynx has a perfectly comfy cabin on her property, complete with wood stove, electricity and satellite dish. She forsakes it for all but the most unforgiving weeks of winter, but it’s where her daughter – a 22-year-old international studies student – sleeps when she comes to stay.
In the interests of full disclosure, Vilden also possesses what Fogle describes as a “unique odour”. It’s too bad the trademark for Lynx is already taken. The subject of bathing must have come up, because Vilden leads Fogle down to the river, where she has a big cauldron of water heating over an open fire. She refers to it – twice – as her cannibal pot.
“Can I just say,” says Fogle as they sit together in the steaming bath, “I really thought you were going to eat me.” “The evening is not over,” says Vilden. Fogle laughs as if his life depends on it.
Fogle has a natural, guarded patience with strange and sometimes selfish people, and, of all the dropouts he has met in the past three years, Vilden has to be one of the most intriguing: intelligent, engaging, funny and largely unmarked by the weirdness isolation brings. “If the world was to end,” says Fogle, “I think I’d want to be with Lynx more than anyone else.” Careful, Ben – she might hold you to that.
In 2014, the Swedish journalist Bosse Lindquist began following – and filming – the renowned surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who had developed a pioneering technique for transplanting artificial tracheas coated in the patient’s own stem cells.
By then, Macchiarini was already under investigation for his work at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden, but he denies doing anything wrong and evidently was interested in putting across his side of the story.
Fatal Experiments: The Downfall of a Supersurgeon (BBC4) is a complex tale told over three consecutive nights, but Lindquist chose to begin with his final interview with Macchiarini. The footage showed the surgeon objecting to Lindquist’s line of questioning and leaving the room, pausing to shake the hand of the cameraman on his way out. It made everything that happened afterwards seem charged and 1chilling, even the scene where Macchiarini got a haircut.
Lindquist’s problem with Macchiarini’s surgical technique was that it didn’t appear to work – according to the programme, the patients kept dying. Due to a lack of proper testing, there didn’t even seem to be any evidence that it could work. One doctor said he would rather face a firing squad than such an operation. The case continues …