Stafford during his Amazon expedition, which took 860 daysKeith Ducatel with permission for Varsity

In August 2010, Ed Stafford became the first person ever to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. Joined for the trip’s majority by a walking partner, Gadiel “Cho” Sanchez Rivera, he travelled over 4,000 miles in 860 days, at times only managing four miles a day due to the sheer density of the Peruvian jungle. Ed and Cho were held at machete and gunpoint, mistakenly detained as drug smugglers and murderers, stranded in the jungle with a broken GPS and only a tortoise to eat – Stafford even got a flesh-eating botfly lodged in his head.

“A lot of explorers do these trips...because they feel an inherent need to prove their worth”

So why did Stafford decide to walk the Amazon? “It depends how deep you want to go,” he tells me. “I don’t think I really fit into conventional life. Certainly in my 20s I would get into trouble quite a lot, and if I’m honest I would get into fights.” For Stafford, the trip was a chance to escape that world. “And I did it because I was insecure,” he admits. “I think a lot of explorers do these trips not necessarily because they’re braver than anyone else, but because they feel an inherent need to prove their worth.”

The Amazon success led to a still-growing career as a TV explorer. Stafford, characteristically humble, has no pretences about this: “I’ve got loads of mates who are far more competent than I am, who say ‘you’re a fucker, Stafford, you’re able to have the tagline of The Guy Who Walked the Amazon.’ It’s helped massively, in terms of all the TV, and motivational speaking and books.”

His next TV gig, Ed Stafford: Naked and Marooned, was one of the hardest. He was dropped, without food, water, equipment or – as the title suggests – clothing, on the uninhabited Fijian Island of Olorua, and challenged to survive for 60 days. It was a mental struggle. In the Amazon Jungle, Stafford had relied on Cho heavily, and he found the isolation tricky. Alone on the island, there was no “yardstick” against which to measure his sense of self. “I almost felt sick from this overriding sense of not knowing who I was,” Stafford reflects, but ultimately, “I think it was quite a healthy thing to do [...] I sat down and made a list of all the things I wanted to be, the morals I wanted to live by [...] it’s an amazing crucible of self-development really.”

“We say we’ve got a welfare state, but the welfare of those kids is not being addressed”

Aside from a quick stint on an uninhabited Indonesian island with his wife (explorer Laura Bingham) and then-two-year-old son Ran in Discovery’s Man Woman Child Wild, in the last few years Stafford’s work has been focused on the UK. In 2019 there was 60 Days on the Streets, which saw Stafford rough sleeping in London, Manchester and Glasgow. Stafford, who went into it thinking that the root cause of the issue was a lack of housing, was instead confronted by the extent of the drug and alcohol problem. From his experience, this is the main factor keeping people on the streets – “I would say that around 98% of the people I spoke to were either alcoholics or drug addicts.” I ask whether he thinks giving money to rough sleepers helps: “I can only talk from my first-hand experience, but no one was taking money to go and spend it on a hostel […] it was all being used to fuel an addiction.” Stafford admits that he doesn’t really know the answer, beyond the fact that rough sleepers need far more help than they’re currently getting, on a systemic level.

Stafford has recently continued his 60 Days series with 60 Days on the Estates, which premiered in 2023. While some have thought the title comes across as patronising – middle-class guy “braves” a council estate and tells the residents how to solve their problems – this isn’t the tone it takes. In the programme, Stafford is sensitive and interested, centring the stories of those he meets rather than his own experience.

The examples speak for themselves. In the first episode, on an estate in Haringey, North London, Ed meets mother of six Dionne, whose one-bedroom flat has a serious mould problem; her children have developed asthma, and she’s been asking for years to be rehoused. A pipe above the flat has been leaking for five years. “I’m not here digging for negative stories about the council,” says Stafford after their conversation, “but that flat is unacceptable [...] we say we’ve got a welfare state, but the welfare of those kids is not being addressed.”


Mountain View

In conversation with Jimmy’s homeless charity

With an eye roll Stafford tells me that, just after this encounter, he saw a clip of Rishi Sunak promising residents of the relatively affluent Tunbridge Wells that money intended for deprived areas, such as Haringey, would be redirected to them. He hopes that his TV programme has had an impact: “hopefully in connecting to the person, rather than connecting to the problem in a generic fashion, it becomes more real and hits home more.”

Stafford signs off with a flurry of updates. He, Laura and their three young children recently moved to Costa Rica, in search of a more simpler, sustainable life, and are briefly back in England to tie up loose ends. I consider a joke about admin being life’s real adventure, but (thankfully) decide against this and let him go. It’s best, it seems, to let Ed Stafford get on with it.