My life in drinks, Simon Reeve

My life in drinks, Simon Reeve: ‘I had a tiny sip and felt my tongue melting’

The documentary filmmaker, 51, tells Samuel Fishwick tales of deadly moonshine, cognac with an ex president of Moldova and why he poured vodka into his sock

I had a little bit of a taste for Tennent’s Super [extra-strong lager] way too young. I was 11 or 12. I’m slightly ashamed to say you could get it quite easily in the off-licences in Acton, West London.

Back then, Acton was poorer than it is now, and it was a tricky place. The best thing was to hang around in a small gang, which was safer, but groups of boys inevitably get up to mischief. Nothing too serious. We didn’t injure anybody, but we did get into trouble. I knew how to make petrol bombs by the time I was 11 – I was a bit of a pyro.

I’ve just been filming a new BBC series about wilderness areas around the planet. We took a little bottle of Teacher’s whisky deep into the Congo rainforest to celebrate with if we managed to see any bonobos, the primates that are our closest living relatives – which we did. 

A little sip of something boozy is the perfect way of marking a special achievement.

Documentary filmmaker Simon Reeve, 51, has been filming a new BBC series about wilderness areas around the planet 

I met my wife Anya in 2004 at the launch of Alex Garland’s novel The Coma. I had been invited because it was hosted by my publishers, and they took pity on me. Anya was invited because she was friends with the author. 

I don’t entirely remember the cheap plonk we were drinking, but I saw her across the room with a glass of red, fending off City boys in their crisp white shirts. It was a proper ‘fancy at first sight’ thing.

In Tajikistan in 2009 I got drunk with a group of Tajik border guards and the secret police in a shed next to a Taliban outpost across the Afghan border. These poor 16-year-old Tajik conscripts were supposed to be preventing Afghan heroin heading towards Britain. I don’t think they were doing very well, to be honest. 

Simon makes a mean black russian

They tried to give me so much vodka that I’d pretend to toast but actually tipped it under the table on to the carpet. Then I worried that it was getting too wet, so I started pouring it into my sock.

The worst drink I’ve tasted was in Tuva, a very poor part of the old Soviet Union. It was 2016 and we were looking to try some of the dodgy local moonshine, which was killing people there. So I had a little taster of the problem drink, which I believe had been distilled from antifreeze. I just had a tiny sip of it, and I could feel a slight melting of my tongue from where I tried it. I spat out the rest.

The cocktail I’ll churn out in large amounts is a black russian. It’s so easy. You’ve got your vodka and your Kahlúa. That, and a big chunk of ice.

Prosecco hits the sweet spot. I haven’t got very sophisticated tastebuds and I’m too tight for champagne. Anything with bubbles that looks right in an appropriate glass will do.

I had a good drink with a man called Igor Smirnov, the former president of Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe. He got me totally blasted. First he taught me to fish and then we went to his house where he opened a bottle of 60-year-old Moldovan cognac. 

The Pamir Plateau, Tajikistan. In 2009 Simon got drunk with a group of Tajik border guards and the secret police in a shed next to a Taliban outpost across the Afghan border

His wife came in carrying shopping bags and was really cross with us. He had this whole thing where he’d say, ‘Once the bottle is open in Moldova, we must drink till it is empty.’

Most of Mexico is very safe, but the border is sicario [hitman]territory. We couldn’t go far from our guest house for fear of being kidnapped, tortured and murdered. But there was a little bar downstairs where we Brits took refuge. 

I think I had two tequila shots before we realised it was a funeral wake. Nothing changed among the people there, but we freaked out. The next morning we were told we’d been safe, as we were in a narco hotel.

  • Simon’s To The Ends of the Earth tour runs until 19 November. See

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