All Ross Kemp on Gangs episodes will be shown every Sunday throughout this month on Discovery Channel.
For anyone who has ever watched the hit UK television series EastEnders, the name Ross Kemp might sound familiar. He played the role of tough guy Grant Mitchell during his nine years as part of the popular cast. Kemp left the show in 1999, and hasn't looked back. He's participated in various films and television series, and hosted a variety of documentary series before taking some time off.
Now, the tough guy is back and harder than ever with his investigative documentary series on the Discovery Channel, where he tackles subjects ranging from pirates to the war on terror in Afghanistan and the world's deadliest gangs in his show Ross Kemp on Gangs.
The actor-turned-documentary host opened up to tabloid! over phone from his home in London about the perils of filming in high-risk areas, his biggest fear, and whether playing a hard man on screen prepared him for meeting some of the world's scariest people.
"I don't think that [the character of Grant Mitchell influenced me]... I mean, that was just a part that I was asked to play and it was developed because the character was in the show for 10 years and he was supposed to be an ex-soldier — and ex-soldiers generally know how to look after themselves. So, that has really nothing to do with where I am now," Kemp said.
‘I got bored'
"I mean, I came across doing what I'm doing by complete accident. I was working for [the British TV network] ITV after I left the BBC and I got what I'd always wanted, which was five months off a year — but getting paid the same kind of money as for working a whole year.
"Then I realised that all my friends were not available to play on the golf course or go walking or do whatever we do, because they were all at work. My wife at the time was editing a national newspaper [his ex-wife, the former Sun editor Rebekah Wade], so she wasn't around.
"So, I got very bored and then someone asked me to stand in because someone else had dropped out at the last minute on a documentary about guns in America. I did that programme and quite enjoyed it. That was it, really — that was the kind of springboard for going to [British TV network] Sky and saying I'd like to make some documentaries about gangs around the world. So, they're not really related at all I have to say," Kemp adds, laughing.
Having faced down extremely violent gangs from all around the world, you would think the documentary host would not be afraid of anything. But that's not the case: "I'm far more scared of human beings than I am of animals when I go out on my trips. The unpredictability of the human being, the human species, particularly when it's under the influence of narcotics or alcohol or any other kind of influence..."
While Kemp's exploits in front of the camera might make it seem that he is diving somewhat head-first into gang territories, he was quick to acknowledge that it is all the result of good teamwork. "Over the years, we've just developed a very small team. We are very trusting, highly organised now.
"As I say, very small, very loyal to each other and we have this opportunity to travel around the world and meet some fascinating people.
"I also have some amazing researchers that go before me. I mean, these are ultimately the brave guys — and girls sometimes — [that] go out before me and find these fascinating people and these fascinating situations. Then it's just a mixture of us spending time with them and getting on with them and hoping that they want to reveal something about their lives."
Is he ever tempted to join them? "Never. Trust me, not one second did I ever think that. I mean, I became close friends with some of the gangsters and I'm in close contact with some of them, but trust me, I live in a very nice house. And I don't have to worry about having to go out to rob someone or shoot someone or worry about the fact that someone is going to shoot me every time I go out of my front door.
"I prefer to keep it that way," he added, chuckling.
After spending countless hours interacting with gang members, and experiencing society through their eyes, it could be expected that Ross would have sage advice about how to deal them. Surprisingly, his advice falls in the category of good old-fashioned common sense. "Obviously, don't hang out places where they hang out. If you hang out with people that are clearly involved in criminality, then you might be affected by it.
"[As for the risk of] being pick-pocketed — don't wear an iPod. Yeah? Don't listen to music while you're walking down the street, because it takes out one of your senses. Don't have your bags on your back like a backpack, always carry it in front of you. Have your wallet in your front pocket, not your back pocket. Don't spend endless hours on your mobile phone, because it's going to get nicked on the streets," Kemp rattled off.
Then he added, somewhat sarcastically, "It's not rocket science."
If anyone had exposed themselves to such violent lifestyles as much as the former actor had, they wouldn't be faulted for becoming jaded, depressed, or even frustrated — either with the way their lives had become, or with trying to navigate reams of red tape in order to help those living in such environments. But Kemp doesn't think he has been affected negatively by his experiences.
"I should really be more of a pessimist, but I have to say I am slightly more of an optimist, because I think I have been fortunate enough to meet some very dangerous people and some very sad people and people that had no choice about the way they live their lives.
"Ultimately, most of them want to live good lives and it's just the circumstances they have found themselves in that have caused them to become the people that they are."
For all his adrenaline-pumping adventures across the globe, even Kemp must think of switching to hosting a more relaxed television series. If given the chance, what would be his dream documentary to host? "I want to make a programme [on] my favourite 18 golf holes around the world. But no one will commission it."