In 2009 the BBC came up with another version on Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ travel classic. In order to raise money and awareness for the Children in Need charity they devised a celebrity relay challenge around the world following the same overland route as Phileas Fogg did in one of the greatest travel classics of all time.
The BBC, long before, had already devised a highly successful re-enactment of the Around the World in 80 days journey when it sent Michael Palin on the road to test if it could be done with 1989 global transport improvements. The resulting documentary was highly successful and the BBC had clearly not forgotten about this twenty years later when they used a similar formula for their charity celebrity journey.
Six famous duos
For the BBC show Phileas Fogg’s original RTW trip was divided in six segments/episodes with each segment being covered by a celebrity duo. In each episode the pair of celebrities travels their leg trying to meet the next pair at a handover point in sufficient time, in relay race fashion, passing on a bag containing a journal and a phone. The journey could be completed by any means except by flight. Each of the celebrity pairs contributed to the journal as their leg of the journey progressed, and ahead of the trip Palin wrote an entry containing advice for the travellers.
Throughout the journey, the celebrities collected various items on their leg of the journey which were gathered in the bag and to be auctioned afterwards to raise money for Children in Need.
Stage 1: Frank Skinner & Lee Mack travel from England to Turkey
Comedians Frank Skinner and Lee Mack started the BBC challenge by traveling from the Reform Club in London – the original starting point of Jules Verne’s imaginary journey – to Turkey. The went overland by crossing the English Channel moving onwards through France Austria, Slovakia, Hungary Serbia, Bulgaria before reaching Turkey. By doing so the duo deviated from the original journey which went from Austria southwards through Italy and by steamer to Egypt and then Saudi Arabia. The difficulty of crossing the latter country was most likely the reason why the route was altered.
Stage 2: Nick Hewer & Saira Khan travel from Turkey to Kazakhstan
Nick Hewer and Saira Khan from The Apprentice took over in Turkey and planned to travel from there via Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan. But as with every great journey things did not go as planned. Due to the 2009 Iranian election protests and the rejection of their Uzbek visas they had to alter their route plan. Instead they choose to go via Georgia, Azerbaijan and crossing the Caspian sea into Kazakhstan. As the BBC was on a tight filming schedule the pair cheated by flying part of the way through Kazakhstan by helicopter, to make up for delays resulting from not being able to take their original planned route.
Stage 3: Julia Bradbury & Matt Baker travel from Kazakhstan to Mongolia
Countryfile presenters Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker took over in Kazakhstan. The went North into Russia where they hopped aboard the Trans Siberian train to make it in a quick and reliable way to Mongolia.
Stage 4: Bill Turnbull & Louise Minchin from Mongolia to California
BBC Breakfast presenters Bill Turnbull and Louise Minchin were the next in the relay team. They went back into Russia looping around China to Vladivostok, crossing the sea of Japan, South Korea and the Pacific Ocean making it all the way to California in the USA.
Stage 5: Myleene Klass & John Barrowman from California to Tennessee
Television presenters and singers Myleene Klass and John Barrowman took up the American crossing. They traveled across the United States from California to Tennessee via the Colorado River, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Stage 6: Josie Lawrence & Shane Richie rom Tennessee to England
In Mississippi EastEnders actors Josie Lawrence and Shane Richie took over to travel across the remainder of the United States from Tennessee via Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina to North Carolina, where they cross the Atlantic Ocean and return to the Reform Club in London. The pair completed the journey on the 80th day but only after an emergency plan had been set in place.
While crossing the Atlantic aboard the ICL ship Independent Venture Hurricane Bill delayed them soo much that an 80 day crossing seemed impossible. BBC’s deep pockets came to the rescue and the plan was altered. Instead of disembarking the ship in Belgium, they disembarked on the move in the English Channel, and were taken to Plymouth by Ellen MacArthur aboard a sailing yacht, before finally catching a train to London and making it back exactly on the 80th day after the start of the relay challenge.
The series gained between 3.6 and 4.2 million viewers over the six episodes in the UK but also got its fair share of critisism for its “about £1 million” budget for the production. It was said the BBC, if they wanted to rais money for charity could have instead donated that sum to the charity.