He survived being shot at and held at gunpoint by the Taliban in Papua New Guinea.
But it’s not the first time that luck has fallen to Ross Kemp, who became a household name as Grant Mitchell in EastEnders in the Nineties.
The actor-turned-documentarian has recalled some of his most breathtaking experiences in his new book, Take Nothing For Granted: Tales From An Unexpected Life, often revealing how good humor and good luck helped him return to his loved ones.
The autobiography reveals how he ended up in Walford from drama school as a new romantic before making hard-hitting documentaries.
Ross looked through diaries from his filming trips and dug deep into his memory to recall enough anecdotes from his career that would easily fill another book – if he found the time to write them.
Dealing with the horrors he has experienced has become the norm for Ross, who says laughter is the key to staying sane.
He says: “The great thing is the dark sense of humor that comes with someone operating in these types of environments.”
“We also use trauma risk management, which means we sit down and talk to your colleagues about trauma.
“It could be being shot at, you could be in a traffic accident, or your son could have been killed by drug dealers.
“What keeps me awake now is not necessarily these events, but the worry of not being there for my children.”
“If I wanted compassion, I don’t think I would get much.”
Family life is clearly what keeps Ross grounded after marrying lawyer Renee O’Brien in 2012.
The couple have a son, Leo, and twin daughters, as well as Ross’ first son Oliver from a previous relationship.
Ross says: “I don’t expect sympathy. You can’t come back and complain about prison conditions when she’s already been through two of them– one is a mother and the other is a lawyer.
“If I wanted compassion and looked for it, I don’t think I would get much – so there’s no point in asking for it.
“Also, when you get criticized by your twin daughters for bringing the wrong socks, you say, ‘Okay. . .
“I say it in the book: You think my job is hard, but the hardest job you’ll ever do is being a parent.
“There is no roadmap – nothing is completely right.
“You can read all the books in the world, but your child will not be the one in that book.”
Ross has made more than 120 documentaries to date and his enthusiasm shows no sign of waning.
He has filmed a Channel 5 series exposing life in some of South America’s toughest prisons and worked on a Sky History show about organized crime.
Ross has even added diving to his impressive career repertoire to film the Sky History series Deep Sea Treasure Hunter.
In the four-parter, shown earlier this year, Ross was seen diving on coasts around Britain, including at the site where the Tudor naval ship Mary Rose was unearthed in 1982.
In addition to his documentaries, he also presents the successful BBC One quiz Bridge Of Lies.
Ross explains: “I was scheduled to travel to Ecuador shortly before the state of emergency was declared and I sat in a hotel in Bogota (the capital of Colombia) for three days wondering what was going to happen.
“And then we decided the right thing to do was go home.
“Since then I have filmed 38 episodes of Bridge Of Lies.
“I came home from Colombia, spent five days in Cornwall with the family and then flew to Glasgow to do Bridge Of Lies – and the new Saturday night celebrity special.
“I’ve always believed that if you don’t fill your days, it’s a waste.
“That’s how I was raised – with that work ethic.”
But Ross couldn’t have predicted what he would achieve over the course of his varied career.
And growing up in Essex, he admits he had no idea what he would do when he grew up.
He says with a laugh: “If I met that arrogant little git, 23-year-old Ross Kemp, I would take him aside and have a stern word with him right now.”
“I don’t think I could have made these films as a young lad after drama school,
“I couldn’t tell my a* from my elbow. Hopefully I’ve gotten to grips with my a* and my elbow now and know where they are.”
Ross is now best known for his dangerous TV exploits, including On Gangs and Extreme World, both produced for Sky.
But his career began in EastEnders as hardman Grant, the son of Peggy Mitchell, played by his good friend, the late Dame Barbara Windsor.
After her death in December 2020 at the age of 83, Ross was invited by Barbara’s widower, Scott Mitchell, to deliver a eulogy at her funeral.
It’s a moment he recounts in his book.
Ross also returned to Albert Square in Barbara’s honor, two years after she left her role in the soap following her Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2014Peggy’s funeral.
But would he ever consider returning to Walford?
“I don’t know if I could do EastEnders now”
He says: “I will never say never. When I came back I was lucky because my scenes were with Tish (Letitia Dean, who plays Sharon Watts) and Steve (McFadden, aka Grant’s brother Phil), who are great actors.
“They were very accommodating. And these guys work so hard.
“I don’t know if I could do it now because of the speed of the work.”
Ross is currently juggling a busy schedule with sold-out book signings, motherhood and television projects.
But he says it inspires him to keep going by shining a light on the stories that matter, from filming drug addicts in Kenya to spending time on the front lines with British troops.
Recalling his time in the Army, Ross says: “I would be happy to receive any award from one of these people.
“As you get older, you change your mind about what people think of you.
“You care less about what other people think and more about what your friends and family think.”
“People often say my team and I are brave because of the places we go, but I remind them that we get the chance to come home while the people we film with have to stay.”
“I always try to remember that we make films about people and that we are all human, no matter where we live.
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“If we create a better understanding through our documentaries, hopefully there will be fewer conflicts.”
- Take Nothing For Granted by Ross Kemp is out now and published in hardback by Seven Dials, priced £20.