Catch up with the Celebrity Race Across the World winners

After a nail-biting finale, Celebrity Race Across the World winners Alex and Noel debrief with Wanderlust about their race highlights, the joys of overland travel, and whether Alex can now stomach seafood

Jessica Reid
26 October 2023

BBC’s first ever series of Celebrity Race Across the World came to a nail-biting end last night (25 October), with two teams neck and neck in the final leg. 

After racing 10,000km over 28 days from Africa to the Arctic, passing through five checkpoints and 24 countries, the duos reached the finish line in Tromsø, Norway, with TV broadcaster Alex Beresford and his dad, Noel, coming in first place.

Just four minutes behind the champions were McFly drummer Harry Judd and his mum, Emma, while singer Mel Blatt and her mum, Helene, came in third place. Racing driver Billy and sister Bonny pulled out of the race at the beginning of the episode, due to an emergency at home.

Here, we catch up with Alex and Noel to learn their highlights from travelling through Europe, the most challenging parts of the race, and the joys of overland travel. 

Alex and Noel spend time with reindeers in Swedish Lapland (BBC/Studio Lambert Ltd)

Congratulations Alex and Noel on your win! Why did you both want to take part in Celebrity Race Across the World?

Alex: It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s an amazing show, and it was a chance to spend some quality time with each other. Obviously, as you get older, you don’t spend as much time with your parents, especially when you become a parent yourself. Dad and I live in different cities so we’re separated much of the time. This was a chance to spend a whole month together, uninterrupted. I don’t think that we’ll get to spend a month together like this again, so we grabbed the opportunity.

Noel: Like Alex said, we live in different cities. We had a trip together before lockdown [coronavirus] to Guyana  where I’m from  for two weeks, so now was another chance to catch up. 

The teams had to get to work to boost their budget (BBC/Studio Lambert Ltd)

What was your experience of travelling before?

Alex: I’ve been quite fortunate as I’ve seen a lot of the world, either through holidays or through my work. Being able to travel is a real privilege – to be able to see other parts of the world and soak up different cultures. But I can’t say that I’ve ever gone backpacking. When I was younger and I was finishing university, and all my friends were going off backpacking, I had literally zero interest in doing it. And I never thought I would ever do it. But when you get older you start to think, ‘why not?’. 

Noel: I’ve travelled quite a lot to America and Europe, but staying in hotels – not trying to find somewhere to sleep at nine o’clock at night.

The father-son duo travelled on a many buses and trains (BBC/Studio Lambert Ltd)

Was the experience everything you expected it to be?

Alex: It was a real rainbow of emotions because we had this chance to see so much of the world, but we were also in a race. It was really hard to gage at times whether we needed to slow it down and enjoy where we were, or if we needed to press on because we’d fallen behind. So it was a juggling act. Some people have wondered if they made changes for the celebrity version – absolutely not! It was tough, we were on a budget, and you had to make it work. You had to make your money last and you had to make good decisions.

Alex and Noel enjoying the scenery in Milan, Italy (BBC/Studio Lambert Ltd)

What was it like travelling with the bear essentials? You said earlier in the series you found it strange adjusting to not having your phone Alex 

Alex: I use my phone for absolutely everything, like most of us do nowadays. It’s not just a phone – it’s a computer, it’s a diary, it’s a map. When we handed over our phones, we didn’t see them again until the very end. I think the first week I really struggled not being able to call home, call my wife and check up on my son and ask him how his day was at school, and I felt guilty about that. But the thing that made me feel better was the fact that I was doing this with my dad, and that was a justified reason to actually take this time out.

Alex, Noel, Emma and Harry take a boat ride (BBC/Studio Lambert Ltd)

And how did you find using a physical map, Noel?

Noel: Oh yeah it was fine, and not as bad as what you think it would be like. For the first checkpoint, we didn’t know where to start or where to find it on the map, but as we got on [later into the competition] we started to plan it out better.

Alex: As dad said, our map reading got a lot better as the series went on. When they said ‘Your first checkpoint is Pinhão’, we were like ‘where is that? Is that in Asia?’. It didn’t sound like Portugal and I’d never heard of it before. It was at that point I realised I was very much a national weatherman, and not an international weatherman.

The racegoers began their journey in Marrakech (BBC/Studio Lambert Ltd)

What was your favourite view of the whole journey?

Noel: Going through Switzerland and seeing the Matterhorn, the views were super. And also the reindeers in Lapland, when do you every get to see a reindeer, you know?

Alex: I was excited mostly by the colder places too, because like dad said, seeing the mountain ranges covered in snow in Switzerland was just incredible, I also loved when we were on the train in Lapland weaving through the landscapes. Scandinavia is a beautiful part of the world. Of course, it was nice to be in the warmer places too. That was the fun thing about the trip because we started off in shorts and ended up in protective snow gear as it just got colder and colder.

Alex and Noel celebrate with a drink at the final checkpoint (BBC/Studio Lambert Ltd)

What was your favourite cultural experience during the race?

Noel: I enjoyed Marrakech for the cultural experience. Before the race started, when we were in the main square [Jemaa el-Fnaa], it was just a square. But when we decided to go back at night it was a complete transformation.

Alex: That was a real melting pot of culture actually. It was amazing to see the square and the medina come to life. 

I really liked that you both decided to slow down and enjoy that experience, especially as the others took off straight away

Alex: That was thanks to my dad. We knew the other teams would jet off out of Marrakech, and actually, I found it quite frustrating and was like ‘we need to move!’. But dad wanted to stay and I was really torn as what was the right thing to do. But ultimately, we ended up staying and we had that great experience. It was really nice to actually spend some time in Marrakech which is a beautiful place – and the food is just amazing.

Was there a country you visited that you weren’t particularly looking forward to, but really surprised you?

Of course, you find out step-by-step where you’re going next. And when they said Sarajevo in Bosnia [and Herzegovina] I was really surprised. It just wasn’t somewhere I ever expected to go during the race, or that I ever expected to visit in my lifetime. But when we got there, we were in awe of our surroundings, and again it was a great cultural experience. We already knew a little about the history and the war, but to be there and see the shelling [holes] along the side of the buildings was quite eye-opening. I’d definitely go back.

Is there anywhere you wished you could have spent more time, or would like to revist?

Noel: I would like to go back and see more of Germany. We didn’t get to see certain things in Germany and it’s somewhere I’d always wished to go.

Alex: Germany was cool but I loved Prague. The architecture was just incredible. When we were there, we learnt that a lot of the city didn’t get bombed in the Second World War, so its buildings are still in really great condition. I’m planning to go back to some of these places in my own time with my family. We were actually thinking about putting a trip into place soon. That’s the great thing –  I got to see all these places with my dad, and now I’m telling everybody about it and want to go back with them!

That’s what I was going to ask you next! Has this trip changed the way you want to travel in the future, and is it something you would like to recreate with your family Alex?

Alex: Definitely! We were actually thinking of flying to one of the locations and then doing a trip on the ground by bus or train, instead of flying between places. So they’ll get experience what it was like for me during the race, and I’ll get to spend some quality time with them in a different way. I’m really looking forward to it.

That’s great to hear, as we’re big advocates of overland travel at Wanderlust. Not only because its more carbon efficient, but because you get to see so much more of a country

Alex: When travelling through Italy, towards the Alps and into Switzerland, I just remember dad and I on the train looking left and right constantly. We nearly got whiplash, because there was just so much to see. 

Race Across the World is notorious for local encounters and experiencing the kindness of strangers. How was this experience for you?

Noel: You have to interact with locals because most of Europe is cashless. So when we got to the train stations we had to offer locals our cash so they could buy us train tickets with their credit card. So we did communicate a lot with the local people, which was very nice and most people responded and helped us.

The final leg was said to be the most difficult. How did you find it, especially as you were neck and neck with Harry and Emma?

Alex: When we left Germany, we knew that this leg was going to be pretty tough. I think it was probably the greatest distance we travelled in the whole race. But when we got into Norway, and we got on the bus to Tromsø with Harry and Emma, we knew at that point the race was still on and it was going to be down to the last few minutes, and it was exactly that! It was nail-biting – even watching it back last night for the first time. I was on the edge of my seat and my palms were sweating!

Is there anything else you want to let me know about the race?

Alex: We were blessed to share it with some incredible competitors: Harry and Emma, Mel and Helene, and Billy and Bonny. All of us were winners in our eyes.

I also want to say how heartwarming it was to watch you put the racing aside and support Billy and Bonny in the penultimate leg

Alex: Yes, that seemed to mean a lot to people. For us, that was the only thing to do and it was the right thing to do. Us both being parents, and with Billy and Bonnie being younger than us, parental instinct and human nature just kicks in. And actually, the race doesn’t matter. This is about all of us getting to one place safely. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Noel: I echo what Alex said. I couldn’t walk past them and then sit in the bar at the end having a drink, knowing that they were struggling. I’m not that type of guy – I like helping people, so that was the natural thing to do.

And to round things off, Alex, have you got over your fear of seafood?

Alex: To be honest, not really. I think it confirmed that I don’t really like seafood. I did tell dad I didn’t like it before I agreed to be a sport and confront this fear that I’ve had for a little while. But unfortunately, as you saw, it didn’t go down very well – in fact, it didn’t go down at all. So that is the last time I will be trying octopus.

Catch up with Celebrity Race Across the World on BBC iPlayer now.

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