"You might be thinking: what am I doing in the middle of the American West with a Spice Girl and an actress?” asked Ruby Wax at the start of Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Road Trip (BBC Two). Ruby, that’s exactly what I was thinking. And, by the end of the programme, I was no closer to an answer.
Wax had long been fascinated by the life of Isabella Bird, a 19th-century Yorkshirewoman who left her home for Colorado. Bird travelled solo through the Rocky Mountains in 1873, covering 800 miles on horseback and earning her keep by wrangling cattle with local cowboys. Along the way, she fell for a one-eyed outlaw called Mountain Jim.
What a life story! On hearing it, I immediately resolved to go away and read more about her. Wax decided to go further by following in Bird’s footsteps, and for reasons unknown she brought Melanie Brown and Emily Atack along for the ride. Brown is the artist formerly known as Scary Spice, and Atack is an actress best known for playing the gorgeous girl in The Inbetweeners. Brown is clearly the most famous, with even their hoary old mountain guide breaking into the lyrics of Wannabe when he met them.
It’s a random trio, and I’m not sure any of them qualify as trailblazers as per the programme’s title, but their dynamic works. Wax is the engine of the series but doesn’t dominate, because Brown has an equally strong personality. They all have a sense of mischief and a dry sense of humour.
“A blonde, a mixed-race lady and a Jew walk into…” Brown quipped as they approached a bar.
They get stuck into various activities – horse-riding, rock climbing, fly-fishing – but, while their larking about is fun to watch, what proves more interesting is the conversations between these women of different ages (Wax is 69, Brown is 47, Atack is 32).
The main focus in episode one was Atack, and it was both fascinating and rather depressing to have this window into the lives of today’s 30-somethings. Atack frets about her “eggs drying up” but talks of struggling with adulthood. She is terrified of being alone, but seems to experience most of life through social media: “This is shameful, but I’ve never really been anywhere. I can’t just sit on Instagram – there’s a whole world out there.” She makes being young sound exhausting. Hopefully, this trip will do her the world of good.