Trigger Happy TV star Dom Joly is forging a new career as a travel writer and will be appearing in Dorchester to talk about his new book about the Middle East and growing old disgracefully. Jess Thompson finds out more.

WHEN I speak to Dom Joly - as he’s driving around England finding weird and wonderful places to write about - we manage to have a little disagreement. I tell him I think he’s brave; he categorically denies it. Yet as the author of four travel writing books, which have seen him going to some of the world’s darkest places, I’m prepared to argue my case and press him for the most dangerous situation he’s ever found himself in.

He doesn’t disappoint, immediately spinning a dramatic tale of one time in the Congo, where he’d gone to find a monster lurking in a lake: flying on an airline not recognised by the EU, negotiating for a day for an exorbitantly-priced permit, before being forced to drink with his guides, until one got so drunk he attacked Joly and had to be tied to a tree. "And then, when they all fell asleep, I got in a canoe and escaped… It was half Tin Tin, half war reporting, and all a bit too much for me."

Surely that’s brave? "Well you can say that if you want, I’d say I was just stupid."

Joly’s latest book, The Hezbollah Hiking Club, tells a gentler tale of him and two of his best friends trekking the Lebanese Mountain Trail, navigating the undulating backbone of the country from south to north. It’s also a touching reflection on male friendship, undiscovered places, and such a beautiful homage to Lebanon that it will surely have people flocking to visit. "Doing it was a love letter," he says. "It’s just safe as houses these days. There really hasn’t been a war there since the 1990s, yet people still think it’s a simmering mess - and it isn’t."

And he’s thrilled that it’s already working. "The book’s only been out a couple of months, and I recently heard from one of my guides saying he’s had nine bookings on the back of it, and I’ve had at least 30 people online saying they’ve booked to go there."

Having been born in Lebanon to English parents, Joly’s childhood was split between life hearing gunfire in the hills above Beruit and boarding schools in Oxford and Hertfordshire.

"Growing up in Lebanon I was always tense and nervous. This time it was an incredibly relaxing trip. Also, before I was always in my dad’s shadow - he was the boss and I sort of had to pussy foot around him and hope I didn’t do something that would upset him. But this trip I felt I was making my own memories."

Joly has often talked about his distant relationship with his father, and I ask if the walk was healing. "Not really," he says. "Anyway, I think I got over it a long time ago. Although whenever I write a book it always seems to be about him, so clearly there’s something still there. The thing that makes me sad is that I always knew I was really like him; people always say I have his spirit. I felt we could have got on but it never happened."

What’s obvious in the book is the cementing of the bond between Joly and his mates, Chris and Harry. Although their relationship also provides the bedrock of the book’s humour – often at his friends’ expense. I ask what they think of their portrayal. "Harry told me it would be the first new book he’s read in 20 years - coz he just rereads Wilbur Smith and Dick Francis - and he loved it, he absolutely loved it, and Harry never gives any compliments out. When Chris finally received his copy, he said two things: 'Thank you for portraying me as a loathsome, whining man,' and secondly, 'This is the best book I’ve ever read.”’

Chris didn’t even mind the bits about them arguing, I ask, particularly when they discover he suffers from intense vertigo on a particularly steep bit of the path? "When Chris was crying?" Joly discharges one of his joyous, infectious giggles. "No, we weren’t arguing then, we were laughing at him."

What I find really interesting is that although he is best known for Trigger Happy TV - which sold to 85 countries and made him famous - what Joly really wants to be known for is his travel writing. "It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I feel really happy when I’m doing it."

Of course, comedy is always at the forefront, alongside his opposition to taking the safe route. "I am wilfully contrary," he laughs, "which I don’t think really helps my career. This probably comes half from growing up in Lebanon - a country where things like traffic rules are simply not adhered to; but also, in the grand scheme of things, when you’re in the middle of a civil war the stupid things just don’t matter. Like when I was back at school and being told off for the size of my tie knot…

"Also, I think I’m a very real travel writer, and I kind of prefer it when things go wrong because it’s always going to make a better story." And, he says, having a sense of being an outsider is helpful. "I think that’s what gives me humour and a way of being able to observe."

As well as being relentlessly curious? "Yes. I’m inquisitive about pretty much everything. Right now I’m driving around Britain for my next book, because having been to 90 different countries I feel I’ve been a bit snobby and rather ignored it. Today I’ve been to a coffin museum, Cadbury’s World and a Black Sabbath exhibition. I do kind of love everything."

When I ask what’s the key message he wants people to take from reading The Hezbollah Hiking Club he answers instantly. "That I might dress as a squirrel but I can write properly. I made a real decision when I started travel writing: I could have just done some tv shows, the celeb on holiday bit, but I really, really wanted to knuckle down and write proper travel books."

And about Lebanon? ‘That I want people to visit it and love it as much as I do. The Mountain Trail can be pretty much tailored for anyone – you don’t need to be particularly fit; the food is astonishingly good; and Lebanese people are as insanely hospitable as their country is beautiful. There was one place we walked to - called Ehden, naturally – and if I was to define beauty, that would be it.’

*Dom Joly will be appearing at the Dorchester Literary Festival on Saturday, October 19. Tickets available online or from Dorchester Tourist Information Centre. See for more information.