Emily Atack, Ruby Wax and Mel B go on a Rocky Mountain Road Trip

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Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Road Trip (BBC Two, 9pm)

Did you watch the most recent episode of Celebrity Gogglebox?

If so, you may have spotted that Melanie Brown was paired up with Ruby Wax. Many viewers thought it was an odd duo and couldn’t figure out how they had become friends. However, all is about to be revealed.

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The former Spice Girl and the comedian-turned-mental health crusader got to know each other while taking part in Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Road Trip, part of a new raft of factual programmes from the BBC heading our way. Joining them on their adventure is comedian, presenter and actor Emily Atack.

“Factual entertainment at the BBC is in fantastic shape with an inspirational, distinctive slate of programming that speaks to the broadest possible audience,” says Catherine Catton, the broadcaster’s head of commissioning, popular factual and factual entertainment.

“As we emerge from the pandemic and are able to start travelling again, I’m delighted that we’re setting off to the Rocky Mountains with the brilliant Ruby Wax, Melanie Brown and Emily Atack in a revealing new travel series.”

The three-part programme isn’t your regular celebrity-driven travelogue, in which a presenter is merely chauffeured around various well-known sites. Instead, the trio – who have all enjoyed hugely successful careers – are following in the footsteps of another female pioneer.

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Isabella Bird is now largely forgotten, but her exploits should not be. Born in Boroughbridge in 1831, she was regarded as frail due to a spinal problem, headaches and insomnia. She also never went to school, but was taught at home by her clergyman father. After having a tumour removed, doctors suggested a sea voyage might be beneficial, so Bird made her first journey to the US in 1856; she wrote about her adventure in the book An Englishwoman in America.

After that, there was no stopping her. She undertook journeys to Australia, Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) and various places across Asia. But it was a second visit to the States in the 1870s that interests fellow Yorkshirewoman Mel B and her co-travellers.

Bird spent time in Colorado, hitting the headlines while there with her decision not to ride side-saddle, but facing forwards like a man (she threatened to sue The Times for suggesting she dressed like one too). The letters she sent home to her sister became the basis for her most famous book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.

It’s that tome that acts as a guide to Melanie, Ruby and Emily when they arrive in Cheyenne, just north of the Colorado border. They immediately immerse themselves in the Wild West lifestyle while trying to emulate Bird’s superb horse riding skills. However, as Ruby hasn’t ridden since an accident some years ago and Emily’s never been on a horse before, it seems unlikely they’re going to be much good at wrangling cattle.

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Undaunted, they head off further into the mountains their heroine described as “exceeding all my dreams”, where they hear about Mountain Jim, a one-eyed outlaw Bird once met before settling down to tell stories around a campfire – it’s certainly a far cry from watching TV.

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