The former Made In Chelsea star turned broadcaster, 34, stars in Disney Plus’s one-off documentary, Finding Michael, which tells the story of his brother’s disappearance and his family’s journey to recover Michael’s body 20 years later.
Michael Matthews was the youngest Briton to summit Everest. Three hours after he reached the peak, however, he went missing. His brother, Spencer, who was aged 10 when Michael went missing and died, had always struggled to accept his death, in part because his family did not have a body to mourn.
In 2017, Spencer’s family was sent a picture by a climber that showed what appeared to be a dead body buried in the snow, in a similar location to where Michael went missing on the mountain.
In the documentary, Spencer visits Nepal for one month and recruits Nirmal Purja, the 14-peak record holder and star of 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible, to lead the expedition with a 10-man search and rescue crew. The team head up the mountain in search of Michael’s body, with drones and the skills to veer off summit lines.
In it, Spencer enlists the advice of Man vs Wild star Bear Grylls, who advises him to not climb past base camp and tells him to return home “alive”.
In a Q&A session before the film’s screening last week, Grylls opened up about his relationship with Michael before he died, and the “guilt” he felt after having encouraged him to climb the mountain.
“I first met Michael a month or so before he set off to attempt to climb Everest,” he explained.
“He asked me for some advice as I’d reached the summit the previous year. So when Michael never came home and was determined lost to the mountain, it was awful. For a long time, I felt guilty and that I shouldn’t have been as encouraging.
“If someone wants to take that level of risk then that’s fine, but ever since then I’ve never just unconditionally supported aspiring climbers who want to go attempt Everest. The mountain can kill fast and there are no guarantees in the death zone above 26,000ft.
Grylls met Spencer after Michael’s death and vowed to support him ever since. But the star always “dreaded” the day that Spencer would come to him with the hope of learning about the events that led to his brother’s disappearance on the mountain.
“I always dreaded Spencer one day saying he wanted to lead an expedition to try and find out what happened to his older brother,” Grylls said. “When he came to tell me, I knew what he was going to say. What can you do though? I tried to remind him to be smart above all and come back alive.”
He continued: “And I tried to help him assemble the best team in the world to give it the best chance of safety and success. No mountain is ever worth dying for and never more so than when you have a young family as Spencer now does.”
Elsewhere in the Q&A, Spencer opened up about his “special” relationship with his brother before his death. He also revealed that once he knew it was possible to visit Everest to find his brother, he felt “compelled to try”.
“We liked the idea of bringing Mike home,” Spencer said of his family. “We were uncomfortable with him being left on Everest, and the fact that we never had a body to mourn or say goodbye to felt wrong.”
He added: “I always had images of him being alone, cold and face down on the mountain. Most families have the ability to go and visit their loved ones – we had never had that opportunity.”
Finding Michael is streaming on Disney Plus from 3 March.
If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support: mind.org.uk, nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth, mentalhealth.org.uk.