Wim Hof is positioned nose-first on the screen. He’s surrounded with a beard and bushy hair halo. It’s it. This is my moment with The Iceman.

Hof is a worldwide curiosity for his extreme feats of subzero derring do. Known as a ‘real superhuman’ and a multiple record breaker, in 2007, aged nearly 50, he climbed from Everest’s base camp to 6,700 metres wearing just shorts and sandals. After that, he donned boots and kept going.

Sixteen times he has broken the record for spending the longest time in contact with ice — like a slab of cod lying on a fishmonger’s counter. He holds 26 records worldwide for cold endurance. These include running the fastest half-marathon on snow and barefoot swimming under ice.

Now the Dutch 62-year-old and father of six has evolved from ice-packed freak of nature to TV guru, with a new BBC celebrity reality show — Wim Hof’s Superstars Survival — promising to bring the benefits of extreme cold exposure to mainstream TV.

Hof’s claims are simply stated and yet terrifying to put into practice. Hof claims that ordinary people can experience similar stress to him and it will increase energy and bust anxiety. It also helps to fix almost any illness known, such as diabetes and heart disease.

‘My message is very clear,’ he tells me.

‘You go through my techniques and anyone can bring a deep transformation to their daily life. We can return every person to a sense of feeling good.’

Superhuman? ¿Iceman¿ Wim Hof has set 26 world records

Superhuman? ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof has set 26 world records

Those techniques — which he calls the Wim Hof Method — include daily immersion in a freezing shower or ice bath, simple breathing exercises and meditation to increase willpower. These techniques can be learned at Hof retreats or through YouTube, books, YouTube, and an app that 750,000 have downloaded since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Hof uses an outdoor chest freezer to take daily ice baths. It is plugged into mains and he also does regular treadmill runs in an industrial freezer at -26C.

‘In the cold you learn to breathe deeply, which oxygenates the body and alkalises the muscle tissues,’ he says. ‘It balances hormone levels, improves sleep quality, and increases the production of endorphins.’

According to him, children are naturally tolerant of the cold but their parents suppress this instinctive hardiness. ‘Overprotecting your child cripples them,’ he bellows. ‘Don’t tell them to put on their coat, tell them to take it off! Although the cold can be very painful, it is also bloody and easy to make your body stronger by being exposed repeatedly. It is harder for the immune system to work, and harder for the cardiovascular system. . . All the systems in the body will benefit.’

He insists his method is backed up by ‘solid scientific data’, and while he’s been criticised for over-stating the benefits of cold water therapy, there is a broad scientific consensus on the benefits of outdoor swims, brisk cold showers and the like.

In my Speedo swimsuit, I was submerged down to my neck by water at Wim Hof two years ago.

The cold was relentless. The cold bites, burns panickingly and punishes. On the first day, when I yelped and screeched entering the chilly waters, the Wim Hof trainer rebuked me firmly: ‘Stop talking. Breathe. Take in the beauty. Enjoy the sunshine.’ Taking control of your mind and your body’s response to the cold is a major part of his method. Hof can adjust his internal temperature to his will because he has his own body that is so trained. An army officer on the retreat said to me later that I was ‘annoying and distracting’, and I remember thinking: ‘I’m really glad this isn’t being filmed for reality TV because I’d be the person everyone hates.’

What a prescient man I was. Wim Hof’s Superstar Survival will feature trials by ice, snow and extreme cold to make kangaroo testicle-eating on I’m A Celebrity look like a children’s party.

This month’s filming will begin with Holly Willoughby as host and comedian Lee Mack. Hof is forbidden from speaking about it. It’s hard for him, he says, because he’s friendly, uncensored and ‘loves to communicate’. He has learned 12 languages, and to show it, he starts by babbling in Arabic then Polish. However, cold showers are not likely to be an issue. Participants should prepare to melt the ice, swim or trek through snow without their clothes on. It will be a relaxing experience to be buried alive by snakes.

One of The Iceman’s retreat centres — the Wim Hof House — is in Przesieka, in the Polish Carpathian Mountains.

‘Here within four days I can have anyone able to climb mountains in shorts and barefoot in freezing temperatures,’ he says. ‘They can immerse themselves in ice water for four minutes,’ he booms.

The point of Wim’s method is to teach you not just to immerse yourself, but to immerse yourself silently, calmly, with steady, controlled nose breathing so you have maximum control over your body’s automatic reactions to the freezing, raw, almost unbearable cold. Hof insists that anyone can do what he does. Can they? But they can.

‘There is no personality type I cannot convert to my method,’ hollers Wim. ‘My oldest participant is 100 years old!’

We might snigger at famous people doing barely bearable things but Wim’s cold therapy has its roots in a profoundly tragic episode. Olaya Hof from Basque, who was just starting to establish himself as an extreme athlete in 1995, died after jumping eight stories and kissing their children goodbye.

‘The cold was the only release from my great emotional agony,’ he says. ‘It regulated my mood, it gave me peace. I had to take care of my kids.’

He believes his wife’s depression could have been treated with the cold. ‘Trauma is stored in the back of the brain, in the hippocampus and the amygdala. The cold can act like a psychedelic drug in that it allows you to relive and process trauma.’ I experienced a little of this on the second day of my retreat, when after a few minutes in the icy water, I came back and lay on my bed involuntarily squirming and gurgling in uncontrollable physical and mental agony.

Filming starts this month, with hosts comedian Lee Mack and Holly Willoughby (pictured)

Filming begins this month with Holly Willoughby and Lee Mack (pictured).

Much as it is difficult, painful and — to an extent — scientifically a little controversial, there is no doubt that Wim Hof’s method can shift human beings into another metabolic gear.

Together with cold exposure, Hof’s breathing exercises — basically hyperventilating and breath holding — produce what’s known as ‘hormetic stress’, currently a very fashionable concept within wellbeing and fitness circles.

Hormetic stress refers to controlled, short-term stress bursts that help the body and mind cope with external stressors. It’s a wellness trend that will become even more mainstream in 2022 — it’s the reason cold-water swimmers bang on about how good their hobby makes them feel.

Rachel, another ice dipper, was a guest at my Scottish retreat. She shared with me her amazing story. Due to severe kidney problems, she had been prescribed drugs. The water in her body was so large that she couldn’t open her eyes.

The sweet California girl took months to research her condition and finally found Wim online. After she began to practice the technique, she stopped using large amounts of medications and claims that her health is still good.

He has published The Wim Hof Method to Activate Your Human Full Potential. It contains testimonials from individuals who claimed that the WHM helped with all types of conditions, including severe depression, multiple sclerosis, and breast cancer. And yet Hof has often found himself on the receiving end of sceptics’ barbs, too.

If the WHM is so effective, why aren’t all unhappy and sick people ice dipping their way to health?

‘The ridicule will end with the BBC,’ he says. ‘I don’t make mistakes and this programme will show the world my method is universal.’ On our Zoom call, he even tells me it can solve world hunger. ‘I eat just one meal a day. The breathing is all I do and gives me the energy I need.

‘People cannot believe it works because it is free. You can’t buy this and we live in a world where everything is sold for money with a big promise. The victim role is a comforting place for many people.

‘People enjoy being dependent on others, on pills and medicines. I hear a lot of lamenting, “Oh, life is so difficult, I’m so stressed, I feel tired, I feel sick”.

‘You do my method you will not get sick any more.’

Hof’s fame continues to spread. A Hollywood biopic starring Joseph Fiennes is in pre-production, and he estimates ‘millions’ have picked up the method to some extent — which is a believable figure if you factor in all those infuriatingly cheerful wild winter swimmers.

A mere one-third of a million Twitter and Facebook followers, plus two million Instagram users make up his total.

Funny thing, I was actually enjoying wild swimming before the retreat. It had been a great way to keep my spirit up.

Wild swimming may be a way for women to enjoy the Hof’s benefits in a relaxed and more female-friendly manner. Vicky Allan and Anna Deacon, female experts on the Hof, advise me. Their book Taking The Plunge explains its physical and spiritual power.

Noticeably, all endorsements they receive are from women such as Miranda Hart and Jo Whiley. What’s the difference between cold dipping throughout winter and the Wim Hof Method?

Anna says: ‘There’s a Wim Hof Group on my local beach in Edinburgh and it’s all men looking serious with their hands behind their heads. It sounds demandingly hard but really it’s no more hardcore than what we do. It’s just more regimented.’

Wim asked me the exact same question. ‘My method brings a deeper transformation,’ he assures me. ‘My method repulses women, whereas men are drawn to the idea that cold water requires being tough.

‘The truth is it is for everyone. You can use it to support your cardiovascular system, including deep breathing in childbirth and through women’s menopause. It is great for women.’

Undoubtedly, the Wim Hof method will be shown on television to make lumps lying down at home feel a rush. Are Hof concerned that producers and the BBC might be using him to give cheap thrills on television?

‘Whatever their motives are, we will do great work. Although there are many self-help gurus, I’m sorry. . .’ he says, as if dismissing them, ‘if I can’t change you in ten minutes then I am no guru.’