Vinnie Jones is putting his hard-man credentials to the sternest possible test as he heads to Russia to tackle some of the country’s most physically demanding jobs, including bodyguard, poacher warden, construction worker and cowboy for his new National Geographic TV series, Vinnie Jones: Russia’s Toughest (Thursdays, 8pm). TV&Satellite Week caught up with the Watford-born footballer-turned-Hollywood star to find out more…

How did this show come about? I originally wrote a synopsis for a series about wild Britain, with me fishing, stalking, bird-watching and shooting. It’s gone from watching robins and catching rainbow trout to facing down bears and wrestling bulls.

What was the scariest moment you had while making it? On the poacher squad, they told me the worst-case scenario was to get between a brown bear and either the salmon or her cubs. We managed to do both, and when the guy I was with locked and loaded his AK-47, I thought that was it.

What’s the Russian attitude towards health and safety? It’s minimal at best and more about vodka and a length of rope than safety harnesses. When I went to paint the underside of a road bridge, they stopped the truck in the fast lane, put out a cone and lowered me over the side. There was just that one cone between me and death.

Were there times when you thought the jobs were too tough to tackle? I thought I would handle everything, no problem, but there were so many situations where I found I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I had to keep a stiff upper lip, get on with it and think positive thoughts.

You’ve worked on a building site in the past. Did that experience help? My family are builders, and that’s hard in the winter, but in this show I was working up on a roof when it was minus-35 degrees, in a high wind with no harness. They wouldn’t let you do that in Britain.

If you had to carry on doing one of these jobs, which would you choose? The poacher patrol would be good fun, apart from the bears. My dad’s a gamekeeper, so I know all about that area. We caught a poacher and, after the adrenaline rush of the chase, you really wanted to bash the hell out of him. But I could see he was so embarrassed and just trying to feed his family, so I came away feeling sorry for the fella.

When the going gets tough in the series, you see the funny side of things. Are you a bit of a comedian? I love comedy and there were times when we were in tight situations and had an unbelievable laugh. I’ve had that funny side all my life, it’s that just people haven’t exposed it. Only Guy Ritchie did, and if you look at my performances in Lock Stock… and Snatch, I play it all tongue in cheek. No one’s ever cottoned on to that.