Don’t miss the chance to hear Sir Ranulph Fiennes discuss his maddest adventures and most notorious achievements yet at Wimbledon BookFest on 30 September, and read on to find out more about his recent exploits…
Words: Madeleine Howell
Sir Ranulph Fiennes was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles, and the first to cross Antarctica on foot. Now, he’s trekking to SW19 to discuss his latest book, Fear. ‘The book is about every possible type of fear,’ he tells me in his cut-glass, military accent.
My fears and phobias come in when they’re due. Arab spiders, heights and polar bears in particular
‘I interviewed all sorts of people – a brave guy who went to Sierra Leone to battle against Ebola and who was quarantined back in the UK; a lady who was kidnapped and taken to Italy; and the first tornado pilot shot down and tortured in the Iraq war. My fears and phobias come in when they’re due. Arab spiders, heights and polar bears in particular.’
Perhaps surprisingly for someone who has spent his career traversing the Nile and the Arctic in the most extreme of conditions, Fiennes reveals that the moment when he most feared for his life was here in the UK.
‘I completed the first ever vertical journey around the Earth in the 80s with my wife. We swept away a lot of records, but we didn’t move more than about eleven miles per hour in about three years. When we got back to the starting point in Greenwich, some fool had brought her car keys. It was absolutely terrifying driving through London and not being in control!’
How serious he’s being, we’re not so sure – but at the age of 72, he’s still taking his adventures and challenges very seriously indeed. He is currently undertaking the Global Reach Challenge, of which HRH the Prince of Wales is a patron, in aid of Marie Curie.
The mission is to become the first person to have crossed both polar ice caps and to have climbed the highest mountain on each of the seven continents
The mission is to become the first person to have crossed both polar ice caps and to have climbed the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. ‘I’d already done Everest and Kilimanjaro, a long time ago, so my next challenge was the highest mountain in North America, which is Denali in Alaska. My back completely went so I’ll have to do that one again in May next year. That was bad,’ he admits.
But it wasn’t enough to stop him. ‘I did the highest mountain in Europe last week, which is El Brus near Georgia. In a fortnight, I’m doing Mount Castensz in Australasia. It’s going to be pretty hot and insect-ridden.’
So far, he’s raised £8.3 million for Marie Curie over the course of his lifetime, and over £18.2million for various other UK charities. Not bad going for a septuagenarian.