Interview with Sir Ranulph Fiennes ahead of tour to Oxford

There are few people in this world who have as many enthralling stories to tell as Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The world’s greatest living explorer was the first to reach both Poles, the first to cross the Antarctic and the Arctic Ocean, and the first to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis.

Prior to his Living Dangerously tour date at the New Theatre Oxford on Monday 24th October 2022, we were honoured to be given an opportunity to interview the great man, and what a pleasure it was. 

We urge you to see his one night only show if you have any interest in Sir Ranulph’s life from his school days to his time in the army and many heroic expeditions. He also details his next adventure in the Global Reach Challenge transglobe expedition for charity – his goal to become the first person in the world to cross both polar ice caps and climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.

Sir Ranuplh’s exploits in adventure are impressive, but his continued commitment to raise money for Marie Curie after already raising millions over the years is equally admirable.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Marathon des Sables

After all you’ve accomplished, will you ever be able to sit comfortably or is there still a challenge you’ve not done yet, but really want to?

There is one endeavour I would love to accomplish which would be to cross Antarctica without support from any outside and to do it during the official Antarctic winter between the solstices. Our group attempted this quite recently and ran into an extensive crevasse field in an area which had appeared harmless on satellite photographs.

Your tour covers some of your amazing stories, does this reminiscing stir the passion for more adventures?

The story of our group’s achievements against the odds showing colour slides and video sequences of near disaster definitely brings back some quite fearful memories.

sir ranulph in the artic

What made you chop your own fingers off rather than follow your surgeon’s advice?

My late wife told me I was becoming irritable because every time my frozen finger ends touched anything they were extremely sensitive. The doctor would only do the amputation of the 5 fingers five months after the trauma. So after putting up with a 3 month period, I decided to get rid of any further deterioration of my behaviour by getting rid of the offending items.

Are there any moments where you thought you’d made a terrible mistake and would not make it home? If so, what goes through your mind at a time like that?

There were many days and nights where I wished I had never set out on various expeditions in Polar climes and hot Arab deserts. I have experienced near starvation, close attention from polar bears and endured both hyperthermia and hypothermia. At such times I would try to force my mind to dwell on happier times.

sir ranulphs group

Any regrets in your attempt to blow up the Dr Doolittle Dam?

I definitely regret our attack on Castle Coombe but would have been proud if it had succeeded and therefore helped preserve that wonderfully picturesque village.

Is there a particular piece of kit you take on every expedition?

I always pack tubes or aerosols of Antisthane on any expedition where insects or nettle plants cause severe itching are unavoidable. And, in Polar areas I always pack 100 metres of strong, light rope.

What’s your favourite artefact you’ve brought back from an expedition and why?

My favourite item which I have after an Arabian expedition is a clay bowl filled with Frankincense. It reminds me of many wonderful desert expeditions in the Empty Quarter searching for the lost city of the Queen of Sheba.

Is there a challenge left that no one has yet tried yet?

There are many challenges left for all of us to go for and a great deal of pleasure can be got thereby. An example would be to raise large sums of charity money by, as above, crossing Antarctica during the Polar winter.

Is there anyone from the new generation of explorers you admire?

One of today’s most determined explorers is Ed Stafford who has achieved many geographical records in remote regions.

Who is Sir Ranulph Fiennes?

Sir Ranulph was born in the UK in 1944, brought up in South Africa, and attended Eton College. Despite failing his A-Levels he joined the Royal Scots Greys and then the SAS and became the youngest captain in the British Army.

With his wife Ginnie Pepper he planned out some adventures and is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as:

  • First to reach both Poles (with Charles Burton)
  • First to cross Antarctic and Arctic Ocean (with Charles Burton)
  • First to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis (with Charles Burton)
  • Led the first hovercraft expedition up the longest river in the world (the Nile) in 1968/1969.
  • Achieved world record for unsupported northerly polar travel in 1990.
  • Led the team that discovered the lost city of Ubar on the Yemeni border in 1992
  • Achieved world first in 1992/1993 by completing the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic Continent (with Mike Stroud) and the longest unsupported polar journey in history.
  • In 2003, only 3½ months after a massive heart attack, 3 day coma and double bypass, Ranulph Fiennes (with Mike Stroud) achieved the first 7x7x7 (Seven marathons in seven consecutive days on all seven continents).
  • March 2005, climbed Everest (Tibet-side) to within 300m of summit raising £2 million for the British Heart Foundations new research MRI scanner.
  • March 2007, Sir Ranulph climbed the North Face of the Eiger (with Kenton Cool and Ian Parnell) and raised £1.8 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Delivering Choice Programme
  • Winner of ITV Greatest Britons 2007 Sport Award (beating the 2 other main nominees Lewis Hamilton and Joe Calzaghe)
  • May 2008, climbed Everest (Nepal-side) to within 400m from summit raising £2.5m for Marie Curie Cancer Care Delivering Choice Programme
  • Marie Curie 2008 ‘Above and Beyond Award’ Winner
  • Successfully summitted Mount Everest May 2009 with Thundu Sherpa making a total for Marie Curie of over £6.2m. The oldest Briton ever to summit.
  • Becomes the oldest Briton, at the time, to complete the Marathon des Sables – the ‘toughest footrace on earth’ in aid of Marie Curie.