Ranulph Fiennes: The World’s Greatest Explorer

Action man Ranulph Fiennes, now 74, can’t take things easy, writes Sarah Pollok

Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham Fiennes OBE is a British expedition leader, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and regarded as the world’s greatest living explorer, but if you ever have the good fortune to speak with him, he’ll insist you call him Ran.

From summiting Everest and circumnavigating the world across its polar axis to crossing the Antarctic unsupported and running seven marathons in seven continents in seven consecutive days, the humble Brit has done more in his 74 years than most could ever dream of.

The most memorable, he says, was his 24-year search for the Lost City of Iram in the Arabian Desert. “I’d organised seven expeditions with some amazing people and we never found it.” Fiennes says it was a combination of will and luck that brought success at attempt No 8.

Despite carrying the weighty title of “World’s greatest living explorer”, Fiennes is the first to admit that as a young man it wasn’t exploring he dreamt of, but following his father in the army. “Until I was 21, I never even contemplated going on expeditions or setting world records or that sort of thing,” Fiennes says. “I just wanted to be like him.” Fiennes’ “one-track mind” led him from cadet school in 1963 to the Royal Scots Greys regiment, where he served for eight years.

He went on to lead countless record-breaking expeditions full of thrilling escapades and risky feats, one of which took him and some fellow soldiers through the war-torn heart of Egypt as they followed the river Nile.

Now, 50 years later, Fiennes is set to retrace his steps in a three-part documentary series alongside award-winning actor and cousin, Joseph Fiennes, most recently seen on our screens as Commander Fred Waterford in The Handmaid’s Tale.

As the first person to achieve Shackleton’s unrealised goal of crossing Antarctica on foot, Fiennes seems well suited to the job.

The expedition, which was completed in 1993, was arranged by his late wife, Ginny, a daring explorer herself, who also suggested Fiennes self-amputate his frostbitten fingers after a troubled expedition to the North Pole in 2000.

“I’m not normally moody, but she said I was getting very irritable and pointed out she had big clipper things to cut her cattle’s hooves,” Fiennes says. “If it bled or hurt [the horse] then she cut higher and so the same could be true for fingers.”

Medics and insurance companies would not support an official procedure but Ran heeded his wife’s advice, picked up an electric fretsaw and, with a No 8 wire mentality that would make any Kiwi proud, did the job himself.

Egypt with The World’s Greatest Explorer screens on National Geographic from Sunday March 31, 8.30pm.

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