Taking on the rat race, the Fiennes way

Timothy Barber
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IF YOU thought there wasn’t much of a parallel to be drawn between sitting in the comfort of your office and trekking through a polar blizzard in the world’s most unforgiving wilderness, think again. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer and adventurer who probably knows more about the latter than anyone else on Earth, believes that what makes a successful businessperson tick isn’t so far removed from what makes him keep conquering places people just aren’t meant to conquer.

“Being entrepreneurial under one’s own steam, being prepared to go out on a limb independently is what it’s all about,” he says. “When you find there are obstacles you don’t immediately get put off by them, you have to think laterally to get round them and have that element of adventure – the courage and spirit to attack.”

Fiennes’s take on lateral problem solving can be famously blunt. After a failed attempt to walk solo to the North Pole in 2000 resulted in severe frostbite to the fingers on his left hand, his response on returning home was to hack off the fingertips in his garden shed rather than wait months for surgery. His career in the SAS was curtailed when, offended by an unsightly dam built in a Wiltshire village for a film set, he used his expertise to blow it up.

It’s that same gung-ho sense of derring-do that this year took Fiennes to the top of Mount Everest, the first person in 37 years to summit the world’s highest peak having already crossed both polar ice caps. At 65, he’s also Britain’s first OAP to successfully climb the mountain – not bad for a man who is missing fingers and suffers from chronic vertigo. Then there’s the small matter of his weakened heart, for which he had double bypass surgery a few years ago, and which had contributed to his failing to conquer Everest on a previous attempt. But as in business, Fiennes says, it makes a difference when overcoming those obstacles comes with some stiff competition.

“Life is a rat race, and it helps enormously if you know you’ve got rivals,” he says. His are the Norwegians, as they were for Robert Falcon Scott, the man Fiennes describes as the greatest polar explorer of all time, and in whose defence he wrote an acclaimed book. Fiennes won’t shed light on his next polar adventure in case the Norwegians get wind of it and try to do it first, and the country’s leading explorer Borge Ousland – a mere stripling in his 40s – previously came within a couple of hours of beating Fiennes to the top of Everest, having also crossed both ice caps.

“Like us, they have some kind of endemic thing in their nature that they want to deal with the big geographical, polar challenges of our time,” he says. “And we both want to be first – it’s the highly competitive side of human nature, and that challenge is what keeps you going when you’re weak and really, really hurting.”

This autumn Fiennes published a book tracing his family back to its origins – his direct ancestors include the first crusader “king” of Jerusalem, a baron who cuckolded Edward II, and Charlamagne. So does the world’s greatest living explorer think much about his own place in history? Not a bit of it.

“I think about planning the next expedition, not about what happens when you’re dead. If you worry about your own place in posterity, you’re just ensuring you get there sooner.”

Sir Ranulph Fiennes is working with Glenfiddich whisky to inspire men to realise their true pioneering potential. See www.glenfiddich.com for advice from Sir Ranulph and others.