The polar explorer reveals what it takes to travel to the edge of the world and back.
When taking over a new job, make sure your predecessor tells you all the lessons they’ve learnt
In the ’80s I was broke so had to take a proper job in PR with Occidental Oil. I would take the energy press writers out to keep them friendly, but when our oil platform Piper Alpha had a problem, none of them remembered the free lunches. My predecessor later said, “Oh, I could have told you that…”
Paint a sombre picture of the task ahead at recruitment stage
Things will always get bad, but if you’ve already warned the team upfront that it would be awful and that you were going to be a bastard, when they whinge you can say, “You’ve only yourself to blame.”
If you find a rotten apple, get rid of it
One trip, we had a bloke on the transport side and involved in supplies who fancied the occasional beer. Everything was going wrong because he was a weak link. We still had five months to go, and even though it might cripple everything, I had to nip it in the bud and send him home.
Balance strength with care
In avoiding wimpish ‘yes men’ you may take on too many chiefs. It’s all very well looking for people who can look after themselves, but then you’re saddled with very strong characters who really don’t like being told what to do. You want someone who will be loyal to the leader.
Be flexible, but remember that one of your options is to be inflexible
On one expedition there was a huge crevasse field ahead of us and I knew the only safe way through, but it looked like there might be easier routes. I decided not to ask the others because I knew that if they didn’t agree with me I would do it my way anyway.
Be very clear when explaining your goals
What people don’t realise is that when you talk about Antarctica, you’re talking about the land of Antarctica plus the miles of ice that spills down from the land into the sea. Our attempt in 1992 started on the ice at the Atlantic side and days later we reached the land. We then crossed it to a frozen coast on the Pacific side, but there was still a huge ice to cross, so we ran out of steam. But because we’d said we were crossing Antarctica, some people called it a failure. If we’d said The Antarctic continent, it would have been a success.
Never move against the opposition until the cards are stacked in your favour
I learned this the hard way when I was trying to go to the North Pole and I didn’t wait for the ice to properly freeze. I ended up with five fingers amputated because I didn’t apply that rule. I cut them off myself. I was supposed to wait five months, but the dead bits were excruciatingly painful. I put them in a vice in the garden shed and, using a micro saw, I very carefully took them off. The thumb took two days.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Joined Royal Scots Greys, his father’s old regiment.
With the SAS. “I got thrown out for blowing up a dam in a Wiltshire village which had been built for the film Doctor Dolittle. “And I don’t regret doing it, apart from the fact that I got caught.”
Joined the Sultan of Oman’s forces.
Left army. Auditioned for James Bond: “I got down to the last six.”
Became the first man to travel to both Poles.
Found the lost city of Ubar: “After seven search expeditions over 26 years I started to wonder how long we were going to keep it up.”
Achieved world’s first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent. “The longest unaided polar journey in history.”
Awarded OBE for “human endeavour and charitable services”.
Suffered massive heart attack. “Two-and-a-half months later I did the ‘7x 7x7’: it’s seven marathons on seven continents on seven successive days.”
Everest attempt. “I failed, but I’ll try again in May.”
Climbed the north face of Mount Eiger.
Additionally… Fiennes has written 16 books and his expeditions have so far raised £11.2m for UK charities.
Sir Ranulph is the ambassador for Blacks. For more information visit www.blacks.co.uk or call 0800 665 410