Regarded by many as the greatest living adventurer on the planet, the legend of Sir Ranulph Fiennes started with his exploits in the British Army’s SAS unit. Today, the 72 year-old Brit is the embodiment of the modern adventurer.
Born in 1944, Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the British army. The young officer landed up at the Special Air Service (SAS), where he specialised in demolitions.
Fiennes shot to unexpected fame after an incident with a concrete dam. A Hollywood movie company had built an unsightly dam as part of the Dr Dolittle filmset in the beautiful village of Castle Combe. Offended by the dam, Fiennes and a colleague demolished it, using explosives. The pair were later found out and Fiennes had to pay a large fine and was discharged from the SAS.
He was later seconded to the Sultan of Oman, but eventually swapped the army for the life of an adventurer to help pay the bills. And what an adventurer he turned out to be. He started with expeditions on hovercraft up the Nile River and Norway’s Jostedalsbreen Glacier, followed by a journey around the world on its polar axis, using surface transport only.
Along with friend Mike Stroud, they became the first to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported – it took 93 days. He’s also climbed Mount Everest twice. Sir Ranulph is, without a doubt, the quintessential adventurer. We talked to him about cars, and adventure.
When and where did you learn to drive?
It was in 1960 when I was 16 years old, in a Morris Minor.
And your first car?
A third-hand Peugeot…
The favourite vehicle you’ve owned over the years?
A Jaguar Mark 2 3.8
What was your favourite vehicle while you were in the British Army?
That must be the Centurion tank – all 60 tons of it. [The Centurion was powered by a 480kW Rolls-Royce engine, but the tank’s top speed was just 35km/h – Ed] After the infamously famous concrete dam demolition, you ended up working for the Sultan of Oman.
What did that entail?
I had six long-wheel-base Land Rover light-armoured vehicles and 60 Arab soldiers at my disposal, and we completed several missions for the Sultan. [He led several raids into rebel-held territory and was decorated for bravery by the Sultanate. – Ed]
How did the progression from professional soldier to world-renowned adventurer come about?
I was on a short service commission with the British Army, which allows for a maximum of eight years service. So after being discharged, I needed to make a living and I thought that British mountaineer Chris Bonington had a great plan at the time: go on expeditions, give lectures about the expeditions and write about them. So that’s exactly what I did.
In 2000, you and fellow Brit adventurer Mike Stroud attempted to cross the North Pole solo and unsupported. Subsequently the sleds fell through the thin ice and you eventually lost some fingers. What motivated you to tackle such a daunting mission, and what kept you going on the ice?
We planned to beat the Norwegians to it, come what may.
So after crossing both poles, climbing Mount Everest and too many other adventures to list here, what are you up to these days?
Mike Stroud and I are planning something but unfortunately I can’t tell you what it is because we don’t wish to alert the Norwegians. In the meantime, I have a new book on the way that will be out in October.
What qualities should a great adventurer have to succeed?
Patience. And realism.
If someone wants to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give that person?
Do army service before anything else.
And lastly, to conclude with a car question: if money was no object, what vehicle would you park in your garage?
A new Range Rover Sport, thanks.
“A Hollywood movie company had built an unsightly dam as part of the Dr Dolittle filmset… Offended by the dam, Fiennes and a colleague demolished it”