Please could we receive some background information on yourself and what encouraged you to embark on two epic expeditions to the Poles in the 1980s?
When I was 11, I saw a film about the real explorers, Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, the greats who went to the Poles. I made a promise that one day I would be the first to walk to the North and South Poles. This was the beginning.
Starting at 11, I finished those two journeys at 33 years old. It was quite a big deal to get it going. I had very rarely been camping in my life, I simply had this dream and I had to learn as I went along. After studying ancient history at Durham university, I started that process to make it happen. In those days you couldn’t fly to Antarctica like we do now, you had to buy a ship and go there as the real explorers had done. This costs millions of pounds and it took seven years to raise the money. Eventually we made those two journeys which was a hell of an undertaking.
Now, I would say that I’m not an explorer, as I had the right people with me to ensure we executed the journeys. I only describe myself as an explorer in the sense that exploration is our survival on the planet.
Could you explain your 50-year mission to protect Antarctica in more detail?
On our journey to the south pole, we walked under a hole in the ozone layer and had our faces and eyes seriously burned. On our journey to the north pole, we walked across an ice cap that was melting for the first time in recorded history. Upon returning from these expeditions and realising our survival on this planet is not somebody else’s problem, I questioned what I could do.
I returned feeling down about the whole situation I had witnessed, because it seemed so big and no one was listening. It was Jacques Cousteau who gave me this mission to help preserve Antarctica. What that means is that right now, nobody owns Antarctica. It is the last great wilderness left on Earth and we all have a responsibility for it. In 2041, the agreements that preserve Antarctica can stop, can be changed, can be thrown away.