Sir Ranulph Fiennes – The Man with the Mondeo and The Great Explorer

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Matt Dyas speak to Ann from Adventure Pending ahead of their new documentary – EXPLORER.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes close-up, black and white

Undeterred by his ‘greatest living explorer’ title, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes still humbly insists “Ran Fiennes is fine by me”.

The OBE has an incredible number of achievements to his name, starting with the first pole-to-pole crossing of the earth in 1982. Forty years on, EXPLORER unveils the man behind the expeditions.

Director Matt Dyas aims to share the adventurer’s real character in the all-new documentary, including a glimpse into childhood, radio comms with late wife Ginny, and candid chats with nearest and dearest.

“He’s got this sort of chiselled-jaw, frosty, man-of-ice image,” Matt says. “But I knew there was more to him than that.” 

“My friend at the Royal Geographic Society told me Ran comes in and pitches expeditions – he still wants to make money for charity, and he sleeps in his car behind the Albert Hall. 

“And so there are these two very different types of people – the man with the Mondeo, and the great explorer.”

Close-up of Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Many have watched Sir Ranulph’s accomplishments from afar, but it was HRH Prince Charles who was one of his most vocal supporters. In 1979, ahead of Ranulph’s expedition to circumnavigate the globe, the Prince of Wales shared his joy for the ‘mad’ yet ‘suitably British’ challenge.

It’s no surprise many thought Sir Ranulph and his two accomplices, Charles Burton and Oliver Shephard, were ‘mad’. The trio were set to tackle a 100,000-mile journey through extreme climates with just a small support team to assist them over radio signal.

This becomes even more remarkable when you learn that neither Burton nor Shephard had any previous experience of such challenges.

Ranulph Fiennes pulling sled through snow

“Out of 800 (expedition) applicants, we chose two,” Ranulph says. 

“The main thing we were looking at was their motivation – 2 out of 800 is what we got. Out of that 800 there were many who had done amazing polar expeditions, but we ended up with two who hadn’t done any expeditions at all.

“It was their motivation (that helped) when they really felt horrible, when they were getting crotch rot, when their teeth were falling out, when they were breathing hard in extreme cold because they were towing incredible weight through soft snow for miles – you’re looking for special people.

“We were also looking for, the horrible word, ‘nice’ people. People who, under great stress, were not automatically horrible to whoever they were with. I have to tell you that doing a solo expedition I find worst of all because there’s nobody to hate. 

“In group expeditions, you can try to blame the other bloke who’s with you – it’s a funny sort of experience.”

Ranulph Fiennes with his late wife, Ginny

Ranulph, however, was quick to dismiss Prince Charles’ earlier description of his own character.

“No way, I wouldn’t say mad.

“We are trying to do world records of a geographical and physical nature, and if you do them in a mad way you’re going to fail. 

“We tried to do it in a highly careful way by studying the methods used by our predecessors, normally Norwegians, who are the best polar travellers world-record wise. Those are the guys we are up against. 

“And so if a particular polar record has been tried by them and they’ve failed, then we will study why they’re failed very carefully. If they’ve been pretty mad or reckless, we will head away from that route onto a safer, less mad way of trying it.”

Young Ranulph Fiennes

Fiennes has completed upwards of 30 expeditions over the years – he discovered a lost city in Arabia, became the first of two to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported, and more surprisingly whittled his way down to the final six for the role of James Bond.

A later solo expedition to the North Pole was brought to a halt when his sled fell through thin ice. Ranulph’s hands were submerged in the water when trying to free it, resulting in severe frostbite. 

After months of frustration waiting for a procedure to remove them, Ran decided to take back control by cutting them off with a saw against a Black+Decker workbench. “It did, sort of, rather hurt”, he shares in EXPLORER. 

Ranulph Fiennes trekking through snow

Even a heart attack, three-day coma, and double heart bypass surgery failed to stop Ran. In 2003, just four months after the emergency procedure, he pioneered the 777 challenge at the age of 59 – running seven marathons in seven days across each of the seven continents.

Later years saw him climb Kilimanjaro, the North Face of the Eiger, and attempt to cross the Antarctic Plateau in the polar winter. He became the oldest Briton to summit Everest in 2009, aged 65.

Now 78, Fiennes continues the adventure and still sleeps in his car when the moment calls. His beloved Ford Mondeo, featured throughout the film, was recently sold with over 280,000 miles on the clock. But that wasn’t the end of the road- he was quick to buy another. 

“Unfortunately this one isn’t an estate, so sleeping in it and stretching your legs out wasn’t so good. I love the Mondeo, but I would have preferred if I’d got one with extra length.” he adds.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

There are countless incredible moments across Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ life, yet EXPLORER beautifully tells the tale.

“I wanted the film to be a portrait of him,” Matt says, “and not just the autobiography rehashed or redone – it was more about what he’s like and how he behaves.” 

“There were so many surprises (working with Ran). When you’re just getting to know someone, it’s those trivial and ordinary moments that get you into those relatable stories on family, friendship, love and loss. 

“Of course (the film is) about adventuring and you want that romantic appeal of the great expeditions and trips, but you also want that humanity of someone you relate to.”

EXPLORER is in theatres from 14th July.

Author’s notes

Explorer is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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