Famous explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes wows Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival as he unveils book on Lawrence of Arabia
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Visiting Harrogate last weekend to give a talk at this year’s Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, the man officially called “the world's greatest living explorer” by the Guinness Book of World Records said Lawrence of Arabia was a man who “changed the course of history”.
Chatting in a quiet moment at the Crown Hotel, the veteran but still razor sharp former SAS officer said he felt a great affinity for the legendary British figure.
"There has been few figures like Lawrence of Arabia before or since,” said Sir Ranulph.
"T E Lawrence changed the course of history by making the Arabs a major force to be reckoned with during the First World War.
"I spent two years in the army in the late 1960s in the same desert as Lawrence while on attachment to the Sultan of Oman.
“I led 30 men with six Land Rovers against well-armed Marxist insurgents”.
"Lawrence was working with the Arabs to get the Ottomans out of the Middle East.
"We were doing the same thing in Yemen but to remove the Marxists, not the Turks.
"Lawrence was really upset at the end of the First World War that the British didn’t give the Arabs the leadership of their own land.”
Like Lawrence, Sir Ranulph, has tested himself to the limit and beyond in the world’s most dangerous and remote locations on 31 epic expeditions.
Among the records this quintessential maverick has set since leaving the military in the 1970s, penniless and at a loose end, are:
First to reach both Poles.
First to cross the Antarctic and Arctic Ocean.
First to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis.
Despite being a living hero; his exploits have seen him losing several fingers, one thing still irks Sir Ranulph to this day.
With military service in his blood, he never quite followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who had both distinguished themselves in the Royal Scots Greys.
Fiennes’ father received the Distinguished Service Order posthumously after he was killed in action in 1943 as the Allies pushed into Italy.
"My great drive was to get a commission like my dad who was a colonel who commanded the Royal Scots Greys,” said Sir Ranulph.
"I don’t respect myself for never having followed in my dad’s footsteps fully.
"In my father’s days, you could enter Sandhurst without any A levels.
"By the time I arrived on the scene you needed to have two A levels.
"I never managed to get two A levels so I ended up at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot.
"As a result, I could only get a short service commission in the Royal Scots Greys to become a captain, which is why I then went on to join the SAS.”
Nowadays, explorers have the benefit of GPS and technological solutions to almost every problem.
Sir Ranulph’s most epic feats were conducted in much the same way as his predecessors Shackleton and Scott, both of whom he has written books about.
For the most part, all this remarkable figure had to rely on was his own determination and that of the team of formidable characters he would assemble each time, men such as Charles Burton and Mike Stroud, with the close support of his late wife, and fellow adventurer, Ginny, the childhood sweetheart he first met aged nine when he was aged 11.
"There were no satellites to track our position on our first polar crossing,” said Sir Ranulph, whose expeditions have raised nearly £20 million for charity over the years.
"We navigated the same way as Scott.
"I always chose the members of my team on the basis of their motivation.
"That was the most important thing when the going got tough.
"To repeat those sort of expeditions today it would have to be an artificial challenge, I’m afraid.
"There are only two poles, afterall.”
After completing nearly as many bestselling books as expeditions, are his days of going to Everest or the Sahara finally over at the age of 79?
This charming but mischievous British great refers to the answer he gave earlier to the question of whether his new book on Lawrence of Arabia was built on myth, legend or fact?
"Yes it is,” the last living link to the glory days of exploration on this planet had replied with a smile.
Lawrence of Arabia: An in-depth glance at the life of a 20th Century legend by Sir Ranulph Fiennes is published by Michael Joseph.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes will appear at Harrogate’s Royal Hall on February 20, 2024.