Sir Ranulph Fiennes, 65, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest in May this year.
An expedition leader since the 1960s, he and Charles Burton became the first men to reach both poles by surface travel (1979/82) and he and Mike Stroud later became the first to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported (1993).
He has led more than 30 expeditions – including the first polar circumnavigation of the Earth.
Fiennes was born in Windsor. After attending Eton, he joined the army, where he was seconded to the Special Air Service and went on to join the army of the Sultan of Oman.
He is the author of 18 books, including a biography of Captain Robert Scott (2003).
Fiennes lives in the south-west of England with his second wife, Louise, and their family.
Did you think you would get to where you are?
No! In my early 20s I only had one goal, which was to do what my dad had done: to become colonel of his regiment, the Royal Scots Greys. I went into the regiment, but I did not become colonel. I was unable to go to Sandhurst because I did not have A-levels.
When you realised that you had raised your first million, were you tempted to slow down?
My charity fundraising – which is nearly at £15m – started in 1985 when our patron Prince Charles, said: “On the next expedition, Ran, who are we raising money for?” I said, “Nobody, Sir.” He said: “If you want me to continue as your patron, you had better start.”
He decided we should support multiple sclerosis (MS). The next two polar expeditions raised £4.2m and we opened a new laboratory for MS research at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. No, I did not want to slow down – this was a much quicker way of raising money than jumble sales.
As sponsors fund each expedition, they sometimes like to choose the charity. The charity itself does not pay a penny towards the cost of the expedition.
This means that for every expedition I have to find a financial sponsor – not easy in the recession. Brewin Dolphin covered the cost of the expedition in May, which would have been £35,000. We have now done three climbing expeditions in support of Marie Curie Cancer Care and they have raised £5.6m, thanks to the Business Leaders’ Challenge. One of the reasons for choosing this cause was that my first wife and two of my sisters died of cancer within 18 months of each other and I got to know the Marie Curie nurses.
What is the secret of your success?
All the success that I have had – which matches the number of failures over 42 years – is partly due to luck and partly due to careful preparation by reading how other people failed in the same area. That last reason for success is not always possible because we have done expeditions where no human has been before.
Do you want to carry on till you drop?
Once I got beyond 61, I began to find physical problems, which are extremely irritating. Eyes start getting very tired and focus that has been fine for 60 years requires spectacles, which mist up in the extreme cold. I would like to carry on for as long as it is possible not to physically make a fool of myself. I remember when Francis Chichester needed rescuing and the papers said he had done one voyage too many.
Have you had time for personal financial planning?
I get on very well with my bank manager and sometimes listen to his advice. My accountant deals with the VAT of my company, which I formed with my first wife Ginny in 1966.
What was your most prudent investment?
I suppose it was in 1968, spending everything I had been left by my grandmother. To my mother’s horror, at 24, I splashed out £7,500 on a Land Rover so I could lead the first hovercraft expedition up the Nile during army leave.
Have you made any pension provision?
I have an old age pension from the government. I don’t have an army pension.
Have you taken steps to pass on your wealth?
I have written a will. I have always agreed with what my mother said: half to family, half to charity.
Picasso or Art Deco as an investment?
Our walls are full of colour photographs of expeditions.
Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?
Three and a half years ago, I went with my wife Louise and her family down the Zambezi to retrace the last 10 days of Livingstone’s journey to Victoria Falls. That was just a private expedition, more like holiday.
What is your basic business philosophy?
I am cautious with money when I make some, because nobody pays me for doing the expeditions. If an expedition fails, I would have to write something such as a fitness book to pay back the publisher’s advance.
What is the most you have ever paid for a bottle of fine wine or champagne?
When I got married in 1970, I paid £9.99 for a bottle of Australian Merlot, but generally I don’t drink.
What is your money-saving tip in the recession?
Don’t drive anywhere that you can avoid, because petrol costs so much. I make a living from giving lectures and attending conferences so I have to drive all over the UK. But now I try to combine two lectures in
the same area on the same day or consecutive days to avoid driving home overnight. I will stay in a hotel because the client pays for accommodation.