Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, Bt, OBE, 66, led the first expedition to travel around the surface of the Earth’s polar axis and the first to reach both poles. In May 2009, he became the oldest Briton ever to climb Mount Everest. He was awarded an OBE in 1993 for human endeavour and for charitable services.
What was your earliest ambition?
To become commander of the Royal Scots Greys cavalry regiment, which my father commanded in the second world war. Dad was killed four months before I was born. I couldn’t wait to join that particular regiment, which I did in 1962.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
I managed to get four O-levels at Eton. I didn’t go to Sandhurst; for that you needed A-levels. I went to a place where you could get a short service commission as second lieutenant.
Who was your mentor?
How physically fit are you?
I go for a two-hour jog twice a week; that’s the limit of my training.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Stubbornness is another word for ambition and I’d plump for that.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
No. I’d be ashamed to.
How politically committed are you?
I remember voting for Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair; at the various different times I thought they were all doing well for the country.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
In Antarctica, there is a law that every single thing you take in must come out. If you make a living from polar expeditions, even if you weren’t green-minded, you would be very stupid to transgress that.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I would like to complete a specific expedition, but I wouldn’t like to talk about it until I’ve got the wherewithal to do it.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Too much chocolate.
In what place are you happiest?
In a hot bath after a long run.
What ambitions do you still have?
The same answer as before; I want to complete a certain journey.
What drives you on?
Initially, doing the expeditions was in order to make a living, but after years of rivalry with the Norwegians, some of our group became a bit obsessed about the remaining polar records and who was going to knock them off.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Keeping going when I and the others began to think we oughtn’t to. Would it be worth having fingers or toes off to do a few extra miles?
What has been your greatest disappointment?
Not commanding the best regiment in the world.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
I’ve never been any good at two things: hypothesis and introspection.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
Go to a publisher.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
If a human being or an animal is suffering dreadfully and there is no hope of recovery, it should be put out of its misery.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
When I had a heart attack, I asked the vicar why I hadn’t seen any angels. He said, “Ah, you didn’t die properly, did you?” I gave him nine out of 10 for extemporising.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
People who happen to be born in the UK and are in good health are incredibly lucky. But I’m not going to put a figure on it.
‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ by Ranulph Fiennes is published by Hodder at £8.99 in paperback