'I Don't Fear Death as Long as It's Quick'; Just before Sir Ranulph Fiennes Set off on His Latest Perilous Journey, to Conquer the North Face of Everest, He Told Danae Brook His Plans for His Own Funeral Should the Climb End in Disaster
Byline: DANAE BROOK
He's 61 years old, terrified of heights, has a heart problem, bronchitis and a new wife, but nothing is going to stand in the way of Sir Ranulph Fiennes's latest expedition - a 70-day ascent of Everest's North Ridge. The explorer married 38-year-old Louise Millington, a horse trainer, quietly in Cheshire on March 12.
Then on Easter Saturday the couple packed their bags and left for Katmandu to prepare for the Everest expedition. They are honeymooning in the Himalayas, travelling from Nepal to Tibet, and then to base camp.
Since their first meeting, Ranulph has been determined to keep his relationship with Louise as private as is humanly possible. The banns were read at his church in North Devon, where he married Ginny, his first wife who lost her battle with cancer last year, and where she was buried, and at Louise's church in Chester. None of Fiennes's friends or close neighbours were invited to the wedding itself, or were even informed where it would be, but they'll certainly be following his daring Everest ascent.
'I didn't plan the climb until after Ginny died because she didn't like mountains,' Fiennes tells Night & Day in an exclusive interview shortly before his wedding. 'She knew you could control the risk with polar expeditions. Somebody like me, who gives lectures all over the country, is forced to use the British road system, and I'm more likely to come to grief here than on a polar expedition.
'But with mountains, Ginny was convinced it was a different kind of risk, an uncontrollable risk, when rocks can hit you, or you lose your grip, and every now and then I used to listen to her. Plus, I am afraid of heights. But then she died, so I felt that I wasn't being irresponsible by deciding to climb, because there was no Ginny to affect.
'The climb of Everest came about because, by chance, Ginny and I went to dinner with Sibusiso Vilane, a very nice guy who had climbed Everest. He was the first black man to do so, from the southern approach, and wanted to be the first black man to climb both faces of Everest, so asked me to come with him, and carry his bags. I was honoured to be asked.
'Then I discovered that for me to climb, with my heart bypass history and medical considerations, it would cost [pounds sterling]50,000 in all. If my charity was sure they could raise meaningful sums - we raised [pounds sterling]4.2 million in just one expedition for multiple sclerosis - then I would do it.' Prince Charles has been the patron of Fiennes's expeditions for more than 15 years. 'In the Eighties, he asked who we were going to raise money for. When I said we didn't raise money for anyone, he was shocked and said we should.
Between us we chose MS. We switched to the British Heart Foundation after my heart attack. But Prince Charles is not patron of these projects - the marathons and the mountains - because, strictly speaking, they are not expeditions.' Unlike Ginny, Louise is happy for Fiennes to take on the expedition. 'She is right behind it, which is great. So I don't feel irresponsible at all,' he says.
She has even joined Fiennes on trips to Chamonix in the French Alps to train, climbing with his friend Kenton Cool of Jagged Globe, the mountaineering and trekking company with whom Fiennes will be doing his climb. 'He's taught me how to ice climb and snow climb,' he says.
'I have total trust in him. If he sees me getting that dreadful rush of fear that comes with my vertigo, he shouts at me to look up, telling me I must not look down. The problem is, what do you do next? How do you get to the next foothold?' But Fiennes is determined to conquer his fears, despite having lost three fingers to frostbite, and says it's something he needs to do before he dies. 'There are certain faces, particularly north faces of mountains, like the Eiger and Everest, which I am terrified of. They are real challenges, and when I've done them I really will feel I have done something. …