pope francis has ushered in christmas for more than a billion catholics by celebrating midnight mass at the vatican. alluding to the recent sexual abuse, and financial scandals afflicting catholicism, he called on the faithful not to abandon god's love because of the church's failings. russian and turkish officials claim they've been discussing how to stop an escalation of fighting in the syrian province of idlib. around 80 civilians have been killed in the past week, including five children. several ceasefires have collapsed, in the mainly rebel—held province, and an offensive by syrian government forces backed by russia has been under way for a week. hundreds of australian families are spending christmas day in emergency shelters, with at least 70 bushfires still burning in new south wales. more than 1,700 firefighters are battling the crisis. nearly a thousand homes have been destroyed and another extreme heatwave is due later this week.
you are pretty much up to date on the headlines. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk. stephen sackur interviews author and explorer ranulph fiennes. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. my guest today is an extremist of a very special kind. nothing to do with his political views, but recognition of a lifetime spent embracing physical challenges at the extreme limit of human endurance. sir ranulph fiennes has taken on and conquered the polar ice, the world's highest peaks and the most gruelling deserts. he's been described as one of the world's greatest living explorers. so, what is the motivation for this life of extreme adventure?
sir ranulph fiennes, welcome to hardtalk. thank you very much. seems to me, your entire life, you have spent testing yourself, challenging yourself. why this preoccupation with tests? it doesn't come about in that particular way, it comes about because of being brought up in south africa, arriving in the uk, not getting a—levels, that's what it comes from, because that's not what i wanted to do, it's what my dad had done, commanding the royal scots‘ greatest tank regiment when he was killed in the second world war, and i wanted to command that same wonderful scottish regiment, but in his day, it didn't require a—levels to get sandhurst. in my time, you did, and i couldn't, and therefore i had a second grade
of cadet school and would never become colonel of the regiment, so ijoined the regiment but had only eight years of army service before you were thrown out. and so i didn't do what i wanted to do, and i did as long as i could in the army, then i found myself with no income, i married my wifejenny who had virtually no income, and so we thought we'd do what i had tried to do in the army, which was to do expeditions with soldiers, but that was paid for by the taxpayer. doing it with just my wife, the new word was sponsorship. get everything for nothing. you've already developed several themes there, and one thing that is important
to your life and i think that's, in a way there's a sense of disappointment that you were not, despite the fact that you tried very hard to emulate your father... and it should be said that your father was killed in action in the second world war, so you never knew him. you were born after he died, but you clearly wanted to emulate his brilliant military career, but you were not able to. was that always, and is it now, a disappointment to you? it is the biggest disappointment. i wanted for 2h years to do that, and then found that i had failed and couldn't do it, so i had to turn to something else. you've just written a book about elite special forces throughout the course of human history and you actually write about your dad's own regiment, the royal scots greys, a cavalry regiment which has been involved in some of the most famous battles that the uk military has seen. you did, for a while, serve in that force yourself. have you always found it difficult to live up to your father's reputation?
yeah, i mean, i wanted to actually get, it's an awful thing to say, but to fight... in his days it was nazis, in my day it was marxists, and they — harold wilson had chucked the brits out of aden — yemen, as it now is. and they were coming in, having trained the muslims in odessa in the soviet union, to become marxists instead of muslims. and we were there, thanks to harold wilson sending us, to protect the muslims from the marxists, and so i was able to actuallyjoin an elite force, having been trained by the sas without fighting, i now had a command over an elite force, like what the book's all about, 60 of them, and could change their operations procedure by what i learned in the sas, mainly to move only by night, do nothing by day, and by shouting in the dark when we were under attack from machine—guns, " retreat, retreat! " — but advance.
you were a tough guy in that sense and you led men in very difficult circumstances, but you've also written very honestly about the way in which you didn't always find it easy to be that tough guy. you've written about school, how you hated being bullied, how you felt you had to keep your mouth shut when you were being beaten at eton, one of the leading public schools in the uk, because you, again, didn't want to let your father down. we have had other guests in this studio talk about their upbringings as males, in very male societies, and they have talked — and one in particular, a novelist from australia, talked about a toxic sense of masculinity, and i just wonder whether you, reflecting on your life, can relate to that? yeah, you're talking about an all—male background. i was brought up in south africa with a mother, a grandmother, lots of aunties, lots of sisters, no male whatsoever, so it was totally — i was spoiled rotten. and then thrown into a pretty brutal boys‘ boarding school. yeah, i hate to call eton brutal... but in your day. yeah, and if i had a son,
i'd probably send him there. but in my day, it was very different. you were beaten and all this sort of stuff — like you were at every other school, pretty much at the time. and yes, i do remember not wanting to shout when being beaten, and that is a sort of indication, and i do remember people saying i looked "pretty" and i scowled to try to stop looking pretty. so i thought i'd take up boxing in order to become aggressive—appearing, and it sort of worked quite well. so here we are, let us be blunt, you were thrown out of the sas, britain's special forces, because of a complicated incident in which you and a friend acquired some explosive and went a bit freelance.
no, i acquired the explosives, but you were being taught to blow up as much as possible by the sas with as little as possible, and at the end of every day i was quite good at it so i had a lot left over. i thought, pity to give it back to the queen, you know. put it in the boot. so two months later, the boot of my car was full—up with explosives. so when this guy came up with an offer to protect castle combe in wiltshire, the prettiest village, voted as such, being ruined by 20th century fox. so we planned to blow up the dam, which they had made this lovely river into a big lake forfilming, and yes, i was thrown out of the sas for misuse... yes, let's be honest, you went a bit rogue. you undertook a freelance operation, and they took a very dim view of it. but the point of the story, in a way, is that there you were, pretty much penniless, newly married, now without a military career. you thought the way through this, to continue to travel,
to have the adventures, but to not do it with the military was to launch a series of expeditions. yes. luckily, my wife — late wife of 38 years, she was into the same sort of thing. she'd been a mountain guide up in the north of scotland. and she was a very determined person, and she decided that we would have to be polar because of the british media at the time were only interested in polar stuff, and if you don't get media coverage, you don't get sponsorship — which we depend upon. and therefore, we would do the only polar expedition which had never been done by mankind, not even scott shackleton and co, which was to do the first—ever journey around earth vertically, and she decided that's what we would do. which of course was a journey without any air flight, you were on foot across the poles. yeah. no flying one inch of the 52,000 miles. and noticing as we speak that the hand is evidence of some of the suffering that you have had
in yourjourneys across the most frozen parts of our planet. yes. well, when we are selecting people for a small team, we've had 8,000 applicants in the london area, we only want two people. so choice is important. one of the things i would never take is someone with previous frostbite because they become a liability on the expedition, so i wouldn't choose myself anymore after getting this sort of thing. just explain to me, because that, i think, is important to talk about, not because of the detail of how it happened, but how you responded to it. you basically had to amputate your own, or you chose to amputate your own fingers and most of a thumb, didn't you? yeah, i mean, when it happened, i sent a telegram back to the uk because by then my wife was into cattle, and all i got back from her was, typical ran, getting your fingers and all that, we are already short—handed on the farm, so i didn't get much sympathy. got back to the uk, the surgeon
wouldn't operate for five months, so i was walking around with mummified half—fingers on the end, and any time you touched something, it's agony, so she said i was getting irritable, and can't wait five months to have a proper amputation. so we bought a black and decker fret saw, and she brought me cups of tea, and the physiotherapist in bristol said i had done a very good job. the surgeon was sort ofjealous, i think. which raises the question, as you undertook more and more extreme adventures, crossing the poles on foot, deciding, much later in life, you were going to try to climb all seven highest peaks on the seven continents of this planet. you clearly were prepared to endure enormous amounts of physical suffering. yeah, i had a massive heart attack on everest within five hours of the summit ridge. and therefore i had to retreat, three days later i got back down to the base camp through a very good sherpa and tried again five years later, but by which time i was becoming an 0ap and failed a second time because of passing too many bodies. 0n the third attempt,
with a wonderful sherpa, passed the bit which has recently been in the news, where you get queues of people — all you do is, you do it at night when there's no people. so my sherpa took me up at night, got to the top, no bother, became the first 0ap to get to the top. how old were you? when you got to the top of everest? 65. but because of being an 0ap it made more money for multiple sclerosis. and these expeditions, one of the offshoots is we have made £19 million for uk charities, and the more difficult they are, the more the public will give money to the charity. interesting you say the more difficult they are, the more money we can raise, the more we can do. isn't that, in the end, a rather dangerous philosophy? because it is tempting you to undertake adventures, i don't know whether we call them adventures or explorations which actually... we call them expeditions.
expeditions. but they are at the very boundary of what the human body can sustain, and i wonder whether at times you have actually been irresponsible? no, it's a commercial problem. we need sponsorship, we never pay money to anybody or anything, so we need sponsorship. the sponsors will only give you sponsorship if you're breaking world records, and they are only world records because the easier ones have been done. so your point about them being very hard, is what comes about. we don't attack at. we look at the previous people, normally norwegian, who have succeeded. where they've failed on the expeditions that haven't yet been done by humans, where they've failed, we discover what they did wrong, and normally they took risks. so we try and actually avoid the risks, not confront them. isn't it the truth that explorers and expedition leaders such as you are running out of new places to go? running out of records to break? it depends which field you're in. if you're in polar, there are only two poles so you are quite right.
if you happen to be one of the people who go for first ascents of difficult mountains, there are still many horrible north—faces still to be climbed, so they've got plenty to do. it's interesting you mention that, because i was reading a back copy of the new york times from 2008 which was all about the mission that, some of the world's leading climbers undertook to k2 using a very difficult route, and i believe ii of them were killed in one of the worst international mountaineering incidents ever. and ijust wonder, with your experience, whether you fear that decision making is being compromised by this desire to push to ever more extreme limits. yes, it must be. because if you are wanting — that is yourjob to go onto the next record, and because of what i've just said, the records become harder and harder as your predecessors manage the last one. but in a sense, it's not a job, is it?
and that's what i'm driving at. perhaps there is a selfishness of going too far in some explorers‘ minds, because of course if they get into trouble, they are going to have to be rescued or at least rescue attempts will be made, enormous resources will be spent, and i think perhaps some people in the public are saying, what's the point? the foreign office stopped that happening. you cannot get permission to go down to antarctica in the winter when there's no rescue service. the rescue services want money by rescuing people so they like it. so, you're not ending up with threatening somebody as you have in the old days when that wasn't the case. the polar desk, if they're not going to sue me for libel, in whitehall, are there to stop you going there in the wintertime when there's no rescue service on the entire continent. every time i go in there with a new expedition, they say, "christ, it's him again." just one more thought on the way in which you've promoted and sold the expeditions. because, of course, as you very honestly say, "i need the cash
to make them happen." is there a tendency to exaggerate at times? i'm just thinking now about one of your most remarkable expeditions, which has nothing to do the ice, it was the desert, and it was your mission to find the lost city of ubar, a sort of mythical city mentioned in the arabian nights. you were convinced it was somewhere in the empty quarter between saudi arabia and 0man. yeah, my wife was convinced. well, your wife — well, she led many of your missions in terms of being the logistics commander. true. and you claimed you'd found it in 1991. now, many archaeologists and experts that i've read since say, well, ranulph found something very interesting, but it sure as anything wasn't the lost city of ubar. the sultan of oman will tell you that it was the lost city of ubar, the queen of sheba had somewhere in order to put the frankincense on the camels to send them to the market up injerusalem and that's a huge journey, and we knew, therefore,
exactly where she would have to start loading the camels with frankincense, which cost three times the cost of gold. so, it was well worth doing. it must‘ve been where water came from the coasts towards the great desert of arabia, which they had to cross. so, we were looking at the very tip of where that water reached, and we reached a place called shisr, and that must have been — and all the 0mani authorities agree, and the professor who found them, juris zarins, the best middle east archaeologist in the world, agreed that it must be ubar. so, what you're saying, quoting other jealous archaeologists, talking a load of rubbish. no, it is ubar. well, obviously you're not an archaeologist. but you're right, the 0manis, but they could have other reasons, including tourism to want to believe you were right. but in the end, it was an extraordinary expedition, whether it's ubar or not. yeah, it wasn't me deciding it was ubar, it was the best
archaeologist in the world, juris zarins. but you sit before me as a man in maturity, in your 70s. and you have not stopped and your health problems have gotten worse. and ijust wonder whether you are struggling — to put it bluntly — with the realities of ageing, when your determination to get going, keep the expeditions alive is as strong as ever. yeah, it is, in my head, as strong as ever. but i acknowledge the fact that people, when they get to sort of 73, it starts being alarming. things drop off and you have to start going for fast walks instead of runs on your daily — yeah, that is unfortunately true. so, what we are doing is i am handing over the planning of what we do do to my colleagues, like doctor michael strahd, who's a top expedition doctor. he is taking over, right now, up in the arctic with the russian polar experts,
looking to see how the ice is behaving, allowing new expeditions where there was ice and there's now water. but i just wonder whether you're. .. again, it's a question of responsibility. you have a teenage daughter. after your first wife died, you remarried. you're a father. and yet, even in, i believe, your 70s, you undertook one of the world's toughest sporting challenges — the marathon des sables in the saharan desert. and that, for a human in good condition in their 20s or 30s, is almost unbearable. how on earth could you do that? well, you have to have a guide who pushes you really hard, more than your own mental process is pushing you. therefore, i went to this guy, rory coleman in cardiff, who took me on, looked to see what i was capable of if driven
and did it successfully. so, we made the 2.3 million figure that we were after from that particular thing you're talking about. and when you go off on these extraordinary challenges now, in the last few years, what does your wife, what does your daughter say to you? well, they are a wonderful couple, wonderful wife, wonderful daughter. do they ever suggest to you, you are mad? are they fed up with it? i better, the first time, not answer that question. 0h, no...i think you have to. although you've got to remember, when i was born, i didn't have a father, i was brought up with just a mother. and my lovely wife is a fantastically good mum, so, you know, i wouldn't feel all that guilty. and you get to a certain age, you're going to die off anyway whether you do it out in the cold or run over by a taxi. a theme through our conversation
has been motivation and tracing things back to your early life. it intrigued me that you said this just a few years ago in an interview with the financial times, you said, "if i didn't do what i do, i do think i would get depressed. i think i would suffer depression, which i don't, thankfully. but i think i could. it's a sort of a background shadow, a sort of fear at the thought of not having a challenge." i think that is correct. and that's still something i would fear, yes. have you ever, at any point in your life, where either physically or for reasons of money, you've not been able to do what you wanted to do? have you suffered depression? reasons of money, no. because we always know that if we are doing something really difficult, we will get the sponsorship. so, no to that one. in terms of this health thing you bring up, it is very unfortunate, and the only decent thing about it is it happens to everybody.
and a thought, before we end, about the planet — you, more than any other guest i've had on hardtalk, have seen some of the most remote, wildest, most extreme parts of this planet of ours, i wonder whether you, in your travels today, really do feel that our planet is under pressure, is being compromised as never before? utterly. and i'm totally behind the youth, including my daughter who has been in trafalgar square, talking about that sort of thing. you mean, she has been part of extinction rebellion? the effect on animals, as well as humans and it is dreadful and it's very much there. and we — in the arctic, it's more easy to see the difference in the arctic than the antarctic. we've seen huge difference. in the 1970s, i was designing sledges that were somewhat waterproof in case
there was a canal. now we are designing canoes, which can be hauled every now and again. so the amount of water in 20 years up there in this huge area of ice, which is shrinking, is enabling people to canoe to the pole instead of travelling to the pole. are you a supporter of extinction rebellion? whose core message is that it's no good in mouthing the rhetoric of caring for the planet. the urgency of this means that we have to change how we live right now. i'm totally in support of the rebellion as long as it doesn't put people off by doing violent things or becoming too like the gilets jaunes. as long as they complain and get the political people to have real drive, which is difficult because of their business side, you know, very difficult indeed.
but that's why it requires something like extinction rebellion, of old and young, really trying to push the movement to get sensible carbon behaviour, which is against business. and a final thought — are you done? you had to abandon your effort to climb all seven highest peaks on the seven continents because you just weren't well enough to do it, your back gave way. is this the end now for you? of that particular one, we've done all the difficult ones, we got beaten by all the easy ones because of the old—age factor. i mean, even hillary, a few years after he climbed everest, could no longer get about 18,000 feet. but my point is, no more expeditions? oh, no. i thought you said... you've given yourself a get—out clause. so, don't exaggerate. no. in terms of that particular one, we've done the difficult ones over 29,000 feet. the easy ones at 16, 17, you just, at a certain age, i don't know what goes wrong with you, but you can no longer take
altitude above a certain height. so, if it's not altitude, what challenges can you undertake? well, you go back to horizontal, not vertical. have you got one in mind? well, all the polar stuff is horizontal, not vertical. what is it? i won't tell you, because our enemy, the norwegians, may get there first. laughs sir ranulph fiennes, we will have to wait and find out then. for now, thank you so much for coming on hardtalk. no, thank you. thank you very much. hello there. well, it doesn't look like there's going to be any snowfall on christmas day, but because it'll be quite cold, there could be a little bit of festive frost to start the day. and the reason for the settled cold weather for christmas day is this
ridge of high pressure, which will settle things down, bring light winds and plenty of sunshine. but it is short—lived because this next area of low pressure will come sweeping in for boxing day to bring us all a spell of wet and windy weather. you'll also notice as the wet and windy weather arrives, it'll push the christmas day blue cold air away from our shores and it will be replaced by the oranges and yellows, indicating very mild conditions, particularly as we end the week and head on into the weekend. but as we start christmas day, very early on, there'll be one or two showers around, but even these will fade. as that ridge of high pressure builds in, they'll settle down, with clearing skies for many and with lighter winds, it's going to turn quite cold. temperatures close to freezing in many places, with a touch of frost in places, maybe little bits of mist and fog too. so christmas day is looking cold, but dry, bright, plenty of sunshine, and, yes, we'll have a little bit of festive frost to start the day in places. so a dry, sunny day for most, a little bit of patchy cloud for north—west england, perhaps northern and western scotland where there could be the odd shower, but even these will be
fading through the day. sunshine will be fading across the far west, though. later in the day, high cloud starts to move in ahead of that weather system. but most places will see the sunshine continue, but it's going to be a chillier day, particularly in the south, we have been used to temperatures in single figure for most. and as the temperatures fall away later in the day, it looks like fog could become a problem across central, northern and eastern england, so bear that in mind if you are heading out on the roads. it won't last long, we think, though, because as the winds start to pick up ahead of this weather system, then the fog will tend to lift. it will turn much wetter and windy by the end of the night across western areas. those temperatures also rising. but again, it's going to be quite a chilly one across the north and the east of the uk. so a very different feel to the weather for boxing day. we're back to the unsettled theme, this area of low pressure bringing rain and strong winds, northern ireland, wales, south—west england, then pushing northwards and eastwards across the country through the day. could start quite chilly but dry across the north and the east, but the rain and the wind will arrive here.
and, yes, the white there, we could see some transient snow over the higher ground of northern england and into the scottish mountains. those temperatures climbing to double figures in the south. but still quite chilly in the north and the east. but as we head through the week to friday and indeed the weekend, it's set to turn much milder thanks to southerly winds, those temperatures close to the mid—teens celsius in places. merry christmas.
this is bbc world news — i'm mike embley. our top stories: pope francis celebrates midnight mass at the vatican, calling on the faithful not to abandon god's love at christmas because of the church's failings. translation: christmas reminds us that god continues to love us, even the worst of us. god does not love you because you think and act the right way, his love is unconditional. hundreds of families are spending christmas day in emergency shelters as australia's bushfires destroy nearly a thousand homes. we'll be live in sydney for the latest. russian and turkish officials say they're trying to stop the escalation of fighting in the syrian province of idlib — but the number of dead keeps on rising. police in hong kong clash with pro—democracy protesters demonstrating in shopping centres to catch the attention