NOTHING is holding Sir Ranulph Fiennes back – not starvation, emergency heart bypass surgery or Parkinson’s disease.
At 78, the man described as the world’s greatest living explorer is preparing more daring expeditions, despite the loss of all the fingers of his left hand and a tremor in his right hand.
For most people, Ranulph’s list of accomplishments would be enough to retire him.
He led the only team to circumnavigate the Earth via the North and South Poles without flying and the first to cross the Antarctic continent unassisted.
Then in 2003, four months after recovering from a heart attack, the invincible endurance athlete completed seven marathons on seven different continents in seven days.
But Ranulph is not like most men.
In Life Without Compromise, he was kicked out of the SAS for planning to blow up a film set and was in the final to succeed Sean Connery as James Bond.
A new documentary called Explorer about the brave baronet, third cousin of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, struggles to weave through all of his adventures.
But there’s little bragging about Ranulph when he meets The Sun to talk about his daring escapades.
With dark humor, he laughs when he’s come closest to death and when asked about his greatest achievement, he instead praises the women in his life.
Ranulph says, “I’ve had two very lucky and happy marriages and I’m very proud of them.”
The Explorer married his second wife, Louise, in 2005, but in many ways Explorer is a tribute to his first, Ginny, who died of stomach cancer in 2004.
While you’d expect most of the other halves to be upset that their husband has traveled the world for years, his 33-year-old partner has both suggested and planned many of these perilous journeys.
Ginny, whom he had known since childhood, even refused to send a helicopter to rescue Ranulph from the Arctic as it would have ruined his 1982 trip which was to be made only by land or sea.
Mission control believed that unless the explorer and his teammate Charlie Burton were airlifted immediately, the weather would become too treacherous.
Ginny had come up with the idea for the three-year expedition, which was coming to an end, and was running the radio when the order came.
dance with death
Ranulph reveals, “Charlie and I thought we were in trouble. It looked like we were heading towards two people who couldn’t make it and they sent an abandonment message.
“She sent back a message something like ‘thank you very much, radio frequencies are difficult, I think you said something like keep going, so I’m going to tell them keep going.
Eleven years later, Ginny has chosen Professor Mike Stroud as the perfect companion for Ranulph’s successful attempt to make the first unassisted crossing of the inhospitable Antarctica.
Stroud’s expertise was in how to survive on little, which was essential when pulling their own supplies.
Ranulph smiled: “He weighed himself at the South Pole to see if he had enough weight to get the rest of the ice out.
“He came out of the tent after undressing and said, ‘We’re even hungrier than we had hoped.'”
The burly Briton agrees his greatest successes have been “probably the starving ones”.
An attempt in 2000 to reach the North Pole alone, however, ended in disaster when his sled plunged through weak ice and he suffered severe frostbite trying to pull him out of the freezing waters.
Rather than wait several months for an operation to amputate the extremities of his left hand, he opted with the help of Ginny to cut them off using a jigsaw in his shed in Devon.
He laughs: “I didn’t throw them away, they were part of me for over 60 years.”
Having survived whatever the globe’s polar terrain could throw at him, Ranulph came closest to death under the most mundane of circumstances.
Just after boarding a flight from Bristol to Edinburgh in June 2003, he suffered a massive heart attack and awoke to find he had been on life support.
“I had been dead for three days and three nights,” he said.
Looking back, the adventurer is able to laugh it off, saying, “The lead doctor couldn’t determine the cause. I was very very fit, I hadn’t smoked for years.
“Then someone said, yes but he flew by easyJet.”
Demanding a heart bypass should have derailed his plans to complete seven marathons in seven days on seven continents by October of that year.
But Ranulph says, “You don’t put it off when it’s taken two years to get organized and it has to start on a certain day, any mistake and it’ll fall apart.
When he returned from the torturous journey, he learned that Ginny had stomach cancer and died a few months later at the age of 56.
A few years later he married Louise Millington and together they had the child he had been unable to have with Ginny.
He admits that the presence of 16-year-old Elizabeth in his life has made going on expeditions more difficult, but he won’t stop.
Ranulph adds: “I don’t think it makes me more afraid of death because I don’t think we’re going to die on an expedition, but for that it’s not the ideal job.
“But I didn’t have a father and I had a wonderful mother and my wife is a wonderful mother to Elizabeth, so I thought everything was fine.”
‘I sleep in my Ford Mondeo’
Although he inherited the baronetcy from his father, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, who was killed in action in World War II, Ranulph was not a wealthy man.
Rather than pay for a hotel, he often sleeps in his dented Ford Mondeo, which has 280,000 miles on the clock.
He explains, “Everyone but the billionaires is coming to an age where they don’t earn enough for what they want and I’m no exception to that.”
Ranulph might have ended up richer and more famous than his third cousin, Ralph, if his James Bond audition had gone better.
But he counts his time because 007 would not have lasted.
Modestly, he says: “I might have been sacked soon after, when they realized the mistake they had made. I might not have done what they wanted.
With a shortage of money, retirement is not on the agenda.
Trekking through extreme environments is set to be released following his diagnosis of Parkinson’s three years ago, one symptom of which is poor balance. But this is not the case.
He says, “We’re talking about more expeditions, but we’ve gotten to the stage of getting sponsorships.”
During the interview, there are a few moments where Ranulph struggles to remember the correct timelines and has the film’s director, Matt Dyas, at his side to help.
But he is specific on many details and is clearly determined not to let the debilitating condition hold him back.
Ranulph tried swimming in cold water to fend off the effects of the disease and did not give up hope of reducing its worst ravages.
He says, “I don’t know anyone who has overcome Parkinson’s disease. I’d love to beat him, but if it’s one of those things, we’re all three twenty and ten.
The world-wise adventurer is sufficiently realistic about his own health to know that he cannot make any firm promises about accomplishing anything.
Ranulph concludes, “If you don’t get honest about the geriatric situation, then you’re pretty stupid.
“How far I can go one month may be different from the next.”
But if any man can defy time and odds, it’s Sir Ranulph.
Explorer is now available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD