Explorer Ranulph Fiennes shares thrilling tales of global adventures at EDP Business Awards
- Credit: PA
He is our greatest living adventurer and Sir Ranulph Fiennes' appearance at the EDP Business Awards caused quite a stir among the audience.
One excited attendee revealed that he had once planned to travel to Wales just to hear him talk, so was delighted to learn he was speaking in Norfolk.
Another called up on his mobile phone copies of front covers of books he had read penned by Sir Ranulph, both fiction and non-fiction.
It was the story of his life and his record breaking globe-trotting explorations they had come to hear.
And he wasn't about to disappoint.
Often described as the 'World's Greatest Living Explorer,' Sir Ranulph is the first person to reach both North and South Poles by foot.
He also made it into the record books by completing seven marathons on seven continents (including Antarctica) in seven days – soon after receiving emergency heart surgery.
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Only then did he take up climbing, despite suffering from vertigo, starting with the North Face of the Eiger.
He has raised millions of pounds for charity with each expedition, and a record-breaking adventure is planned for next year too, he explains, though at this stage details are a closely guarded secret to prevent any rival groups trying to steal a march on his plans.
Speaking to him before the awards there were two issues on his mind - the first, how he could pare back a 50 minute talk into the alloted time of 20 minutes.
And secondly, what was the best way to get back to his home in the West Midlands, was it via the A47 or the A11/A14?
In fact he need not have worried. Keeping the audience enrapt with a mixture of dry humour, matter-of-fact tales of exploration, and the odd eye-wincing picture of a body riven by frost bite or other such ailments, he actually ran over to something close to the 50 minutes he was used to.
But nobody seemed to mind.
So can businesses learn anything from his adventures?
On the face of it Sir Ranulph is unique.
In his books Heat and Cold he details his early life and career before embarking on epic adventures such as the Marathon de Sables in Morocco, and scaling Mount Everest.
As a boy at Eton he recalls climbing buildings and depositing items on the top of them - officially known as stegophily. Bombmaking was also something which interested him too.
It is the sort of behaviour that educational experts might today regard as challenging.
It worried his mother too, apparently, but looking back it seems the perfect grounding for the life he was to later lead.
It was his dream to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was killed in action, shortly before he was born, and become a regimental colonel.
But it was not to be, a talent for getting into trouble with his superiors, intentionally or not, combined with a failure to get his A-levels was to set him on a different path.
But was he, in fact, trying to follow his father after all?
'I don't go in for the Freudian stuff at all,' he explained. 'I finally accepted that I wouldn't be able to do what I wanted to do, which is what my father had done,' he said. 'I didn't have A-levels which in those days you needed for Sandhurst.
'After eight years in the British Army on a short service commission you get thrown out.'
In 2013 he launched The Coldest Journey, an attempt to cross Antarctica on foot during the southern winter where the temperature falls to minus 90C.
He was forced to withdraw when he suffered severe frostbite, but still claims that 'if you are lucky enough to be able to walk around without a crutch, you might as well go for it.'
And this year he become the oldest Briton to complete the Marathon des Sables, a gruelling 156 mile race across the Saharan Desert.
So what drives him on?
'You want to win so that you can secure the sponsorship, you want to break the records before everyone else.'
'We try to be the first, and one of the best ways of doing that is to see why your predecessors have failed. We study the likely risks and try to avoid them.'
It seems a glamorous life, but it hasn't always been easy.
'We worked in pubs at weekends to pay the gas bill,' he admits.
So does he get nervous in front of a crowd?
'I was sitting next to Jimmy Tarbuck at a dinner once, and he told me that if you are not nervous by the pudding stage, that's not a good thing. I learned one or two tricks from him, but I am sure I will be a bit nervous.'
At the age of 65, at his third attempt, he became the oldest Briton to conquer Everest.
'I got asked by a South African friend if I would climb Everest, I said no because I get vertigo. Then my wife of 38 years died and I was desolate for about a year or so, and I thought I have got to break out of it, so I thought because I was scared of heights I would do it.'
Did it work?
'It didn't work, so therefore I have stopped climbing.'
It was this kind of droll delivery that kept the audience wanting more.
So what's next?
'In 2016 we are working with Marie Curie Cancer Care, this will be a big one particularly if we are first. If you start talking about it too early there are rivals around the world who could break it before you do.'
But after 50 minutes he promptly left the stage, shook hands with the guests on his table and left the building. A class act.
Chasing after him into the car park, I thanked him for a great speech and reminded him that he needed to take the A11.
It was only later others pointed out the irony of the great explorer being apparently stumped by how to get out of Norfolk.
Though I suspect he probably isn't the first.