Patrick Keady

Expeditions, chameleons and motivation

‘The most difficult time for us is when we come up with ideas that no one else has done. This is a key moment. To start to do something about it’ Sir Ranulph Fiennes Bt OBE, The English Mutual Lecture, 9th October 2008


I was one of the lucky 730 people that attended Sir Ranulph Fiennes’s lecture at Worcester Cathedral, in aid of The Wealth of Happiness Foundation. Described by the Guinness Book of Records in1984 as the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer”, Sir Fiennes gave us an insight into what motivation means to him.

Since his birth in 1944, Ranulph served with the Royal Scots Greys, the SAS and the Sultan of Oman before taking up a career as an expedition leader.


He was at the forefront of many exploratory expeditions – the British Expedition on the White Nile 1969; Transglobe (the world’s first surface journey around the world’s polar axis) 1979-82; North Polar Unsupported Expedition (furthest north unsupported record) 1986; Anglo-Soviet North Pole Expedition 1990/91; co-leader of the Ubar Expedition (which in 1991 discovered Ptolomy’s long-lost Atlantis of the Sands, the frankincense centre of the world); leader of the Pentland South Pole expedition 1992/93 (which achieved the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic Continent and the longest unsupported polar journey in history).


People’s motivation was the principal reason why Sir Fiennes accepted people on to his teams. And his motivation? He told us that in Antarctica, he could sack someone from his team but that it’s very difficult to get rid of them! Ranulph defined motivation as the sum total of everything that happens to us since childhood and how we react to it. And his motivation? Trying to stay ahead of the rivals. He added that you’ve got to be first; it’s no good being second.


Despite suffering from a heart attack and undergoing a double heart bypass operation just four months before, Fiennes completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents in the Land Rover 7×7×7 Challenge for the British Heart Foundation (2003) – Patagonia (South America), Falkland Islands (Antarctica), Sydney (Australia), Singapore (Asia), London (Europe), Cairo (Africa) and New York (North America)


Speaking after the event, Fiennes said his cardiac surgeon had approved the marathons, providing his heart-rate did not exceed a 130 beats per minute; Fiennes later confessed to having forgotten to pack his heart-rate monitor, and as such does not know how fast his heart was beating.

Sir Fiennes showed many photos but my favourite was a chameleon. He told us that the colour of the chameleon could blend into the background. In green vegetation, it can change to green and in red vegetation it can change to red. But if the background was multicoloured (e.g. a tartan rug), then even the Chameleon would have a problem blending into the background!



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