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Big Interview: David Hempleman-Adams
DAVID Hempleman-Adams has stood and contemplated the views from the world’s tallest peaks, and from poles both geographic and magnetic.
He has peered from balloon gondolas at the Andes and the Arctic’s North West Passage as they slipped by thousands of feet below. But what is his favourite view of all, the one for which he’d give up his memories the others? “When I come down the M4 from Heathrow, wherever I’ve been in the world, there’s a tree on a hill on the left hand side, and when I see that I know I’m home.
“If you go up to that tree you overlook Swindon – one of its finest views. That tree for me is home. “I’m very proud of Swindon and my roots. One of the things that I love most is the people, but we’ve also got some of the most beautiful, outstanding countryside in the world. If you go up on to the Ridgeway, it’s magnificent.” David was born in October of 1956 at the old Victoria Maternity Hospital, the son of Michael and Merle. He has a younger brother, Mark.
David’s late father was a Plessey’s worker and later a successful self-made businessman. His company, originally based in an old pigeon shed, supplied specialist materials to the electronics industry. David spent his early years living in the family’s council house in Bourne Road, Moredon. When he was nine, they moved to Stoney Littleton near Bath.
As a teenager he joined the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.
“We were taken down to the Brecon Beacons. It was the scariest thing I had ever done – the first time I’d been away from home, the first time without my teddy bear! I was 12 years old and scared stiff.”
He was also firmly hooked on adventure and exploration. His achievements include all manner of ballooning and other aviation records, but he’s best known for being the first to complete what is known as the ‘Grand Slam’ of exploration, which involves scaling the tallest peak on each continent and reaching the geographic and magnetic North and South Poles. In 2004 he was awarded a medal by the Explorers Club in New York. The accolade was presented by moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.
He cheerily admits that he’s never made a penny from exploring, although some of his expeditions have raised plenty of money for charity. He balances his expeditions with family and business life, and all three of his daughters have joined him in wild corners of the world.
The youngest, Amelia, was just 16 last December when she trekked with David to become the youngest person to reach the South Pole. During that trip he realised he wasn’t getting any younger. “Each morning I’d be in the tent, popping Nurofen to stop back pain and leg pain and wondering whether I’d done the right thing taking this little skinny girl, and each morning she was whistling away and saying, ‘would you hurry up, please, we’re hanging on for you’, I thought to myself, ‘well, you need to slow down’.”
Leading another South Pole expedition, with a group of war veterans, might not fit the standard definition of slowing down, but David admits to having a cunning plan.
“We’ve all got the same size sledges,” he said, “and it’s up to me where I distribute the weight, so I’m going to get my sleeping bag, puff it up so it looks big and they won’t know about it...”
Although there is scarcely a square inch of the world that hasn’t been photographed from the ground or the air and the images made available online, David believes explorers still have a role.
“There are still thousands and thousands of mountains which have still never been climbed in Greenland, Antarctica, China, Pakistan – there are rainforests and there are undiscovered tribes.”
To any would-be explorer his advice is simple: “Keep going. There is no such thing as failure. Young people of today are scared of failure but you learn from failure.”
David’s favourite line of poetry is from Browning’s Andrea del Sarto: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
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