Luxurious Magazine’s Senior Reporter, Sabi Phagura, catches up with Ben Saunders, the global brand ambassador for Land Rover and Canada Goose to find out what is the driving force behind his passion.
Ben Saunders is one of the world’s leading polar explorers, and a record-breaking long-distance skier who has covered more than 7,000 km (4,350 miles) on foot in the Polar Regions since 2001. His accomplishments include leading The Scott Expedition, the longest human-powered polar journey in history, and the first completion of the expedition that defeated Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton, a 105-day round-trip from Ross Island on the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again.
LM: How exactly would you describe your work as a polar explorer?
BS: I have led 12 major expeditions since 2001, with the first decade or so focused on the high Arctic and the North Pole, before swapping hemispheres for Antarctica in 2012. I can’t claim to be an explorer in the Edwardian sense – I’ve never drawn a map or named a mountain range, and my motivation came from the pursuit of human limits rather than geographical ones.
I’ve now covered more than 7,000 km on foot in the polar regions, and finally, feel I’ve scratched the itch when it comes to personal ambition. I’m more interested these days in the conservation of Antarctica, and in enabling people to visit and to become ambassadors for this unique place.
LM: When did you first realise you wanted to become a polar explorer?
BS: I grew up in Devon and always loved being outdoors as a boy, and while I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I started to learn about Scott and Shackleton, I found it extraordinary that the journey that had defeated Shackleton and claimed the lives of Scott and his men still remained unfinished. I blame my unusual career path in large part on John Ridgway, who along with Chay Blythe became the first to row the Atlantic in 1966. I worked for John in what should have been my gap year (I’m still on it now, aged 41!) and he was a brilliant mentor.
LM: One of your many accomplishments include the Scott Expedition. Tell us about that and the challenges you faced.
BS: The plan for the Scott Expedition was to walk from Ross Island, near the coast of Antarctica, to the South Pole, then back to the coast again. No one had ever completed this journey, and undertaking it would entail making the longest ever polar journey on foot.
My teammate Tarka l’Herpiniere and I covered 2,898 km in the end, and it was not only a colossal challenge of endurance and resilience, but just getting to the start line involved training like a professional athlete for 18 months. This is all while trying to raise a seven-figure budget, organising incredibly complex logistics, preparing our nutrition, equipment and clothing for 108 days in the coldest place on earth, and coordinating everything from insurance to satellite communications. It was a big project!
LM: You’re an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust, what do you have to do there as part of your role?
BS: I’m aware that my own life could have taken a profoundly different path. I’m state school educated with a C and two Ds at A-level. I have no degree and my dad was a penniless and orphaned manual labourer. I’ve only enjoyed the success I’ve had thanks to a few key individuals that spotted and helped nurture my potential and my appetite to work hard. The Prince’s Trust does invaluable work in enabling and empowering disadvantaged young people to seek out and embrace opportunities, and to explore their own potential as individuals.
LM: How much of what you do is about the mental side of things?
BS: These expeditions are huge physical tests – on the Scott Expedition, we covered 69 back-to-back marathons, and the sledges we dragged weighed 200 kg each at the start – but they are even bigger mental challenges. I think resilience and self-belief are the most important factors in success in any field, but I also believe that, like a muscle, the more you stretch and test them, the stronger they eventually become.