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Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE (born 7 March 1944), better known as Ranulph (Ran) Fiennes, is an British adventurer and holder of several endurance records. He is also a prolific writer. Fiennes served in the British army for eight years including a period on counter-insurgency service while attached to the army of the Sultanate of Oman. He later undertook numerous expeditions and was the first person to visit both the north and south poles by surface means and the first to completely cross Antarctica on foot. In May 2009, at the age of 65, he climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. According to the Guinness Book of World Records he is the world's greatest living adventurer. Fiennes has written numerous books about his army service and his expeditions as well as a book defending Robert Falcon Scott from modern revisionists.


Early life and education

Fiennes was born in Glasgow, Scotland shortly after the death of his father, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, who was killed in action in the Second World War at Monte Cassino in 1944. Fiennes inherited his father's baronetcy, becoming the 3rd Baronet of Banbury, at his birth. Fiennes is the third cousin of actors Joseph and Ralph Fiennes, and is a distant cousin of Britain's royal family.

After the war his mother moved the family to South Africa where he remained until he was 12. Ranulph then returned to be educated at Eton, after which he joined the British Army.




Fiennes served eight years in the British army — in his father's regiment, the Royal Scots Greys — and was later seconded to the Special Air Service, where he specialised in demolitions.

Service life was enlivened by various scrapes and escapades, including an occasion when Fiennes and another officer procured a very lively, squirming piglet, smothered it with tank grease and slipped it into the crowded ballroom of the army's, Staff College, Camberley. On another occasion, offended by the construction of an ugly concrete dam built by 20th Century Fox[1] for the production of the film Doctor Dolittle in the Wiltshire village of Castle Combe — reputedly the prettiest village in England — Fiennes planned to demolish the dam. He used explosives which he later claimed to have accumulated from leftovers on training exercises.[2][1] Using skills from a recently completed training course on evading search dogs by night, he escaped capture, but he and a guilty colleague were both subsequently traced. After a court case, Fiennes had to pay a hefty fine and he and his co-conspirator were discharged from the SAS. Fiennes was initially posted to another cavalry regiment but was then allowed to return to his regiment.

Becoming disillusioned by his British Army service, in particular his career prospects, he spent the last two years of his service seconded to the army of the Sultan of Oman. At the time, Oman experienced a growing communist insurgency supported from neighbouring South Yemen. Fiennes had a crisis of conscience soon after arriving in Oman, as he became aware of the Sultan's poor government. However he decided that the oppression threatened by a communist takeover, combined with moves towards progressive change within the Sultanate system, justified his part in the conflict. After familiarisation, he commanded the Reconnaissance Platoon of the Muscat Regiment, seeing extensive active service in the Dhofar Rebellion. He led several raids deep into rebel-held territory on the Djebel Dhofar and was decorated for bravery by the Sultanate.


Since the 1960s Fiennes has been an adventurer. He led expeditions up the White Nile on a hovercraft in 1969 and on Norway's Jostedalsbreen Glacier in 1970. Perhaps his most famous trek was the Transglobe Expedition he undertook from 1979 until 1982. Fiennes and two fellow members of 21 SAS, Oliver Shepard and Charles Burton, journeyed around the world on its polar axis using surface transport only, covering 52,000 miles and becoming the first people to have visited both poles by land.[3]

In 1992 Fiennes led an expedition that discovered the lost city of Ubar in Oman. The following year he joined nutrition specialist Dr Mike Stroud in an attempt to become the first to cross Antarctica unaided. Having crossed the continent in 90 days, they were forced to call for a pick-up on the Ross Ice Shelf, frostbitten and starving, on day 95. A further attempt in 1996 to walk to the South Pole solo, in aid of Breast Cancer charity, unfortunately ended in failure and he had to be rescued from the operation by his crew.

In 2000, he attempted to walk solo and unsupported to the North Pole. The expedition failed when his sleds fell through weak ice and Fiennes was forced to pull them out by hand. He sustained severe frostbite to the tips of all the fingers on his left hand, forcing him to abandon the attempt. On returning home, his surgeon insisted the necrotic fingertips be retained for several months (to allow regrowth of the remaining healthy tissue) before amputation. Impatient at the pain the dying fingertips caused, Fiennes removed them himself (in his garden shed) with a fretsaw which didn't work so he picked up a Black & Decker in the "village" with a micro blade and cut them off just above where the blood & the soreness was.[1][4]

Despite suffering from a heart attack and undergoing a double heart bypass operation just four months before, Fiennes joined Stroud again in 2003 to carry out the extraordinary feat of completing seven marathons in seven days on seven continents in the Land Rover 7x7x7 Challenge for the British Heart Foundation. "In retrospect I wouldn't have done it. I wouldn't do it again. It was Mike Stroud's idea".[1] Their routes were as follows:

26 October - Race 1: Patagonia, South America
27 October - Race 2: Falkland Islands, "Antarctica"
28 October - Race 3: Sydney, Australia
29 October - Race 4: Singapore, Asia
30 October - Race 5: London, England
31 October - Race 6: Cairo, Egypt
1 November - Race 7: New York, USA

Originally Fiennes had planned to run the first marathon on King George Island, Antarctica. The second marathon would then have taken place in Santiago, Chile. However, bad weather and aeroplane engine trouble caused him to change his plans, running the South American segment in southern Patagonia first and then hopping to the Falklands as a substitute for the Antarctic leg.

Speaking after the event, Fiennes said the Singapore Marathon had been by far the most difficult because of high humidity and pollution. He also 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.

In March 2007, despite a morbid, lifelong fear of heights, Fiennes undertook a personal challenge to climb the Eiger by its much-feared North Face, with sponsorship totalling £1.5 million to be paid to the Marie Curie Cancer Care Delivering Choice Programme. On 24 May 2008, Fiennes had to abandon an attempt to be the oldest Briton to climb Mount Everest when, in another climb for charity, he was forced to turn back as a result of exhaustion after reaching the final stopping point of the ascent. A spokesman reported that Fiennes suffered with heart problems and vertigo during the climb.

On 20 May 2009, Fiennes successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest, becoming the oldest British person to achieve this. A BBC news report erroneously claimed that Fiennes was the first person to ever have climbed Everest and crossed both polar ice-caps.[5] However, this feat has been completed by a handful of adventurers, firstly in 1994. An incomplete list is available on the Adventurestats website.[6] Fiennes continues to compete in UK based endurance events and has seen recent success in the veteran categories of some Mountain Marathon races. His training nowadays consists of regular two hour runs around Exmoor.


Fiennes's career as an author has developed alongside his career as an explorer: he is the author of 13 fiction and non-fiction books. In 2003, he published a biography of Captain Robert Falcon Scott which attempted to provide a robust defence of Scott's achievements and reputation which had been strongly questioned by biographers such as Roland Huntford. Although others have made comparisons between Fiennes and Scott, Fiennes says he identifies more with Lawrence Oates, another member of Scott's doomed Antarctic team.


Fiennes stood for the Countryside Party in the 2004 European elections in the South West England region — fourth on their list of six. The party received only 30,824 votes — insufficient for any of their candidates to be elected.

He is also a member of the libertarian pressure group The Freedom Association.

Personal life

Fiennes married his childhood sweetheart Virginia ("Ginny") Pepper on 9 September 1970. They had first met when she was 9 and he was 12. The couple moved to a country farm estate in Exmoor, Somerset where they raised cattle and sheep. Ginny built up a herd of rare-breed Angus cattle while Sir Ranulph was away on his expeditions. The extent of her support for him was so great that she was the first woman to receive the Polar Medal. The two remained married until her death from stomach cancer in February 2004.[7]

According to an interview on Top Gear, Fiennes was considered for the role of James Bond during the casting process in which Roger Moore was eventually chosen, but was rejected by Cubby Broccoli for having "hands too big and a face like a farmer".

Fiennes embarked on a lecture tour, where in Cheshire he met horsewoman Louise and Alexander of 14 , whom he married in a ceremony at St Boniface's Church, Bunbury, one year and three weeks after Ginny's death. A daughter, Elizabeth, was born in April 2006.

On March 6, 2010, he was involved in a three-car collision in Stockport which resulted in minor injuries to his person and to two occupants of another car. None of the injuries were life-threatening. He had been in Stockport to participate in the annual High Peak Marathon in Derbyshire, part of a veterans team known as Poles Apart, which despite the freezing conditions their team managed to win the veterans race, in only 12 hours.[8]

Awards and recognition

In 1970, while serving with the Omani Army, Fiennes received the Sultan's Bravery Medal. In 1983 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Loughborough University, and later received the Royal Geographical Society's Founders Medal. In 2007, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree at the University of Abertay Dundee.

Fiennes was appointed OBE in 1993 "for human endeavour and for charitable services" — his expeditions have raised £5 million for good causes. In 1994 he was awarded a second clasp to the Polar Medal,[9] having visited both poles.

In 1986 Fiennes was awarded the Polar Medal for outstanding service to British Polar exploration and research.[10]

In a 2007 Top Gear special, the presenters travelled to the Magnetic North Pole in a Toyota Hilux. Sir Ranulph was called in to speak with the presenters after their constant joking and horseplay during their cold weather training. As a former guest on the show who was familiar with their penchant for tomfoolery, Fiennes bluntly informed them of the grave dangers of polar expeditions, showing pictures of his own frostbite injuries and presenting what remained of his left hand. Sir Ranulph was given recognition by having his name placed before every surname in the closing credits: "Sir Ranulph Clarkson, Sir Ranulph Hammond, Sir Ranulph May"....[11]

In October 2007, Fiennes ranked 94th (tied with five others) in a list of the "Top 100 living geniuses" published by The Daily Telegraph.[12]

In late 2008/early 2009 Fiennes took part in a new BBC program called Top Dogs: Adventures in War, Sea and Ice. The program sees Fiennes unite with fellow Britons John Simpson, the BBC World Affairs editor, and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the round-the-world yachtsman. The team go on three trips, each experiencing each other's adventure field. The first episode, aired on 27 March 2009, saw Fiennes, Simpson and Knox-Johnston go on a news-gathering trip to Afghanistan. The team reported from the Khyber Pass and Tora Bora mountain complex. The three also undertook a voyage around Cape Horn and an expedition hauling sledges across the deep-frozen Frobisher Bay in the far north of Canada.


His works include:

  • A Talent For Trouble (1970), ISBN 0-3401-2845-3, an account of the White Nile Hovercraft ExpeditionLawrence Oates
  • Where Soldiers Fear to Tread (1975), ISBN 0-3401-4754-7, an account of his service in the Dhofar Rebellion.
  • The order of wolves (1976)
  • Hell on Ice (1979)
  • To The Ends of the Earth (1983) ISBN 0-340-25277-4, an account of the Transglobe Expedition.
  • Living Dangerously: the autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes (1987) ISBN 0-7515-0434-3, autobiography.
  • Bothie the Polar Dog : The Dog Who Went to Both Poles with the Transglobe Expedition (1987, with Virginia Fiennes)
  • The Feather Men (1993) ISBN 0-7475-1049-0
  • Atlantis of the Sands: The Search for the Lost City of Ubar (1992) ISBN 0-451-17577-8
  • Mind Over Matter: The Epic Crossing of the Antarctic Continent (1993) ISBN 0-385-31216-4
  • Ice Fall in Norway (1995)
  • The Sett (1996) ISBN 0-434-00267-4, fiction
  • Fit for Life: Reach Your Personal Best - And Stay There (1999)
  • Beyond the Limits (2000) ISBN 0-316-85458-1
  • Captain Scott (2003) ISBN 0-340-82699-1, account of Robert Falcon Scott's south polar expeditions.
  • Race to the Pole: tragedy, heroism, and Scott's Antarctic quest (2004)
  • The Secret Hunters(2001) ISBN 0-316-85869-2,
  • Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know (2007) ISBN 0-340-95168-2, autobiography
  • Portraits of Adventure (2008) ISBN 0-951-77514-6, Foreword
  • Face to Face: Polar Portraits, by Huw Lewis-Jones (2008), ISBN 978-0-901021-07-6, Foreword
  • Mad Dogs and Englishmen: An Expedition Round My Family (2009), ISBN 978-0340925027


External links

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes
(of Banbury)
Succeeded by
no heir


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