Like others in the conference hall, I felt a sense of awe as
the world’s greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph ‘Ran’ Fiennes, took to the
stage to recount some of the stories about his life and travels, including the day he was in court over trying to rob a bank.
Bear in mind, this is the man who was:
- First to reach both Poles (with Charles Burton).
- First to cross Antarctic and Arctic Ocean (with
- First to circumnavigate the world along its polar
axis (with Charles Burton)
- Led the first hovercraft expedition up the
longest river in the world (the Nile) in 1968/1969.
- Achieved world record for unsupported northerly
polar travel in 1990.
- Led the team that discovered the lost city of
Ubar on the Yemeni border in 1992 (after seven previous search expeditions over
a 26 year period).
- Achieved world first in 1992/1993 by completing
the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic Continent (with Mike Stroud).
This was the longest unsupported polar journey in history.
- In 2003, only 3½ months after a massive heart
attack, 3 day coma and double bypass, Ranulph Fiennes (with Mike Stroud)
achieved the first 7x7x7 (Seven marathons in seven consecutive days on all
- 2005, climbed Everest (Tibet-side) to within
300m of summit raising £2 million for the British Heart Foundations new
research MRI scanner.
- 2007, Sir Ranulph climbed the North Face of the
Eiger (with Kenton Cool and Ian Parnell) and raised £1.8 million for Marie
Curie Cancer Care's Delivering Choice Programme
- 2008, climbed Everest (Nepal-side) to within
400m from summit raising £2.5m for Marie Curie Cancer Care Delivering Choice
- Successfully summitted Everest May 2009 with
Thundu Sherpa making a total for Marie Curie of over £6.2m. The oldest Briton
ever to summit.
Ran was the highlight keynote at the end of the first day of
the Building Societies Association’s annual conference …
… and told his life story
with true British humility, irony and humour.
Much of it was about how he failed at school, failed at
exams, failed in the army and failed in other areas of life.
Obviously, this is not the case, as he has been immensely successful.
His speech was filled with humour, and one particular story stayed
with me as I’d not heard it before and I don’t think it’s particularly well
Back in the 1960s, 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 (SAS), 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, covered it with tank grease and slipped it into the crowded
ballroom of the army's Staff College, Camberley.
But the story that I hadn’t heard before was how Sir Ranulph
Fiennes, OBE, tried to rob a bank.
Ran recounted this as part of his training to get into the
SAS training was and is particularly hard, as this is the
most elite fighting force in the army.
You go through various gruelling physical and mental exercises,
and only the ones who pass every test get through.
If you fail anything, you are thrown out that minute, that
So it’s tough. The toughest in fact.
On this particular day, Ran and his mates had been out drinking
and got back late to barracks.
That was a mistake as
the challenge for each day to qualify for the SAS is left as instructions on
their beds at 6 a.m. and it was now 11:00.
The challenge this particular day was to rob £200,000 from
the local bank in Hereford!
And this is an official SAS army challenge?
Apparently, he got tasked with robbing Barclays and his colleagues
What they had to do is not necessarily to actually steal the
money, but to show in great detail how they would steal it.
This would then be checked in depth by the instructors to
ensure it would work, and they would get a pass or fail.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, Ran had got back to the
barracks late and by the time he got to the bank branch, it had closed.
This was the 1960s and most banks were only open a short
time, so Ran ran round the back of the branch to see if there was any way to
get access that way.
Luckily, when he got there, he could see someone inside and
so he banged on the window until someone came out.
That someone happened to be the branch manager.
Ran explained to him in great detail how he was moving into
the area to join the SAS, and had his family inheritance to place in trust with
an appropriate bank whilst he served in the army.
Bearing in mind that Sir Ranulph is pretty well-spoken, tall,
elegant and looks the part, the branch manager – who was “charming but a little
naïve” – invited him to checkout the bank’s security systems, in order to convince
Ran that their bank was the right one to deal with.
As a result, Ranulph got to see all of the electronic
security systems in the branch, the access to the vaults, the door locks and
details, which he then proceeded to map out afterwards to show how he would
steal £200,000 from the bank.
Ran made two copies of the plans – one for the SAS
instructors to review and one for himself – and then went out to relax for the evening.
After going to the cinema, they went to a local Hereford Italian
restaurant and, being forgetful, Ran left the bank robbery plans in the
restaurant at the end of the evening.
The manager of the restaurant later recalled in court, how
he had found these documents and plans left by the very well-spoken army chaps
from the local Hereford barracks.
This made the front page of the Times, ARMY STEALING FROM
BANKS, and raised questions in Parliament about such behaviour.
Ranulph was threatened with being thrown out of the SAS if
any such behaviour occurred again, and the incident was logged as a black mark
on his record
Amusingly, or not, he followed this incident with one that
did result in him being ejected from the SAS.
This was when he and his friend were offended by the
construction of an ugly concrete dam built for the film Doctor Doolittle in the Wiltshire village of Castle Combe, one of the
prettiest villages in England. Ranulph
felt this was an eyesore and proceeded to try and destroy the dam, the day before
filming started, by blowing it up using explosives he later claimed to have
accumulated from leftovers on training exercises.
They failed but, using skills from a recently completed
training course on evading search dogs by night, he escaped capture.
Nevertheless, they were both caught later on and, after a
court case, had to pay a hefty fine and was thrown out of the SAS.
Who would have thought, huh?
If you want to hear more about Ranulph Fiennes’s life, checkout
Meanwhile, and the real reason for posting this blog, Ran is involved with a bank once more, this time Standard Chartered.
You may recall that Ran is meant to be out in the Southern hemisphere
right now, trying to cross the Antarctic during the winter in the South.
This has never been done before, and is viewed as
impossible, as the Antarctic rises to up to 11,000 feet above sea level, making
it the coldest part of the world.
It is also an area the size of China and India combined, and
these guys are trying to walk across it.
I’ve blogged about StanChart’s charitable work before – it’s
the Number One on good things banks are doing - and this is because, every five seconds, someone in the world goes blind.
Every minute, that someone is a child.
80% of blindness is avoidable and, for as little as $30, a
person’s sight can be restored.
That is why the Coldest
Journey team are taking six months to cross the Antarctic.
The hope is that the
guys will raise $10 million for the charity, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar
by Standard Chartered Bank.
Feel free to donate as it’s for a good cause.