The Broader Picture: She'll never walk alone

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The Independent Culture
WHEN Ffyona Campbell was young, she decided upon two things. She would spell her name with two fs and a y and then she would become the first woman to walk around the world. With a stroke of a pen she achieved the first, but the walk, which began over ten years ago on the windy headland of John O'Groats, is only now plodding towards its conclusion.

The Guinness Book of Records requires a trans-world walk to start and finish in the same place, to cover a minimum of 16,500 miles and to traverse four continents. So at the age of 16, Ffyona took just 49 days to walk the length of Great Britain. Two years later, after a short stint as a commodity broker, she knocked off America (3,500 miles, from New York to Los Angeles, in 151 days), followed by the fastest-ever crossing of Australia (Sydney to Perth) on foot. To add to the fun of that trip, she walked in high summer: 50 miles a day, 20 hours a day for 95 days.

Walking round the world doesn't just take time, it takes money as well. Ffyona knows that media coverage translates at a favourable exchange-rate into sponsorship. This, along with the proceeds of the book she wrote in 1988 (and another about to be released), just about covers the costs of the back-up team which has accompanied her on most of the walk. At the end of her mammoth two-and-a-half year, 10,000-mile trek through Africa, she appeared on the front page of virtually every national newspaper, jumping up and down in the frothy sea at Tangiers, fists stretched high to the sky in triumph.

For the last five months, she has been completing the final European stage of her walk, travelling north from Gibraltar along Spanish pilgrim routes and French country roads before crossing Britain, as the Guinness book requires, back to her starting point at John O'Groats. On this leg of the journey, she has walked without a back-up team, but trailing her, not always at a respectable distance, has been a BBC film crew making a fly-on-the-wall series about the life of a round-the-world walker.

Ffyona hasn't always welcomed the companionship. The thought of being followed by an inquisitive television crew for six months led her to twice pull out of the series. 'There was always going to be some conflict between us,' says producer Steve Scott, 'because in Ffyona's mind our film should be solely about her walking, while we wanted to explore her motives. As far as it explained what she was doing, that meant her personality as well. We both recognised this conflict, and I said I hoped we would still be friends at the end. Ffyona said, 'Don't bet on it.' '

'The Longest Walk', presented by Janet Street-Porter, will be shown on BBC2 on Friday evenings from 9 September

(Photographs omitted)

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