David Hempleman-Adams: Fear, failure and my flight to the North Pole in a hot air balloon

From the Royal Society of Arts Prince Philip Lecture by the British explorer, given in London
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The Independent Online

It took me three attempts to get to the North Pole in 1998. Half way through, my companion, Rune Gjeldnes, and I were the only people on the whole Arctic Ocean. One day we skied for 10 hours and made six-and-a-half miles progress. I checked the navigation in the morning and we'd drifted back seven miles. That happened for three days on the trot and I thought we were never going to get there.

That was when I thought, wouldn't it be fantastic actually to balloon to the North Pole? It's got to be easier than skiing.

We talked to lots of people and no one had tried it. I thought maybe with my cold weather experience I would give it a shot. I talked to a meteorologist called Luke Trudermans and asked him if if was possible to fly to the North Pole. He came back three months later after a lot of research and after looking at five years of historical data and said no, you can't do it. Well, we decided to give it a shot anyway.

The North Pole was here and what our aim was, was to try to get this bull's eye. It's like flying from London all the way down to Nice and trying to hit a bull's eye. If you're going in an aeroplane or a helicopter fine, but in a balloon you're going up on the mercy of the winds.

When I set off I was certainly very scared. Although I'd done the "Grand Slam" - climbing the highest mountain on each continent and reaching the North and South Geographic and Magnetic Poles - however you cut the cake, someone's been there before - Adamson, Peary or Hillary. Psychologically you know man has been there before, which is a great help of course. But the only guy who'd tried ballooning to the North Pole before had died. With all our technology, we simply didn't know how this would work.

Even though you're wearing an immersion suit and you've got a life raft, if you land in that open water up on the Arctic Ocean it's really, really cold. Is if you lose your feelings in your hands, it's quite hard to sort yourself out.

Although I'm a little biased, I personally think the Duke of Edinburgh Award should be compulsory for all school kids from an early age. A lot of people are scared to go out and fail these days, they just want success without any of the failure. I just thought - give it a go. What's the big deal of failing because even if you fail you're going to learn from it and hopefully you go back a second time and try it again.