WHAT a difference a handful of decades makes.
When Ranulph Fiennes began his career as a young soldier seconded from the British army to Oman, he found himself fighting with the Sultan’s forces to defend Muslims from Marxist rebels in the country’s southern-most province, Dhofar. In the mid 1960s, Russian-trained fighters flooding overland from Yemen were vehemently opposed to Islam – a far cry from the current generation of Yemeni terrorists with their pseudo-religious fanaticism.
From an isolated base at Salalah on the Indian Ocean coastline, Fiennes led foot patrols through the Arabian Desert – one of the world’s hottest, driest and deadliest wastelands. Also known as the Empty Quarter, this expanse abutting Saudi Arabia had to that point been little explored by Europeans, creating an opportunity for Fiennes to not only serve the Sultan but at the same time indulge his quest for adventure by setting out to search for a mythical ancient city known as Ubar. That Oman is today one of the region’s most politically stable, peaceful countries is due largely to that era.
His memories of those years, and of the challenges of an earlier hovercraft expedition up the Nile River from the Egyptian delta to Lake Victoria (along the way meeting dictator-to-be Idi Amin in Uganda), make up the bulk of Heat, Fiennes’ tribute to some of the world’s most inhospitable climates.
In full uniform Fiennes later trained in the sweltering equatorial jungle of Brunei and contemplated joining a British counter-insurgency force on the Afghanistan-India border; in civilian life he circumnavigated the planet and ran seven marathons on seven continents in a single week, including in Singapore.
Most recently, aged 71, he became the oldest Briton to complete an infamous 251-kilometre footrace through the Sahara Desert, shedding blood, sweat, tears and skin while raising £2 million for charity.