Top explorer reveals his thoughts on what makes a true hero

2011-12-14 00:00

HAVING walked around the world and climbed its peaks, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, or “Ran” to his fans, is Britain’s favourite ageing adventurer as well as “the world’s greatest explorer” in the Guinness World Book of Records.

In My Heroes he first asks what makes a hero and then presents a list of examples that range from stalwarts forgotten in history to current die-hards. Fiennes also acknowledges the hundreds of nameless “line-of-duty heroes”, who bravely do killer jobs, like the technicians who mopped up the swamped Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

His own experience is that bravery under fire does not come from being heroic, but from the fear of looking like a coward to one’s mates. Conversely, the same “fear of peer disdain” also drove placid Hutus to hack apart more than 800 000 Rwandans, as Paul Ruseabaina, the hero from Hotel Rwanda , explains in this book.

However, “ersatz superstars marketed for their talents or antics”, and “factional political fanatacists” are no heroes. Fiennes expects his politicians to at least be “conscientious objectors whose actions benefit mankind”, like Mallai Joya and ­Morgan Tsvangirai. Joya is a courageous woman who fights for women’s rights against the misogynistic Taliban and Tsvangirai stands against Mugabe’s brutalities in Zimbabwe.

From history, Fiennes’s most selfless hero is the London parlour maid Gladys Aylward, who overcame all odds to become a missionary worker in China, where she earned the nickname “little good woman” — which name the Japanese later placed on wanted posters during their invasion of China.

My Heroes makes for inspiring reading and will make a flattering gift to anyone.

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