So, Ben Fogle is to swim the Atlantic. An almighty feat, no matter how you look at it.
Mr Fogle’s activities often pique my interest (no doubt he is similarly fascinated by my life). This announcement, however, was not at all the kind of thing I would have expected from the Accidental Adventurer.
I’ve written before about the pros and cons of celebrity expeditions but thought this one made for some interesting debate.
1. It will be a genuinely tough expedition
With his previous projects it has always been easy for me to dismiss them from my imaginary ivory tower as “just events” that he’d joined – rowing the Atlantic and skiing to the South Pole were both organised races. Physically tough, yes, but very controlled and not “proper expeditions”.
However, swimming the Atlantic is in a different league and, regardless of how much money and support he has, no one can take away from the fact that he will be swimming a really, really long way at sea.
No doubt the inevitably documentary voice over will exaggerate and dramatise everything that happens on the trip but so be it. It probably deserves at least a bit of dramatic music.
2. Ocean swimming will now forever be associated with Ben Fogle
Anyone who now attempts a long-distance swim, particularly at sea, will instantly be associated with Ben Fogle. That’s fine. It may even be possible that, along the way, he raises the profile of some other great distance swimmers like Martin Strel, Ben Lecomte or Lynne Cox.
The risk, however, is that the giant wheels of the Fogle bandwagon inadvertently squash the hopes of other ocean swimming hopefuls; Jonathon Bradshaw or Haydn Welch for example, who might already have been fighting to find sponsorship or support, but find themselves pitching to a public now fatigued of salty swimming.
3. It may help promote wild swimming
The only time I’ve met Ben in person was at an Outdoor Swimming Society event. Undoubtedly this project will see even greater exposure for wild swimming than even our friend Robson Green managed. That is a good thing. Wild swimming is fun.
But what shade will be the spotlight focused on wild swimming by Team Fogle?
As I have argued elsewhere, Eddie Izzard’s multiple-marathon run had a huge impact on people and I believe did so because it displayed his remarkable feat in an honest light. There was no hyperbole and high drama, it was just a slightly overweight comedian putting on his running shoes and churning out hundreds of miles.
Ben doesn’t have much swimming experience (it says so on his website). It would be wonderful if the angle taken by this project is that anyone can undertake such great challenges if they put their mind to it. My fear, however, is that it will make open water swimming out to be an extreme. That is wrong. Swimming 3,000 miles may be extreme but swimming outdoors is not.
Most of all, swimming across the Atlantic ocean will be a remarkable feat and I take my hat off to Mr Fogle for even contemplating it.
Sir, I wish you the best of luck!
You can read more about Ben’s swim at www.thegreatatlanticswim.com
P.S. It would be quite remiss of me to not mention the fact that my mate Dan Martin is about to set off across the Atlantic in his speedos (no wetsuit for Dan!) very shortly and should be back in Europe before Mr Fogle can say “Pass me the Vaseline”… www.danmartinextreme.com
Whilst Ben Fogle may well put together a great adventure. It is clear that being able to do so lies fairly on his celebrity, fortune and contacts in the media business. These attributes are key. Without them, getting to the starting line would be a different prospect all together.
We could judge his motives. Yes, he will be able to attract publicity, add the swim to his lecture tours, publish a new book, make a documentary……..These are nothing more nor less noble in purpose than Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who readily accepts he does what he does because its his way to earn an income. For Ben, this swim may well be seen as simply a hundred days of well paid income.
However, we need to remember, the day will come when Ben will cry into his goggles and despair with the efforts of the swim. He will wonder how it is possible after say three hours, that he has a further seven still to do before he gets out. Times when he learns the hard way that sometimes the best part of a long distance swim is being able to get out and the worst part is knowing you have to get back in after a few hours. All the while, as he struggles, the media machine wait like vultures for the dramatic as they patiently wait for moments of weakness.
Its times like these when the motivating moments will either be found wanting, or cast a golden path of sunlight in the quiet of an early morning sunrise.
He still has to pay his dues, and so much the tougher for him (if its true he is not a trained swimmer).
I have lost count how many times I have wondered why it was always someone else who gets picked for Taransay. Why is it always someone else rowing the Atlantic or running the desert or climbing the mountains? Why is it always someone else accomplishing my dreams?
For me, Ben is the perfect example of my armchair frustration. Ever since I saw Scott of the Antarctic, I wanted an an Antarctic dream. I wanted Everest too. I wanted the Moon. But from my council house roots, (where Michael Caine never came to tea), I could only find adventure in my dreams. Yet I was one of the lucky ones. Whilst my parents worked days and nights, I was dumped at the local swimming club….it was cheaper than paying a baby sitter. Matthew Webb was another hero, I wanted The Channel too, but this time I knew how to swim.
I am not a polar adventurer, nor am I a mountaineer. I am a swimmer………so why should I be constantly looking South? Why should I look with envy at those able to do what I cannot? So whilst I hunger at the banqueting table, I take inspiration from those that dare to fulfill their dreams. The blessing is pronounced, the Amen said, I raise my fork……
Dreams may be served up on a plate for Ben, that is his good fortune. But some dreams are harder won and the hunger more fully satisfied.
So I add my best wishes to Ben. The water will be just as cold, the salt water just as sore, the tears just as wet. His wife will cry as much as mine.
Wah! That is one real comment right there.
Very eloquently expressed, and much sentiment that I truly agree with, but still there seems to be a twang of bitterness which seems pervasive within the adventure community.
You seem to suggest that it would be easy for Ben to put together such a trip – “Dreams may be served up on a plate for Ben” – which strikes me as a slightly snide remark.
It is very easy to compare circumstances and find reasons to explain to oneself why someone can do something, but ultimately, no-one ever does anything like this without hard work and desire. Ben has evidently proved himself to a degree where people are willing to support him, and therefore is just as deserving of the opportunity / challenge as anyone else who is able to undertake it.
Secondly, surely the merit of a challenge is based on the value it has to the participants, and if they are utilising their skills and opportunities (whilst not harming others or the environment) to achieve something which has meaning to them, then that I believe is of paramount importance. Why else would any of us undertake challenges? Who are we to judge the happiness of experience which someone else strives to gain?
As I said I wholly agree with much of what you wrote but I think that people who strive to live their lives should be admired, as they alone create or destroy their opportunities.
On reflection I think I might agree, there is a bit of a twang. Not intended to reflect bitterness, but along with so many others, I must admit to some frustration based upon the huge difficulties that ordinary mortals have to address. But let me reinforce the main thrust of my original comment, Ben has to swim the Atlantic and more power to him for even believing in himself. I support him every stroke. Ben has got a substantially tougher task in hand than he ever imagines and if he is successful, he will prove one of two things……and they are both a little awkward (to me).
1) Any body could do it.
In other words, Ben can show that ordinary people can do extra ordinary things if they are committed to their cause. If it is true that anybody can swim the Atlantic (and as far as swimming is concerned, Ben is definately an anybody, and that intrigues me). Ben can show that if an ‘anybody’ can copy his preparation and training schedule over the next 18 months or so, they too can swim the Atlantic or accomplish any other task they may consider. (afterall, anybody now, can pay £50,000 and get to climb Everest. but, and this is the secret, they still get frostbite, they still get the Khumbu Cough, they still watch their companions suffer as they themselves suffer, they still have to climb the mountain).
I struggle with this concept. ‘Anybody’ cannot find 18 months to devote to turning themselves from an ordinary swimmer to one that actually might just make it. ‘Anybody’ cannot take the many months off work to actually accomplish the swim. ‘Anybody’ cannot justify the heartache that will be inflicted on their families. ‘Anybody’ cannot afford it, nor have the ability or time or contacts to obtain funding. ‘Anybody’ does not have the celebrity face that enables Ben. ‘Anybody’ cannot just pick up the phone or send an email and say “Hello. I am Ben Fogle (James Cracknell, Ranulph Fiennes…..) and people on the other end listen. ” Hello. I’m Haydn Welch” doesn’t quite grab the attention, does it?
In reality, all Ben has got to do is worry about the swimming. The trickiest part of this challenge is provided for him on a plate. (again, I recognise that Ben has controlled his career choices and in fact it is the result of these that places him in such a fortunate position). He can justify all the rest, because its his job. It will bring him fame / notoriety, wealth and sell more tickets to more lectures/books/films etc etc to promote his celebrity and jump start the next chapter, that his employer or other adventurer might suggest to him. Ben is not an accidental adventurer, he is in a place that enables him to create a list of fantastic adventures and he can pick and choose from any of them.
So whilst I will applaud and support Ben in this effort, I cannot see that anybody can do it. Unless of course we read that ‘anybody can do it’ actually suggests if an ordinary swimmer can swim the Atlantic, the implication is that in fact it really is easy to swim the Atlantic. I don’t believe that for one minute. Swimming the Atlantic is not just the swimming and Ben will learn that this summer. If Ben is motivated by those things I have mentioned, I believe he will suffer terribly and I am worried for him.
2) On the other hand, if in fact it is false to suggest ‘Anybody can do it’ and Ben succeeds in this swim, then that makes Ben one of the Worlds greatest. He will have shown that he can run desserts, row oceans, explore poles. He has attended many dozens of mini expeditionary adventures and more. He will deserve his place in the records of these adventures. His achievements to date give him so much more to draw upon. Experience that I will never have the opportunity to achieve. (all I have are my dreams of doing those exact same things that Ben has experienced). His experiences make him more likely to succeed than either myself, Dan Martin, maybe even Ben Lacompte and the handful of other swimmers in this new arena.
I believe Bens celebrity can be both a curse and a blessing for him. Ben is too pretty, too priviledged, too nice to be taken too seriously. He is a modern day ‘Blue Peter’ adventurer, not quite a Shackleton or a Scott. He suffers the same as David Walliams. Yet David swam the Channel in one of the fastest times ever recorded. (nobody saw that coming) nobody believes David is of the calibre of the true explorer.
I agree, people will support Ben, he deserves that support, and he deserves all the generous excitement that we can offer to also support him. He inspires many, (me included).
There are a bunch of people in the world at the moment experimenting with this new horizon of adventuring. All with different twists. We are running out of new mountains to climb.
“Dreams served up on a plate for Ben?” I certainly don’t wish to be snide with that comment. Its just an observation. A turning point for me was in 1987 when I asked my employer for permission to take a whole years worth of holiday in one go, so I could take a month off to walk to base camp. My request was refused. I handed in my notice and started my own business. I never did get to base camp. Then I had the chance to do a polar trip with David Hemplemen Adams, but couldn’t justify the cost. Oh , and the kids were too young and I had a mortgage and family to care for . Then my swim, but I have a growing business and I cant take the year off, (that was in 1995). How long must we keep postponing our dreams? Now the kids are grown. My business is staffed, I can spare the year and my wife reminds me I am not 38 anymore……………..but I need my long swim…..
It took some time to find all of Arrancats reply (post no 5), I only got the first paragraph of it but you can read it all on her blog.
Very well argumented and thoroughly erases much of my views (I feel well and truly told off)……
At the end of the day, we must all remember that Ben really will have to suffer the extremes of the swim. His position in society will not let him off that hook, even if that position helped him get on it in the first place. Whilst he can more easily than any other of us in the UK (excepting maybe Ranulph Fiennes & Bear Grylls) put on such a trip, that does not release him from having to do the training and the swim itself. Once he gets wet, he becomes as mortal as the rest of us.
Seriously, I do support him. My opinion seeks only to reason between the gulf seperating those 100s or 1000s of other great ideas which cannot see the light of day, because many of us are not in such a suffiently prominent place in our lives to even speak of them.
For me, I have struggled all my life to find my swim. For me, It is likely to be a one off event. For me, it is likely to be life changing. Certainly it will be diffferent to those already seen and therefore subject to the same detractors. Mine is just a different ingredient to be added to the world of open water swimming.
Wealthy or poor or somewhere in between, there are great enthusiasms in adventure.
When the glass is half empty, we complain “Why me”. When we see others fullfilling our dreams we complain “Why is it always someone else”. Well it doesnt always have to be someone else.
So, “Why not me? Why not Ben? Why not you?
Your dreams are just as important to you, as mine are to me, and Bens are to him. Lets not allow difficult circumstance to rob us of our dreams. Let us support Ben and the others. Lets not speak ill of them any more. Lets not make Bens dream become his wifes nightmare.
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Does anybody know when this challenge is actually taking place? I may head to Cornwall to see him finish :-)
2014 apparently Lucy.