At 16 I was at Eton and trying to find my identity. I found school hard, especially being away from home. Around 16 I was starting to find my niche, which was climbing and martial arts. I remember getting a bunch of friends to do karate with me and they were all stronger and fitter than me. But gradually they all quit but I stayed with it. I loved the training, the discipline. The same with climbing – we set up these mini-mountaineering trips to Scotland and I just loved it, fighting your way up a mountain in the wind and rain.
It was around 16 I found my Christian faith. I wasn’t brought up in the church but I had a natural faith when I was a little kid, I always believed in something. Then when I went to school I thought, if there is a God, surely he doesn’t speak Latin and stand in a pulpit? But when I was 16 my godfather, who was like a second father to me, died. I was really upset and I said a very simple prayer up a tree – if you’re still there, will you please just be beside me. And that was the start of something that grew and grew and it’s become the backbone of my life. I’m more convinced than ever, no matter how crazy it sounds, that there is a God and he is love. It’s a very personal relationship, I still don’t go to church very much. But to this day I start every day on my knees praying by my bed, and that’s my grounding for the day.
I see miracles everywhere I look, in mountains and in the jungle
Believing in God definitely makes me less scared in life in general. People say I’m not scared of anything. Well, I am, I’m scared of lots of things. After my sky-diving accident in the military [a fall doctors feared would paralyse him for life], I still have to parachute quite a lot and I find that hard. But having a faith reduces my fear hugely because I’m not alone, I’m fighting these battles with the creator and that’s amazing. My faith definitely plays a part in my love of the outdoors – I see miracles everywhere I look, in mountains and in the jungle. And I think I have less of a fear of death as well because I see it as going home.
I’d tell my teenage self to really appreciate having his dad around. He died when I was in my early 20s. He was a wonderful dad, really cosy and fun. He was the man who taught me to climb at a young age and he really encouraged me to go for things. He told me to look after my friends and follow my heart, that matters much more than school reports or things like that. If he’d lived longer I would have shown the gratitude you don’t always show when you’re young.
I would also echo my dad and tell my younger self not to fear failure. I went to Eton, and like lots of schools it was a bit of a survival exercise. Especially if you weren’t naturally sporty or super-clever and I was neither. It took me some time to gain any confidence. So many kids around me – and I was the same – we were terrified of doing anything different, in the class or on the sports field. Never taking a risk. But that’s the opposite of life, where you have to forge your own path and embrace risk and be prepared to get things wrong.