He has risked his life in daring adventures but explorer Conrad Dickinson admits even he was daunted by the prospect of guiding a prince to the South Pole.
The 58-year-old Northumbrian recently hit the headlines when he guided Prince Harry and a group of injured soldiers on one of the most high-profile expeditions of modern times.
He is now going to talk about his amazing experience – which included sharing a tent with Prince Harry – at an event during the first ever Wooler Outdoor Week.
Sleeping with Royalty will be just part of the talk he will give at the town’s Cheviot Centre on May 22 (7.30pm).
“I ended up sharing a tent with him, but he was great and I was able to be fairly direct with him,” says Conrad.
He admits, however, that he did feel daunted when he first found out that Prince Harry would be part of the Walking with the Wounded team.
The aim of the expedition was to highlight the Walking with the Wounded charity by sending three teams in a race to the South Pole, all of which included injured soldiers.
Conrad, who is a cold weather specialist, was asked to be a guide for one of the teams. “I agreed, thinking I might be put on the American team, then I was told I would be guiding the British team. I was pleased about that, then it was announced that Prince Harry would be part of our team and I thought ‘crikey’. It was a bit scary but he turned out to be a top bloke. He’s a young man but he was well organised and pulled more than his weight. He engaged with the others and I could not speak more highly of him.”
However, while Prince Harry impressed Conrad, the highlight of the trip, for him, was the achievement of Scot Duncan Slater, who became the first double amputee to reach the South Pole.
“That was the big one for me and it pleased me more than anything,” says Conrad. “He was in a lot of pain but he did not complain. He trained very hard, spending eight hours a day on an exercise machine in his garage, but we were on skis and he’d never skied before.
“It was really cold – there was a wind chill factor of -45 degrees – and the surface was bumpy so it was hard for the skis and we were each pulling a sledge weighing 80 kilos. The British soldiers were hurting every day, but they just kept grinding on.”
Even Prince Harry was ill one day due to altitude sickness. “He had blinding headaches and struggled for a day because of that,” says Conrad. “It was slow progress but everyone showed great determination and everybody did really well.”
Two TV documentaries were shown after the trip and featured Conrad giving advice on polar survival as well as a little help to Prince Harry with his Northumbrian accent.
An outdoor enthusiast, Conrad says he is pleased to be asked to speak at Wooler Outdoor Week, which is being held from May 22-25.
He is the only Briton to have achieved the ‘Polar Grand Slam’ – completing the world’s three hardest Polar journeys, crossing Greenland; the Antarctic plateau to reach the South Pole; and the Arctic to the North Pole – all unsupported.
Tickets can be ordered at www.wooleroutdoorweek.com