A record breaking polar explorer, renowned international speaker, and the first woman in history, along with your team mate Caroline Hamilton, to reach the North and South Poles. Have you now achieved your ultimate dream?
I didn’t take the usual route into Polar Exploration. I had never been the outdoorsy type and it had never been my childhood dream to explore the ends of the world but the birth of my triplets and a chance reading of an advert to apply to take part in the first all women’s expedition to the North Pole changed my life forever. Although I had every reason not to apply for selection, (18 month old triplets and no experience), I sent off an application form and attended the first selection along with over 200 other women. During the first selection I was completely outclassed by everyone else, but as there was 9 months between the first and second selection and even though I was looking after the children on my own, I didn’t give in and spent that time, taking care of the little ones and learning the skills I needed and getting physically fit to get myself selected and take part in this first expedition which was to lead to my love of the Arctic and a career in the snow.
Although this was a relay expedition with guides, I learnt the skills I needed and with 4 other women, planned, put together and took part in an expedition to be the first all British Women’s team to walk to the South Pole.
My real dream however was to do an all the way expedition to the North Pole, which hadn’t been achieved by a women’s team before. I persuaded Caroline Hamilton and Pom Oliver to join me, we spent months training and putting together this expedition and in 2002 skied from Canada to the North Geographic pole.
Temperatures as low as -50º for the first 26 days severely hampered progress and success looked doubtful from the start. We were hit by three storms so severe we were unable to erect our tent and huddled together for 3 days surviving with little food and water. We suffered frostbite, back problems and carbon monoxide poisoning and after 47 hazard filled days Pom had to be evacuated due to frostbite and wet gangrene. Despite these setbacks we successfully reached the North Pole and achieved the double world record!
I don’t believe I have any special skills but the ability to work hard, believe in myself and not give in, just because things are tough. This attitude has pretty much got me through most of the tough times in both my work and personal life.
You have been back there at least 6 times since, you must have had moments along the way where you felt like giving up and if so what kept you motivated to keep going?
Motivation comes from many aspects. My children have been a huge inspiration to keep going when I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to teach them that giving in when things get tough is the right thing to do. It’s ok to fail and you should never let fear of failure stop you having a go at anything but if you simply give up, you will never achieve anything worthwhile in life. Sometimes I would just chant their names to keep putting one step in front of the other.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
The best advice I have been given was by a teacher at school who saw a potential in me that no one else ever had and encouraged me to believe in my own abilities and told me if I applied myself I could achieve so much more. Until that point I was pretty much flunking everything at school but by taking his advice I achieve great results, which led to a wonderful job and a great start in adult life.
What would you tell your 18 year old self?
Don’t be afraid to be yourself and fight for what you believe in. Gender is no excuse for mediocrity. Look after the world you live in and life’s challenges, in the end, are what make life interesting.
We think female friendships are something that should be treasured and celebrated. What quality do all your friends share?
We are loyal to each other. We have a zest for life and live each moment fully. We are there for each other and there is no bad time for dancing and a glass of wine with friends.
Fantasy Girls’ Night Out. You get to choose six women – dead or alive – to spend the evening with. Who? And where do you go?
Boudica who was fierce strong and not afraid to lead in the face of repression. Eva Peron (Evita) The first lady of Argentina who fought for the poor and women’s right to vote. Katherine Hepburn who was beautiful, stylish, free spirited and a great supporter of women’s rights. I particularly like her quote “If you obey all the rules, you miss the fun”. Tina Turner, an amazing singer but a women who has triumphed in the most difficult circumstances. Michelle Mone, a mother who started a hugely successful business from an idea and wasn’t afraid to go for her dream. Caroline Hamilton, my Polar partner who is not only a dear friend but who I know can be counted on in the most dire circumstances imaginable and who will always have my back.
Dinner in a stylish restaurant where they could talk and I could simply listen to their amazing stories but then dancing and music afterwards because life has to be lived in all it’s wonderful variety.
Book you wish you’d written?
My own - if not that then all the Harry Potter books for it’s magical escapism.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Adele - who isn’t?
Best holiday destination?
Sunrise or sunset?
Sunset - the end of a wonderful day, the beginning of a great evening.
Spring or autumn?
Spring - there is hope in the air.
Dressed up or dressed down?
Dressing up - I love the excitement of putting on a party dress.
What word do you overuse?
What is the one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I am afraid of worms!
Ann is a British polar explorer and one of the first women in history to reach the North and South Poles as part of all women teams, visit her website here!