In his latest book, which deals largely with the experiences of ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’, Fiennes takes the reader through situations that have made him anxious, at times nervous, and on occasion ‘scared stiff’.
One might assume that fear is unknown to a former SAS officer who has led more than 30 expeditions to the world’s most inhospitable corners and has climbed Everest. Not so. Fiennes has suffered from some very basic human phobias, such as falling from heights and spiders. In this book, he puts forth numerous, highly readable accounts of how he has confronted these fears. Some, like vertigo, were tackled with extreme measures: for instance, climbing the North Face of the Eiger. ‘I knew that I had failed to shake off the curse of vertigo, but facing up to it, thinking [others] did it and survived,’ writes Fiennes, enabled him to meet the challenge of Everest.
Fiennes’s arachnophobia puts a different twist on overcoming fear. While manning a machine-gun post in Oman, a hideous-looking wolf spider hopped onto his bare ankle. His immediate reaction was to scream and smash his fist down on the monster. Instead, he forced his jaw into a grin and brushed the spider off his leg. None of his fellow soldiers had exhibited fear of spiders, hence, ‘My dread of losing respect managed to trump my lifelong spider phobia and served to break the spell for good.’
Fiennes is thankful for having known fear for, he says, through the successful control of the mind, using fear rather than letting it imprison us, offers the best chance of winning the battle and achieving happiness.