I happened to chance upon a clip of the adventurer Bear Grylls on Gogglebox the other night. Not troubled by self-doubt, is he? Must come from being the Christian church’s poster boy for the Alpha cult. Bear is the kind of man who invents expeditions for himself that place him in just enough danger to make good television but not sufficient to hurt him.
Bear will gleefully drink his own pee in the jungle knowing full well the camera crew has a G&T in a cool box waiting for when the director says ‘Cut’. Television adventurers are rather vexing. Nobody asks them to God-bother the cannibalistic tribes of New Guinea and yet off they go in their darling little Gap khaki shorts airlifted into the last unspoilt pockets of the earth’s crust to ‘discover’ people who are minding their own business with bones through their noses.
Benedict Allen is a case in point. The soft sod did precisely that – going to find cannibals in New Guinea – only to go missing causing an international incident. My first instinct was to think I hope those natives have clubbed him over the head, popped him in the pot with onions, carrots and celery and slowly braised Benedict in time for tea.
Was it our fault that he’d been parachuted in without any form of satellite communication? No. And yet the newspapers were reporting on the missing explorer as if he’d been tasked by Queen Victoria on a mission of national importance rather than gone off on a whim because he was bored.
Surprise, surprise Benedict was fine. He’d twisted his ankle on the tarmac when falling from the sky though what an indigenous tribe who have never seen civilisation are doing with an airstrip is anybody’s guess. Doubtless the nice but dim Benedict will cook-up another pointless quest to bore us with in the near future.
Do you know who I think are the real heroes of the human race? The people who live with mental or physical illness every day of their lives and never give up, the old who have lost their entire generation and been forgotten by their children and grandchildren, the poor who will never get out of the poverty trap and the perennially unhappy with their lot because it is crap rather than because they want more than they are willing to strive for.
In the spirit of The Magic Flute, I have walked through fire, swum through freezing waters and endured the unendurable many times in my life and still had the appetite to keep buggering on. I sometimes ask myself why but that does not stop me being ready to begin again before too long. I put it down to a lust for life, stubbornness, a love for work and physical and mental strength that even those who think they know me best have somehow overlooked.
I won’t dwell on the most recent troubles any more but suffice to say Bear, Benedict and the third spoke in the wheel Ben Fogle are pussies compared to people like us who endure whatever circumstance, fate, bad choices or dishonest people might throw at us.
It is truly devastating when people one tried very hard to love and forgive turn out to be maliciously undermining one’s efforts and prodding insecurities planted decades ago. It has taken me forty-six years to accept that I am on balance happy with my lot. The single gay life in London might not be a ‘good’ life but it is my life and I’m living it with gusto not apology.
When pondering the posturing of the three Bs, a true hero came to mind who I met vicariously through his blood brother and closest friend Harry Fane. Explorer, author, playboy and conservationist Mark Shand was known to the wider world as the Duchess of Cornwall’s little brother. But in the highest of high society and the lowest shanties in India he was a God.
Part Tarzan, part Indiana Jones and with a dash of James Bond, Mark Shand had the sexual magnetism to make women fall like Autumn leaves into his arms. With Harry he could be found hunting for shrunken heads in Indonesia, romancing Bianca Jagger on the dance floor of Studio 54, wintering with Prince Jagat of Jaipur while hunting for gemstones and spending August in Bali building a Robinson Crusoe cabin on Surfer’s Beach. There wasn’t a door in the jet set world that wasn’t open to Mark and Harry.
Whatever Mark Shand did he did with conviction. He was expelled from a minor public school for smoking marijuana then dismissed from his job as a porter at Sotheby’s for dressing-up in priceless 14th century Japanese armour and duelling with samurai swords. All this after being cautioned for snorting cocaine on his boss’s desk.
Harry and Mark established Obsidian in St James’s in 1978 having conquered New York as the darlings of Diana Vreeland, Jackie O and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. Obsidian began selling antiques but soon developed as a pioneering acquirer of antique Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. Harry continues to run the business after Mark’s death.
The crowning glory of Mark Shand’s life was establishing his charity Elephant Family having resolved to travel India on an elephant leaving a wife and baby daughter in Rome. His patrons were the legendary Ayesha, Rajmata (Queen Mother) of Jaipuir and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. Shand was appalled that 90% of the Asian elephant population had been wiped-out in the last 100 years and resolved to act. He died in New York after an Elephant Family fundraiser falling while going out onto the sidewalk for a cigarette with a girl half his age. Bravo that man.