Sir Ranulph Fiennes on exercise for 80-year-olds: ‘I stretch my back in the shape of a banana’

Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Sir Ranulph Fiennes: ‘Since I entered my mid-70s, I’ve had to start coddling myself a bit’ - Andrew Fox

How do famous names spend their precious downtime? In our weekly My Saturday column, celebrities reveal their weekend virtues and vices. This week: Sir Ranulph Fiennes


My mind wakes me up, always. Then I switch on my torch and point it at the clock. Sleeping with that torch is a habit I picked up years ago in Antarctica, 800 miles from other human beings. It’s as big as my hand because I’d use it with heavy mitts.


My wife Louise and I get up. It may seem early on a Saturday but we have horses to feed, cats galore and quite a few dogs. I usually have cereal, some butter and marmalade on toast, and a mug of tea with two teabags.

Sir Ranulph in 1979, making a snow hut
Sir Ranulph in 1979, making a snow hut - Ranulph Fiennes/Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images


We’ll discuss the day and watch BBC news. Elizabeth, my 17-year-old daughter, will come down around then. Although she’s a good sleeper, she wants to be a zoologist and recently Louise has been taking her to look at universities on Saturday mornings.


I’ll go out and do the horse manure barrels. There can be six big, heavy barrows of manure to wheel to a heap a few hundred yards from our stables, where we keep and breed 20 horses. We started breeding them in the first year of our marriage – Louise and I married in 2005, after my late wife of 34 years passed away. Now I’m almost 80, I no longer ride.


Since I entered my mid-70s, I’ve had to start coddling myself a bit. So in between wheeling the barrows, I stretch my back. I shape my body like a banana, with my hands up against a high fence, and do squats.


After I’ve finished with the horse manure, I have a bath. I love hot baths. I got used to being on expeditions where I wouldn’t be doing any form of bathing for four months so I would no doubt smell disgusting. At the end of an expedition, a hot bath is like a lovely dream. A shower – even a hot one – is only half as good.


I’ll grab a notebook and pen. I’ve written 28 books over the last 54 years, all in longhand, and I try to write a little every day. I recently wrote a biography of TE Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia, Penguin, £25, out now], seen as if from the inside, because so many things he experienced, I did too, 50 or 60 years later.

1993: Sir Ranulph and Michael Stroud journey to the South Pole
1993: Sir Ranulph and Michael Stroud journey to the South Pole - Francois Lochon/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images


I might go for a walk down to our pond, which my wife created to rewild the area. Elizabeth and I used to spend a lot of time there together when she was younger, looking at the frogs and dragonflies.


We’ll all have a big supper together, which Louise cooks for us. I don’t have lunch – just snacks like Pringles, tomatoes and grapes throughout the day. I learnt to eat a huge amount less during my expedition to do the first ever totally unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent, man-hauling 485 pounds of our food, fuel and equipment for 2,500 miles. We very nearly starved to death.


I say goodnight, turn off the light and go to sleep very easily. After sleeping so often in freezing cold tents, I love the comfort of being able to wrap myself up in blankets on a good bed with a really soft pillow.