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The modern-day Lawrence of Arabia

TE Lawrence (left) and Ranulph Fiennes

Sir Ranulph Fiennes may be the only man alive who can safely compare himself to Lawrence of Arabia, says Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator. Both men, for example, led Arabs in battle – in Ranulph’s case for the Sultan of Oman against Marxist rebels, Lawrence against the Germans and Turks. Not that Fiennes thinks the circumstances were exactly the same. “Lawrence had camels and was dealing with a huge body of men,” he tells me. “I had six open-topped Land Rovers with two machine guns and I led 30 men.” What does he make of Lawrence’s extraordinary career? “It mystified me.”

For all Fiennes’s exploits in the desert, the 79-year-old gentleman adventurer – or as The Guinness Book of Records calls him, “the world’s greatest living explorer” – is better known for his exploits at the planet’s icy poles. He once sawed off the tops of his fingers after a particularly bad bout of frostbite, and tried to conquer vertigo by scaling the North Face of the Eiger (“it didn’t work”). The obvious question is: “why, why, why?” Some of his adventures bore fruit, like finding the lost city of Iram in Oman, fabled by Lawrence as the “Atlantis of the Sands”. But spending 93 days walking alone and unsupported across Antarctica? Aside from raising money for charity, the answer is simple: “My late wife decided it should be done.” And so it was.