January 5th, 2022 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer who died during his final journey to the Antarctic at the age of forty seven.
In 2002, a television series, recounting the story of Shackleton’s 1914 journey to the South Pole, received international acclaim. As it was filmed on location in Iceland and Greenland, the actors experienced some of the conditions under which the early polar explorers would have travelled across the Antarctic.
Our daughters, Polly and Lucy were pupils at St. Christopher, Letchworth where the uncle of a boy in the Junior School had had a major role in the film. The school invited him to a morning assembly to speak about his experiences on location. His talk was enthralling and his pitch was perfect, providing tense excitement without being boastful or overly inflated. During the Q+A session, I expected the children to ask questions about the extreme temperatures, the presence of dangerous animals and how the actors spent their time when they weren’t filming. Instead, the questions were very personal: Do you live in a flat or a house? Do you have any pets? What’s your favourite food?’ The Head teacher was clearly embarrassed and encouraged the pupils to be relevant to the topic in hand. The children’s interest, however, was focussed on Jake’s uncle and not on his life as a working actor. What kind of man was he? How and where did he live? Was he kind to animals? They were indifferent to his fame and the people he knew; what concerned them was his authenticity. Was he a good person? Was he trustworthy?
Ernest Shackleton was a leading figure in early Polar exploration. He was undoubtedly a brave man. He was also an inspirational one. His men trusted him, they respected him and they followed him.
The Child is Father of the Man by William Wordsworth, taken from My Heart Leaps Up, 1802