We caught up with cyclist Mark Beaumont, ahead of his tour to Mareel for Around the World in 80 Days: An Evening with Mark Beaumont.
Mark, tell us about your latest expedition and film.
I am just back from Chile, which is such an amazing adventure playground. I absolutely loved spending time in the Lake District of Patagonia and also up in the Atacama desert. It was 10 years since I cycled the length of the Americas and this time was a very different expedition, all off-road, firstly bike packing across from Chile to Argentina and then mountaineering and mountain biking in the Andes. Of course Chile is going through quite a lot of civil unrest at the moment, so it was sad to see this in the big cities - but out in the wilderness, it was a very peaceful end to my 2019, in fact it was a month without emails! And it certainly gave me plenty of time to think about other cycling adventures for 2020. We climbed to 6893 meters with bikes on our backs and then completed the Worlds longest descent, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, which was seriously tough, but very exhilarating. The documentary will be out in the summer, but I will be sharing these stories during the talks this winter.
Your most recent book covered your second global circumnavigation and was a suitably weighty volume given the epic nature of its subject matter. How long did it take to write the book and how all-consuming do you find the writing process to be?
‘Around the World in 80 Days’ took me 5 months to write and was really challenging - not least because it was a very busy period when I came back from cycling around the World, but also because I was writing the history of all my team-mates, as well as my personal account, so I wanted to make it right for everyone involved. This was my fourth book and far more about racing, rather than adventure, in terms of culture, people and places. But the reaction has been great and I recently enjoyed recording the audiobook, which was the first time I did that. My publisher asked if I wanted an actor to voice the book, but I really wanted to do it myself. In fact, in January, I will be back in the studio to record my very first book, which I wrote 12 years ago, ’The Man who Cycled the World.’
You've packed so much into the past decade on your travels in terms of cycling, rowing and climbing, as well as fundraising... You've gained massive life experience but is there anything you've been through that you find more difficult to discuss in your talks than other events? Can we expect you to bare your soul in any sense?
When I first came back from rowing the Atlantic, when we capsized and nearly drowned, I found that very difficult to talk about at events. I remember my first after-dinner, with everyone sitting around in suits and ties, expecting some ‘inspirational talk’ and they got me choking back the tears and trying to stay composed. It is strange how these events come back to you when you are onstage and remembering them. Most people in the public would only know about my cycling, but some of the toughest challenges have been at sea and in the mountains.
You've always been particularly media-savvy, carrying cameras on your challenges and posting regular bulletins. You must have had a massive stock of films and pictures to choose from to illustrate your talk, how difficult has it been whittling the visual options down?
I often speak without slides when I’m doing business events, so that people really listen to what I am saying - but at public events, I like to show short films and photography. But I still think that it is best to avoid ‘death by powerpoint’ and to choose images very carefully. My stories often go off on complete tangents to the pictures on the screen as I remember events and people and places. It’s interesting to look back on my career, which started before social media and to realise how much has changed in terms of storytelling and media.
Mark, are you being interviewed at your talk nights - if so, by whom - or is it just you up there? I'd imagine you have nerves of steel but do you ever get the jitters ahead of public speaking?
It is perfectly natural to be nervous before going onstage - isn’t public speaking one of the most feared things?! But I have been on stage hundreds of times and I do thoroughly enjoy it - it’s just beforehand that I get the jitters - but as soon as I have started and I get a reaction from the audience, then I am off and enjoying it. At some events, in particular literary festivals, the normal format is to be interviewed, but when I am on my talk tour, it is just me on stage.
What are you looking forwards to most during the talk tour.
In 2019, I completed a longer and sold out tour, returning to many familiar towns and theatres. But in 2020, I am going to all-new places. I have never toured Ireland for example – so am very exited to explore new parts and meet new audiences. The Tour is also an opportunity to get on my bike and ride between some of the venues, which is always good fun and a way to unwind after the nerves of being onstage.
Looking ahead, have you an idea yet what your next major endurance challenge is going to be - and potentially what your next book might be about?
Yes, lot’s of adventures in the making for the next few years and some big documentaries as well - but nothing public yet. Maybe I’ll let the audiences in on some of the plans.
Around the World in 80 Days: An Evening with Mark Beaumont takes place at Mareel on Fri 7 Feb 2020 at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £16/£14 concession and can be booked in person at Mareel or at the Shetland Arts outlet at Sumburgh Airport, by phone on 01595 745500, or online here.