I am a Director of Communications for Willis, one of the world’s biggest global risk advisory, re/insurance broking and human capital and benefits firms.
I currently lead external communications for Willis’s UK operating segment (turnover in excess of $1billion). A strategic thinker and member of the UK leadership team, I advise senior executives and focus on delivering the external communications strategy whilst managing the company’s brand and reputation.
Leading UK press office and Willis’s interaction with the media – principally mainstream news as well as vertical product trades (print, broadcast and online).
In partnership with a number of retained agencies, lead Willis’s global content marketing strategy and “thought leadership” campaigns.
Corporate sponsorship and brand management.
Ad hoc projects, e.g. corporate transactions (acquisitions and divestments), organisational developments, internal and change communications, executive communications, client communications, global events, social media, digital strategies and crisis management.
Line management and overseeing the development and support of marketing and communications colleagues throughout UK business.
Key hands-on role in Willis’s first major global brand campaign – the Willis Resilience Expedition. Leading the project from conception to delivery, I helped position Willis as a global thought leader and corporate innovator.
Part of a five-man scientific expedition to Antarctica, which included a coast-to-pole speed record attempt on the South Pole by teenage climate change campaigner Parker Liautaud. During an 1800 kilometre coast-to-pole-to-coast crossing of Antarctica I successfully streamed hours of live footage from one of the most inhospitable environments on earth (unprecedented in the history of polar exploration).
Working under pressure in an extreme environment I directed team-members and talent, delivered live on-air broadcasts for use in 16 live Willis-TV shows and with major news networks in the US and UK (Sky News, ITV, BBC, Weather Channel, CNN, CNBC and ABC).
With the skiers passing a major milestone the mood in the Willis Resilience Expedition camp shifts as thoughts turn to our loved ones back home and the prospect of returning to them shortly after Christmas.
“We could reach the pole on the 24th,” exclaims Eyjo, our highly experienced Antarctic guide, driver and general caretaker. That’s if everything goes to plan and – as we’ve learnt over the course of this expedition – Antarctica has a way of laying waste to the best laid plans.
But there’s still a job to do. Even though the skiing pair, Parker and Doug, have crossed the moral boosting half way point they still have a good 250 kilometres of unforgiving Antarctic plateau to cover before we can begin to relax.
The temperature has also dropped an extra couple of degrees with windchill dragging it down to a blisteringly cold -50 degrees Celsius. I can feel it in my already chilled bones.
In these temperatures standing still outside for any length of time without the right protective clothing can be perilous. Any bits of exposed skin are at risk of frostbite.
Parker has already conducted a couple of live on-camera media interviews wearing his full ski mask because he doesn’t want to risk taking it off even for a few seconds.
For the truck crew the risks are mitigated substantially because we have the option of retreating into the sanctuary of Ice Broker – but we still need to be on our guard.
No such option exists for the skiers who must stubbornly grin and bear the worst of what Antarctica has to offer – and we’ve had a taste of it!
Nevertheless, the atmosphere in Ice Broker‘s cramped cabin is lighter than it was last week.
With the end-zone in sight (at least metaphorically speaking) we allow ourselves to start thinking about home comforts – like what our first meal will be when we set foot on home soil. Pizza is a firm favourite. Roast dinner for me – cooked by my wife Verity.
As you might expect the taste of freeze dried meals is beginning to grate. So it’s with immense excitement that we rendezvous with another Arctic Trucks team, fresh from supporting the Walking With The Wounded expedition, who furnish us with a slab of bacon and a frying pan.
The hog meat arrives just in time as our stockpile of cheese has reached a dangerously low level.
We normally have several live broadcasts plus interviews with Parker and plenty of filming to occupy us – but there’s still a fair bit of downtime over the course of a 12 hour day in the saddle.
Finding things to occupy ourselves gets particularly difficult during a white out – as we’ve experienced over the past two days. It also seriously restricts the options in our daily game of “I spy…”.
When the ethereal mist descends it also gets a bit trippy. Watching the skiers disappear into the milky distance is mildly mind boggling.
Without any definition or contrast to help me distinguish between the earth and the sky it looks as if Parker and Doug are slowly floating away into an infinite white abyss. Or maybe it’s just me. I have spent a lot of time in this truck after all.
A lot can change in a week. Especially a week in Antarctica. The last time I wrote Parker Liautaud, polar explorer, was surfing a wave of success after powering his way up the Leverett glacier in a stunning display of stamina and endurance.
In this moment, as I look out of the window of the Willis Resilience Expedition vehicle, Ice Broker, Parker is slumped on the edge of his sled looking dejectedly into the snowy mists surrounding him as thirty knot winds whip around his haunches.
Not that I blame him. Three days ago the weather turned. Brilliant blue skies and sparkling snow covered mountains were replaced by a thick layer of cloud, a bitingly cold easterly wind and intermittent white out conditions.
It’s hard for me to explain how draining it must be to drag an 80 kilogram sled for 10 or 12 hours a day when the only thing you can see in front of you is the tips of your skis.
As a passive observer – here to help document and record this historic expedition – I can’t possibly imagine how difficult it must be to get up each morning in minus thirty degrees, drag yourself out of your sleeping bag, dismantle your tent and begin the drudgery all over again.
In the words of veteran polar guide and Parker’s teammate, Doug Stoup: “It’s like Groundhog Day”.
All of this is compounded by the fact that Parker has struggled with a host of health issues, including back pain, sweat rash, a chesty cough (which expedition doctors think might be a viral infection) and the effects of altitude sickness.
It can be difficult to watch Parker battling with all these issues sometimes. Like when he crested a hill and as he descended the far side his weighty sled accelerated and slammed into his legs. He was clearly hurt and annoyed but unbowed by it.
It was one of those moments where I really felt for the guy. Trying his best but tired after a long day in the face of a bullying wind he let his concentration slip and he was punished for it.
Naturally the whole thing was caught on our live cameras – and hopefully moments like this are capturing the imagination of people around the world.
Despite the scale of the challenge confronting him I haven’t once doubted Parker’s resolve.
During nightly conversations in his tent as we discuss the day’s events and what in the way of news media opportunities might be coming up I’ve been privileged enough to develop a tiny insight into this explorer’s mindset.
One such evening sticks in my mind. It was after the skiers had completed a particularly gruelling day. I wanted to congratulate Parker on his performance, which also included a live interview with the American cable network CNBC midway through his twelve hour slog.
As I ducked into the vestibule of their clammy tent I was horrified to see a pale faced and exhausted looking Parker still shivering inside his sleeping bag. It was a stark and shocking illustration of exactly how much this expedition means to him. And what he is prepared to put himself through in order to succeed. In field sports terminology – he is leaving it all on the pitch.
But strangely I left the tent that night feeling even more confident that Parker would triumph. In the spirit of resilience, and despite what I’d seen the previous night, the next morning Parker was up and about speaking confidently to the Willis TV cameras. Ready to face Groundhog day all over again.
Since setting off from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf on Friday December 6 – Parker Liautaud and his skiing partner Doug Stoup have eaten up over 140 kilometres of Antarctic wilderness. In the process they have also ascended over 2500 metres, taking on one of Antarctica’s most awe inspiring sites – the Leverett Glacier. All the while Parker has been pulling an 80 kilogram sled for 10-12 hours a day whilst battling nagging back pain and a raw sweat rash.
To say they’ve shown resilience doesn’t quite seem to do it justice.
While it took Parker and Doug just one day to break the back of the Leverett climb, the expedition team is lucky enough to spend three days in the midst of the Trans-Antarctic mountain range – enjoying brilliant blue skies everyday.
For all of this the truck crew (myself, Eyjo and Paddy) have enjoyed front row seats. We have endeavoured to maintain a safe distance from the skiers at all times, respectful of Parker’s ambition for this to be an unsupported expedition to the pole.
In the last day, however, the skiers have peeled off from the main route that the truck has to take to the pole. Being lighter the skiers can safely cross areas of the ice cap that Ice Broker daren’t venture onto in case we tumble down a crevasse.
Striking out in the white wilderness on their own, the skiers brazenly take on the crevasse field while we maintain line of sight for as long as possible from the safety and comparative comfort of Ice Broker. Eventually our route takes us further west and the skiers shrink into black dots on the horizon before disappearing completely.
Splitting up into two separate expeditions introduces fresh challenges for the team – not least in making sure we can send back daily biometric data updates from Parker. But we are committed to finding a way to make things work.
I can’t imagine or come close to properly expressing the kind of physical pain that Parker must be experiencing after 12 or more hours skiing across rock solid snow and ice tugging an immense pulk. For that you’ll have to wait and hear it from the man himself. But I can attest to the fortitude that he is displaying in abundance everyday.
Despite long days on skis – where he sometimes looks close to collapsing at the end of the day – Parker finds the strength and stamina to push on for an hour or two longer than seems possible. For me it is a humbling experience. I feel immensely privileged to be watching events unfold live from my perch here on-board Ice Broker.
It’s hard to believe that as I write this the Willis Resilience Expedition has been in Antarctica for almost a week.
In less than 7 days we’ve covered 1790 kilometres of our coast to coast crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole – burning roughly 1200 litres of fuel in the process.
This, of course, is just the first leg of the expedition. The main event – a world record attempt on the South Pole – is still to come.
The pace has been frantic ever since we touched down at Union Glacier – we rarely stop driving unless it’s absolutely essential. Our driver, Eyjo ,is a strict taskmaster.
Whenever we do stop moving – whether it’s to make camp, grab a hot meal and snatch a few hours of horizontal sleep, or refuel the vehicle – we try to get as much done as possible.
So if we stop to make camp then we’ll also probably do some routine maintenance on the vehicle as well as dig a deep trench for Parker so he can collect snow and ice samples as part of the expedition’s scientific programme.
Whatever we do we try and make it as streamlined and efficient as possible, partly that’s because we want to move quickly but it’s also a factor of the environment. Standing around outside doing very little is not a pleasant experience. My fingers at least go numb very quickly.
Efficiency requires teamwork and we are quickly finding a solid routine and way or working together. My role is probably the most varied – due to my relative lack of experience versus some of the other team members.
From day to day I could be helping Eyjo replace a broken part on Ice Broker, setting up a live video link-up with a mainstream media outfit, pitching a tent or lending a hand with the science. It makes every day interesting.
Meanwhile, the expedition continues to face its share of challenges – testing the personal resilience of our group.
Having risen to an altitude of more than 3000 metres above sea level we begin to feel the effects of altitude sickness. Taking deep breaths is a little bit harder and your body moves a little bit slower. I also have a nagging cough – a symptom of the cold and lack of oxygen.
On the fourth day of our journey and about 800 kilometre or so from Union Glacier we encounter our first sustrugi. These peculiar surface wave like formations are sculpted by the strong katabatic winds that blow across Antarctica. They can reach up to 6 metres in height and are a real headache for travellers whether you’e pulling a sled or driving a truck.
Despite Eyjo’s best efforts we make painfully slow progress through massive fields of menacing looking sastrugi that stretch for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. It makes for a bumpy ride too. I hit my head on the roof more than a few times as Ice Broker ploughs over a particularly savage sustrugi.
We’ve also encountered a small number of mechanical problems on the truck, including most recently a burst fuel pipe during a scheduled pit stop at the South Pole, which left Eyjo drenched in fuel.
Despite his predicament and the fact it was minus 26 Celsius he was still able to fix the problem in less than half an hour. Now that’s resilience. Incidentally you might be interested to know that Ice Broker’s two litre engine runs on special jet fuel, which is very efficient but smells horrible.
Reaching the South Pole on-board Ice Broker was a surreal experience. We had been driving for about 20 hours with only a few stops so we were all anxious to arrive. Suddenly, after staring at a featureless horizon for what felt like eternity, we spot a few black specks.
Gradually as we got closer the specks took on the shape of rectangular buildings, which as Doug explains, mark the US South Pole base station. The US funds a permanent station at the South Pole, which is staffed all year round.
Not wanting a fanfare on arrival – honestly, we just wanted to get to bed – we do our best to gracefully answer as many questions as we can from curious South Pole base station employees, who are intrigued to know about our travels and, most of all, our truck.
We made camp in the shadow of the US base less than a hundred metres from the geographic South Pole. But for now at least we decide to skip visiting the pole itself. We want to save and savour this special moment when the expedition makes its final arrival at the South Pole, hopefully in late December.
The last time I wrote this blog I was sitting in a comfortable four star hotel in Punta Arenas. I was feeling very well prepared for my adventure, but truthfully virtually oblivious to the real life issues and day to day challenges of an ambitious continental crossing of Antarctica.
After my first week in this icy desert that naivety has been dispelled entirely.
We’ve done a lot in a week. Certainly more than normal. As I write from the bumpy back seat of the Ice Broker trundling its way over the Trans Antarctic Mountains, that burning sense of adventure that I started out with refuses to die. It just burns a little less brightly sometimes, particularly in the relentless cold and at the end of another 24 hour sleepless stretch.
To update you on the story so far: We touched down at Union Glacier in the early hours of Friday November 29, having received a call on the Thursday evening informing us a weather window had opened up and our flight would be departing.
There was never much hope of getting to sleep on the flight, packaged as we were in a noisy old Russian military aircraft with our bags crammed in around us, our backs against the aircraft’s hull and our feet resting out in front of us on Ice Broker’s oversized wheels.
We always knew that we’d be up against it when we touched down at Union Glacier to try and catch-up following our seven day delay in Punta. That said there was plenty to do when we arrived, including rigging the communications network on Ice Broker for a second time after it had been dismantled for the flight.
But first we were invited to join a safety briefing with Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE), the tour operator that staffs and runs the base camp at Union Glacier and the people who will be responsible for evacuating us in an emergency.
One of the first things we were shown was a shocking video of a snow plough being swallowed by an eight metre wide crevasse. The incident happened recently and, coincidentally, we saw the snow plough under repair in a workshop in Punta Arenas. The machine was being used to clear snow in a known crevasse area about five kilometres from the Union Glacier base camp when, suddenly, a snow bridge collapsed. The stricken vehicle tumbled backwards into the deep hole, but miraculously the crew escaped without injury.
Our safety instructor went on to explain that, whilst almost 50% of our route from Union to the South Pole has been heavily scanned (with ground penetrating radar) some of the ice sheets in our area are travelling at an estimated two metres per day, which increases the stress on the ice and the chances of crevasses forming. He told us: “Resist the urge to cut corners – it’s a bit like Swiss cheese out there.”
Following the briefing and once we’d erected our two Iridium domes and camera rig on top of the truck, we set out at 6pm local time (we’re using the Chilean clock, GMT -3, since that’s where we arrived in Antarctica from).
Following a sleepless night on the plane, our driver Eyjo put in a heroic effort but, by 12am (Saturday morning) we were all ready to collapse. So we pitched our tent in the safest spot we can find with minimal visibility and quickly prepared dinner before passing out, thoroughly exhausted, but glad to be on the move at last.
Another early start affords us the opportunity to conduct our first scientific sample using the ice core drill that Parker managed to acquire from Chilean Antarctic researchers. The drill makes digging a two metre ice core simpler, but it can still be a challenge if the conditions aren’t right. It takes us a few hours to drill our first hole with the hand drill and measure depth readings for 20 snow and ice samples. But by working together we get it done and, at about midday, we are on our way again.
Disaster strikes mid-way through our second day on the ice when, suddenly, the truck loses power, cutting off our communications network. Eyjo quickly discovers the problem. Our on-board power inverter – needed to boost the voltage supplied by the engine so we can run a computer and satellite communications network – has packed in. We carry a spare but its our only one. Eyjo gets a chance to install it later in the day when we stop for a second ice core sample.
All in all, it has been a gruelling start to the Willis Resilience Expedition. But we didn’t expect anything else. When it does get tough Eyjo plays another Icelandic folk music album on the stereo andI try to focus on our end goal or something good which I know is coming up soon. Usually pitching the tent at the end of the day and falling asleep inside a warm sleeping bag!
Already, after some long days, we are making good progress towards the South Pole, which we will pass on route to the Leverett Glacier and the start of the second phase of the expedition. We have conducted our first live TV broadcast from Antarctica – which might even be a world first. So as I sit back, take another sip of my lukewarm hot chocolate and admire the stunning, other worldly, vistas outside the window, I reflect on these successes and the many great experiences that are still ahead.
London based creative agency Captive Minds created this short movie which tells the story of the Willis Resilience Expedition – a pioneering scientific expedition to Antarctica and a coast-to-pole speed record attempt by teenage climate change campaigner Parker Liautaud.
I was part of the five man team that travelled to Antarctica to complete an 1800 kilometre coast-to-pole-to-coast crossing of the continent, assisting Parker with his scientific programme which involved collecting hundreds of snow and ice samples.
Once we reached the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf the team split into two independent expeditions and I was part of a three man team who documented the journey that Parker and his veteran polar guide Doug Stoup took as they smashed the world record to become the fastest people to ski unsupported from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole.