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'Action Man' Charlie interviewed
Charlie Martell defusing a mine in Sudan
Charlie Martell defusing a mine in Sudan
Last updated: 02 December 2004 1301 GMT
lineWe talk to Gloucestershire’s very own 'Action Man' Charlie Martell, who is planning to take on some really tough challenges over the next three years...
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Commando Joe

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Gloucestershire's Charlie Martell will be taking part in three rather extreme challenges over the next three years.

In 2005, he'll be heading for the Arctic circle where he'll be taking part in the Polar Challenge - a 350 mile foot race in sub zero conditions.

In 2006, Charlie and three team-mates will be taking on the Atlantic Challenge - an attempt to row 2,800 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in less than 55 days.

Finally, in 2007, Charlie will be taking on the infamous Marathon Des Sables - a 151 mile foot race across the Sahara desert.

Charlie Martell interviewed

We caught up with Charlie at a recent fund-raising event for Commando Joe in Cheltenham.

As you would expect with someone who's taking on such extreme challenges, he's a very fit looking character and his focused, disciplined attitude tells a great deal about his approach to the next three years.

Why take on three such demanding challenges?

Charlie Martell

It's a good question. It all started off with a rowing race which was put back by a year. I was already mentally ready for something to do next year (2005) so I looked around and saw the North Pole race, asked a fellow commando if he fancied doing it and he said yes. It was actually my brother-in-law, Adrian [Bell], who's our campaign manager, who said 'why don't you do three challenges over three years' and that's why we're doing all three.

First up is the Polar Challenge in 2005. Are you looking forward to it?

Having seen the recent BBC Two series about that [the Polar Challenge], it looks far more difficult than I expected. However, myself and the guy who's going with me have both been in the Arctic many times and we think we're well prepared for it, although you can never prepare for temperatures as low as -65. I am looking forward to it - it's going to be tough, it's going to be enjoyable but it's all for a good cause [the Meningitis Trust].

The Polar Race will cover around 350 miles - not an easy task when you have to take 90kg of supplies and equipment with you.

It's going to be a non-stop slog. It's going to be permanent daylight. It's going to be difficult getting your bearings, trying to sleep and trying to walk. It's going to be a long slog, 350 miles.

The year after you're going to be doing the Atlantic challenge. 2,800 miles rowing across the Atlantic Ocean - another massive challenge.

Charlie (at the rear) and Pete rowing

That's going to be a big one. We're aiming to set a number of firsts here. The first is to beat the 55 day existing record from the West to East, landing in the UK. It's the first ever four-man race across the Atlantic, the first to finish in the UK. It we can beat the record then that's another first. Out of all three challenges, that won't be hardest I don't think. Although, with four different personalities onboard, that'll be the difficulty.

There will be four of you in a boat that roughly measures 30 feet by eight feet. You'll be taking two hour turns at rowing in pairs for around 50 days. It's quite a long time to be stuck together - do you foresee any problems?

We have one Scotsman, one Welshman and two Englishmen so there're going to be some battles onboard for sure.

So no Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen jokes then?

No [laughs]. We'll start as friends and finish as friends - that's the bottom line.

The boat itself doesn't look that big and it's got to go 2,800 miles. What do you think when you look at it?

It's not very big and there's not much room to hide either. If we have an argument, it's got to be settled in a couple of hours - arguments finished, we carry on. There's got to be discussion and differences of opinion but there's nowhere to hide. We have to get everything out in the air.

Not a lot of privacy either, looking at the very small cabin areas at either end of the boat.

No, it's a matter of bucket and chuck it!

Moving onto 2007, you'll be taking on the Marathon Des Sables - a 151 mile race across the Sahara desert in six days on foot.

That's right. It was going to be me on my own but a few of the lads have said they're up for it as well so we're going to try and enter a team for the marathon. We haven't approached the organisers yet but the plan is that we'll put in a Commando Joe team.

Another massive distance - 151 miles in searing desert heat. Anything you're looking forward to or dreading about that?

I'm dreading the whole thing [laughs]! It's going to be five days of sheer hell. I know friends who've done it, I've seen the pictures of people's feet [after they finished it] and the heat stroke casualties that occur on this. The only thing I can look forward to is the fact that I do work in hot countries so maybe that will prepare me nearer the time.

With three pretty extreme challenges, what sort of training regimes do you think you'll have to undertake to be ready for them?

For all three it's stamina training. For the North Pole we really need to start walking long distances. My colleague who's going with me is already walking two-and-a-half hours every morning and a half-hour of running in the afternoon to maintain a base fitness. We'll be going up to Wales for navigation training and we'll also be doing 26 miles [there]. For essential training we need to be doing about twelve hours a day pulling tyres down roads and up hills, across country - that's the North Pole because we're pulling a ninety pound sled.

And the Atlantic?

Rowing machines. A bit of running. Maintaining a stamina - the endurance is going to be the key there.

And finally the Sahara...

Sahara Desert is exactly the same. 151 miles, five days - it's stamina, not speed. It's not called fitness, it far more about endurance and mind over matter - mental attitude.

You've just returned from the Sudan where you've been helping with mine clearance work. What can you tell me about that?

Charlie Martell defusing a mine in Sudan

I wasn't in Darfur so I wasn't in such a bad area. I was working for a Joint Military Commission which is predominantly European led with funding for around the world. In that area there's not been shot fired in two years. Absolute peace and it's a real success story. The clearing of the mines there is an important role. There're 2,000 or more kilometres to clear of roads before we can allow aid into the correct areas and that's the tough call because it's a lot of time, a lot of distance and the resources required to do that are incredible.

One of the aims of your mine clearance project is to teach skills to the local people so they can become self-sufficient in mine clearance.

Yes, we teach mine clearance to the local community so they can help themselves. After all it's their country and their problem - all we can do is go and help them with our expertise and basically hand over to them, put ourselves out of a job. It's all about capacity building. Sudan is slightly different, because they need the mines cleared now we don't really have the time to do the training, the capacity building - it takes far too long. As longer term project over a year to five years, it's not a problem. Sudan is a lot of short, small project - do x amount of kilometres of road, do the job and move onto the next kilometres. It just depends on the task and the country really.

Thanks Charlie, and good luck with the extreme challenges over the next three years.

I'll see you in three and half years time and I'll tell you about them [laughs]!

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