“Oi lads, over ‘ere!”
I turned and put my arm around my new companion, grinning for the photographer, before returning to earnest conversation regarding Walking With The Wounded’s planned Everest expedition.
“Quick photo lads!”
I pulled out my best “papping” face, somewhat bemused as to the media’s interest. Yes, Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) is a fantastic organization, which had recently completed a world-record-breaking trip to the pole, and I was wearing their t-shirt, but this new-found celebrity did seem odd.
Spencer, my companion, had been introduced to me by Tom, the owner of Mahiki’s. Tom was enormously enthused with the idea of getting involved with WWTW, was keen to host some events at his famous West London nightclub, and wanted to introduce me to anyone who might be interested and be able to help. Apparently Spencer was a great guy to talk to about sponsorship and getting the message out. It turns out that he was a broker, who’s brothers had both been involved in extreme sports, one of whom had attempted Everest and, tragically, not survived the descent. With this very personal connection with the mountain, he was fascinated with the Everest trip and how the expeditions acted as great inspirations – not only for wounded servicemen, but also for encouraging able-bodied people to be less complacent and get out adventuring. I was getting into my groove explaining the excellent work WWTW do and Spencer was a rapt listener.
“Can I get a photo guys?”
Spencer looked at me, mildly awkwardly. Perhaps he was as unfamiliar with this media attention as I was.
“Sorry,” he said, “I’m also in a TV show.” I asked him which one. “Made In Chelsea.”
In what felt much like a “Peep Show Moment,” I suddenly felt rather sheepish. Of course, the cameras were not there just for my dashing good looks and espousing of a fantastic charity. Rather, they were following the social lives of Britain’s latest reality darlings.
“I’ve not seen it,” I chirped, “But I hear it’s rather good. Didn’t it win a BAFTA?”
Spencer stopped and looked undone for the first time. “That was The Only Way Is Essex,” he replied. Awkward silence followed.
I had been invited to MINT’s Polo In The Park, at the Hurlingham Club, by Martin Hewitt: Expedition Leader of Walking With The Wounded. WWTW was founded 2 years ago by Simon Dalglish and Edward Parker to deal with the re-education and rehabilitation of injured servicemen. Their main aim is to help the wounded deal with the psychological effects of disabilities sustained on active duty, and to help them find alternative employment once they have left the services. Whilst most of its participants and clients are soldiers of the British Army, it is a tri-service organization, meaning it also supports wounded members of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
Several weeks ago, the team returned from a world-record-breaking expedition to the North Pole. 4 disabled servicemen were part of a team which hauled sledges through bitter cold, over ice rubble-fields and around vicious polar bears, in a challenge that puts paid to most fully-abled adventurers.
Prince Harry went along for part of the walk. He reported how challenging the going was and that he was comforted to be able leave after a few days!
The expedition brought attention to WWTW’s work, but we still needed to get the message out and raise money for that work. So, with me coming along to provide my much-vaunted day-gaming skills, we went to the polo. The Hurlingham Club began hosting polo in 1874, but stopped in 1939. All that changed in 2009 when Polo In The Park came to the club, this year sponsored by MINT. The founders of MINT are former Parachute Regiment officers, the same regiment as Martin, so they were delighted at the prospect of supporting this worthy cause.
Our aim for the day was to wander around, tell people about Walking With The Wounded and encourage them to part with their cash in return for a very fetching Walking With The Wounded wrist-band. This quickly became more fun than watching the polo and was extremely rewarding too. Many of the people we spoke to had friends and relatives who had served in the forces, and were acutely aware of the need to support those who needed to re-skill or re-train at the end of their time serving. This is even more essential for servicemen disabled whilst serving their country.
Guy Disney, Jaco van Gass and Martin Hewitt were all present to tell their tales of the trip to the pole and share their stories of injury, personal challenges and rehabilitation and re-education. I spent the day with Martin, and his genuine passion for the cause was clear and strong. He would take his time with everyone he met, answering their most personal questions, never tiring from repeating the same answers or explaining in detail what WWTW does.
Many had heard of WWTW, but weren’t exactly sure what they do, or how they differ from Help For Heroes. I asked Martin to explain.
“It’s about raising awareness that our wounded are capable of pushing on post-injury and will go on to lead fulfilling lives. And the money raised allows us to re-train and re-skill wounded servicemen to help them lead those fulfilling lives.”
All of Walking With The Wounded’s expeditions are fully paid for by sponsorship, with all the money raised (including the £20,000 we raised at MINT Polo In The Park) going directly to the charity’s activities. The expeditions are a way of raising awareness of WWTW’s work and aims. Martin expands, “Through our endeavours we can demonstrate that one can still achieve great things post injury. If one has support, drive and determination, then a dis-abilitating injury should not stop you from reaching your goals.”
This event may have been held in Chelsea, but these men are made of much sterner stuff. In defence of Made In Chelsea’s Spencer, he quickly overcame that awkward moment by asking more about WWTW and what they were planning next. He asked what he could do, and was very wiling to make the most of his new-found fame to promote Walking With The Wounded: he tweeted about meeting us and the work we do, to raise awareness among the viewers of reality TV. It was reassuring to see celebrities genuinely caring about good causes, and see they had greater depth than the 1-dimensional characters often portrayed in the media.
On that note, I spoke to Martin about Prince Harry’s patronage of WWTW. “He’s a very genuine guy,” says Martin, who spent over a week with Harry in the Arctic, “Like all servicemen and women, the Army is his family. Just because of his position, he doesn’t care any less.
He has seen active service, and friends of his have been injured. The work we do has a very personal connection to him, and he is delighted that he can raise awareness of that work by being who he is.”
Our day at MINT Polo In The Park was fantastic. The weather was gorgeous, the people beautiful, and the event well-run. It wasn’t bad spending time in corporate hospitality tents sampling Veuve Clicquot and savoury cheesecake either! But the best part of the event was being in the company of these inspiring men, who would not let their injuries stop them from achieving things far more impressive than any non-injured person I know.
Martin’s closing statement really brings that attitude home, “I think of the other injured lads whose injuries are significantly more serious than my own and I remind myself of how lucky I am, that I am doing inspiring expeditions, and I’m raising awareness and funding for a great cause that I really believe in.”
To learn more about Walking With The Wounded and the excellent work they do, follow this link: http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/