Harry's South Pole Heroes
Two part documentary starts Sunday 16 March at 8pm on ITV
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“I’m terrified for myself to be honest, hugely daunted, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s going to be like for them. And you know to take a double amputee to the South Pole it’s really going to be really quite a moving moment when we get there. For me, it’s bigger than just these guys, we are trying to raise money but also raise awareness for the fact that the injuries they have sustained they are going to carry for the rest of their lives.” (Prince Harry speaking ahead of the expedition)
Prince Harry’s epic 200km trek to the South Pole with wounded service men and women is captured in this new two-part factual series.
The series provides an at times raw and emotional insight into the team members’ traumatic experiences and their determination to overcome life-changing injuries and complete the challenge.
Led by Prince Harry, the British team taking part in the Walking With The Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge 2013 were, double leg amputee Duncan Slater, arm amputee Ibrar Ali MC, a member of the Yorkshire Regiment who walks in memory of two colleagues killed in action, left leg amputee Kate Philp, the first British woman to lose a limb on the frontline, right leg amputee Guy Disney, taking on a second pole after joining Walking With The Wounded and Prince Harry in the Arctic in 2011, and guide Conrad Dickinson.
Originally a race, with the Brits competing against teams from the US and the Commonwealth, the competitive element was abandoned as the punishing Antarctic conditions took an increasing toll on the team. Instead all three teams joined together to complete the challenge. As well as servicemen and women, Team Commonwealth was joined by honorary member Dominic West and Team US by Alexander Skarsgård.
In episode one, we meet Prince Harry and Team UK, learn about the serious injuries suffered by each of them, and watch as they undergo an intensive training regime, which includes spending a night in a specialised cold chamber normally used for testing vehicles. The team also meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace and bid tearful farewells to their family and friends before arriving in Antarctica.
First the British team explain how each of them was injured in service. Sergeant Duncan Slater describes how he lost both his legs after his vehicle was blown up in Afghanistan in 2009. Major Kate Philp lost her left leg in Afghanistan and became the first British female combat amputee and Captain Ibrar Ali lost his right arm when his vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Captain Guy Disney lost his right leg in Afghanistan and all the team have had to undergo years of rehabilitation.
Next we see the team on a training exercise in Iceland under the expert command of team guide Conrad Dickinson. During the final trek in the South Pole, they will be skiing for up to ten hours a day, hauling 80 kilos of kit in temperatures as low as -40C. Conrad has to get the team ready for the challenge and he tells Prince Harry he will need his help. Conrad tells Prince Harry: “I’m expecting a lot from you. I mean you’ve got all your limbs and you’re fit. Some of the guys struggle with the leverage on the legs so you’re an integral part of the team.”
After a few days of training, the team are still learning to cope with the environment and their disabilities and Conrad has doubts that they will be ready for the challenge.
He says: “We’d be incredibly lucky to win this race. We are the underdogs but we have got the team spirit. We have got the most injuries, there’s no question about that. We’re missing four legs and an arm and some other bits and pieces.”
Speaking ahead of the challenge, Prince Harry also shares his concerns about the trek. Prince Harry says: “It’s not just about fitness, it’s about knowing exactly what you can and can’t do. I’m terrified for myself to be honest, hugely daunted, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s going to be like for them. And you know to take a double amputee to the South Pole it’s really going to be really quite a moving moment when we get there. For me, it’s bigger than just these guys, we are trying to raise money but also raise awareness for the fact that the injuries they have sustained they are going to carry for the rest of their lives.”
After training in Iceland the team travel to a deep freeze unit in the East Midlands to experience the extreme temperatures they may have to endure in Antarctica. They stay overnight in a freezer in -35C, over 30C colder than it was in Iceland. The freezing conditions push them and their prosthetics to the absolute limit and their vital statistics have to be monitored throughout the exercise. At one point a snowstorm is replicated and temperatures plummet to -58C.
Both Ibrar and Duncan are affected by the extreme cold, their stumps are susceptible to frostbite as circulation in the area is poor and there is less muscle mass. There are also other side effects of the cold as Guy explains: “The one thing you do notice in extreme climates, whether it’s really hot or really cold is that you get phantom limb pains. You get almost little electric shocks, sometimes big ones, sometimes small ones they just kick off.”
After completing the training, the team travel to an army base in Norfolk to pack their kit and meet the American and Commonwealth teams. Prince Harry admits he is feeling the pressure of the trip. He says: “I’m a little bit anxious, nervous. Because it’s a big deal isn’t it. I don’t want to let the side down though fitness or injuries or anything like that. There’s a lot of pressure on everybody involved, so I’ve just got to get it right.”
Then finally with their kit ready to go, the trip is officially launched in Trafalgar Square and all the teams visit Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and Prince Philip. The group bid farewell to friends and family and they begin their journey to Antarctica.
During a stop over in South Africa, Duncan spends some time reflecting on hitting rock bottom after suffering his injuries. He says: “I think when we get there everyone is going to have a very individual experience but an individual battle as well. I know that I am going to have some bad days. I’ve kind of left a lot of things for thinking about down there if that makes sense.”
After another flight, the group touches down on the Antarctic plateau where it is
-40C and then finally it’s race day. After years of rehabilitation and months of training, the team set off on their 200 km journey in one of toughest environments in the world.
Notes to editors:
Please use Prince Harry quotes in the context in which it was said.