Dwayne Fields, the primary black Briton to achieve the north pole: ‘I noticed this polar bear stalking us’ | Exploration

In 2005, Dwayne Fields discovered himself staring down the barrel of a gun in east London. The explorer, who in 2010 would change into the primary black Briton to achieve the north pole, had bought himself into a really completely different, however nonetheless excessive atmosphere. Now a presenter on Countryfile, he had gone to a neighbouring housing property to demand the return of his motorcycle, which had been stolen by boys he recognised. “Strolling on to another person’s property is the stupidest factor you are able to do. However I used to be blinded by anger and frustration.” Whereas negotiating the bike’s return, Fields discovered himself in a bodily confrontation with a person who pulled out a gun. “Earlier than I might say, ‘You don’t need to go that far!’, I heard the press.” The person had fired twice. However for some purpose the gun jammed – and Fields escaped along with his life.

All these years later the expertise has not left Fields. Now 37, he nonetheless feels “phantom pains” in his abdomen the place he anticipated an entry wound could be. “It’s one thing I’ll always remember,” he says. It was not a Damascene second, however the night time he was virtually shot – and the paranoia he felt within the days following – was “the straw that broke the camel’s again”.

Fields already had an uneasy relationship with the gang tradition round him. He says he by no means carried a knife or robbed anybody, however he felt shut mates had been drawing him in the direction of a lifetime of “suitcases of weed, cocaine and weapons”. “I simply mentioned sure to issues as a result of that’s the way you be taught to outlive as a younger child.” Fields grew up in Stoke Newington, east London, having moved there from Jamaica on the age of six.

“In my space there have been two to a few estates in battle and mine was bang within the center. I used to be 10 years previous the primary time I had a knife in my face. From a younger age, I knew how low cost life was.” As a younger man, Fields was robbed quite a few instances and has scars on his chest and stomach from stab wounds. “We had been on their turf. I used to be within the improper place on the improper time,” he says, including that he “virtually turned numb to the violence. Perhaps that was my coping mechanism.”

After the tried taking pictures, his mates urged him to take revenge however he “didn’t need any retribution”. Fields as a substitute accepted the likelihood that he is likely to be killed and “misplaced all worry”. He turned decided to alter his life, turning his again on the buddies he felt had been main him astray. “My largest fear was that I wouldn’t have the ability to say no to all of the voices telling me to go and get this man … That night time pressured me to guage who I used to be round and what I wished to realize,” he says.

His subsequent step was to finish a charity run on behalf of Moms In opposition to Weapons. However, he says, “it wasn’t sufficient”. Beforehand a gross sales assistant at Boots, Fields felt working in a financial institution could be a path to respectability and began working as a cashier at Barclays. About 18 months later, he enrolled on the College of East London. However he was at all times happiest exterior, and Fields began spending time in Hackney Marshes – then the largest outside area through which he felt secure amid the postcode wars raging round him. “I do know it sounds foolish, however I nonetheless had that mentality of avoiding sure areas. Going to Epping Forest [on the London/Essex border] felt like too massive a threat.”

Fields on the balcony of his previous property block. {Photograph}: Anselm Ebulue/The Guardian

I meet Fields at Clissold Home, minutes from the place he grew up in Stoke Newington. Stressed and energetic regardless of having 4 kids, the youngest of whom is 5 weeks previous, he’s desperate to level out how a lot the realm has modified – from the brand new pubs and colleges proper all the way down to the plush hedgerows, which had been nonexistent in his youth. “I climb mountains and stuff so I’m a bit bizarre. However I’m not a weirdo,” he says. He’s sporting a vivid orange Patagonia fleece and has what seems to be a canine tag hanging from his neck. “It’s a sharpening stone,” he says. “I’ve at all times bought a little bit of cordage or a knife on me.”

Raised by his great-grandmother, Fields moved to London to stay along with his mom. “Think about being a six-year-old child and also you’re shifting to a brand new place to stay with household you don’t know.” He had liked life in rural Jamaica, the meals, the oral custom and the extent to which he was free to climb bushes and go to seashores. “I used to be that child who used to elevate up rocks to see what was beneath,” he says.

In London, he felt remoted. Teased in school for his overseas accent and complete ignorance of British standard tradition, he felt penned in at dwelling. By the tip of his training he was rudderless. “I used to be at all times fairly athletic however I used to be by no means taken to athletics, I used to be by no means taken to soccer,” he says. “My mum was too busy attempting to place meals on the desk. Something exterior that was a uncommon bonus.” He left dwelling at 15 after which once more, for 18 months, when he was 17. Fields says he and his mom haven’t spoken in 15 years. “I solely went again due to cash,” he says.

Not lengthy earlier than that gun jammed, Fields was homeless, strolling by means of the night time or sleeping on the No 73 bus for security. “Black males – we’ve bought this fashion of coping with issues. Relatively than assume, ‘is that this struggling one thing I must rectify?’ I did what everybody round me was doing and tried to cover how I felt.”

As for his dad? “I’ve spoken to you extra within the final 20 seconds than I’ve him in my whole life,” he says.

The world {of professional} adventuring has come a great distance since its Victorian heyday, however its ranks are nonetheless largely dominated by the white and privileged. However someday Fields, then a psychology and enterprise administration pupil on the College of East London, noticed Ben Fogle and James Cracknell on breakfast TV. They mentioned they had been in search of a 3rd member for an expedition to Antarctica. “I assumed issues like that had been as soon as in a lifetime, however they had been so flippant … It bought me pondering, is that this one thing individuals do for a profession?” The second I heard them say, ‘We’re going to Antarctica’ simply opened up an entire new world.”

However Fields didn’t have huge confidence. “I had only a few individuals who had any perception in me, and in consequence I had little or no perception in myself,” he says. “One instructor mentioned that one of the best I might obtain was a brief jail sentence.”

By the point Fields mustered the braveness to use, it was too late. However, impressed by his utility, and health, he was requested to hitch an expedition to the north pole to commemorate the a hundredth anniversary of Peary and Henson’s 1908-9 expedition, lengthy understood to be the primary to achieve the geographic north pole (though a 1989 evaluation discovered they in all probability fell 30 miles quick).

Henson, an African American, was born to sharecroppers in Maryland in 1866. The expedition made him well-known and a few years later, he revealed a memoir titled A Negro Explorer on the North Pole. “You naturally discover parallels between your self and the individuals who you admire. He was this man who was nice along with his fingers, he liked the outside, I perceive he may need even been estranged from his dad and mom at fairly a younger age.”

Discovering out about Henson gave Fields a “little bit of fireplace in my stomach”. “After I began, there was this narrative that journey, exploration … it’s for a 50-year-old white man who’s ex-army, has bought some cash behind him … on the time [Henson] did it, they didn’t respect black individuals within the slightest. Black and white individuals couldn’t drink in the identical place. If he might overcome all of these challenges and do that, then I might do it, too.”

There was one closing hurdle nevertheless. He wanted to lift £23,000. “I used to be so naive. I didn’t realise you needed to pay,” he says. “Are you able to think about a black man coming as much as you saying ‘Hey, I’m going to the north pole – give me some cash?’ I went to tens of organisations solely to be informed, ‘Sorry, we don’t know who you’re. You’re not a recognized amount’.”

In the long run, Fields poured most of his pupil mortgage into the journey, then went door to door asking individuals for donations for the ultimate third of the money. “It was essentially the most horrible factor for me to do, saying to individuals, ‘I’m strolling to the north pole, give me a pound’.”

But when he made it, it was value it. “It was freezing chilly, so chilly you’ll be able to really feel your pores and skin tingling. However, respiratory within the crispest, freshest air you’ll be able to think about, I had this sense of arrival.” The expedition, says Fields, was “strolling for six days and also you see nothing however white”. “You go days with out smelling something and then you definitely’ll all of a sudden get this waft of disgusting perfume on the wind. It could possibly be a useless seal or a polar bear farting for all you knew.” Fields and his two companions had been stalked by a polar bear – one of many scariest moments of his life. “I noticed this polar bear roughly 1km off simply weaving behind us, left and proper. It saved coming nearer [Fields estimates the bear came within 50m] till we fired off a number of flares to get it shifting in the appropriate path.”

After reaching the north pole, Fields carried on adventuring – traversing the jungles of Central America, circumnavigating Jamaica and trekking throughout Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. “Horrible,” is how he describes the final one. “It’s not just like the Arctic the place you solely want cooking utensils and clothes. You’ve bought to arrange for the warmth, the chilly, the winds, the dry harshness of it.”.

Unsurprisingly, the expedition gave him an awesome sense of wellbeing that he’s now decided to offer to others. He started presenting and final yr fronted a Countryfile report on whether or not BAME individuals really feel unwelcome within the countryside. “After I discuss to individuals from the BAME neighborhood, it’s clear that they don’t view the UK countryside as someplace that’s for them. It’s not theirs, they don’t belong there,” he says.

“There’s nonetheless loads of younger individuals who assume sure issues are inconceivable as a result of they haven’t seen anybody from their background doing it. That’s the place I are available in. I consider all of the younger people who find themselves similar to me and the way superb it will be if they’d a unique route, or if they’d deeds that impressed them.”

“I wish to show that there are not any limits to what you’ll be able to obtain, however that doesn’t imply climbing Everest, or crossing Antartica on foot, are the be-all and end-all. It’s not about planting flags, however planting seeds.”

Fields estimates he’s spoken to greater than 20,000 younger individuals over the previous few years. Throughout lockdown, he held video lessons in his function as an envoy for the Scout Affiliation. “I noticed first-hand the challenges going through younger individuals with no escape, particularly in households the place you might have six or seven individuals dwelling collectively and no backyard. I can’t think about being a child who can’t perceive the explanations for being remoted.”

Fields during one of his expeditions.
Fields throughout certainly one of his expeditions. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Dwayne Fields

His subsequent mission could also be his most formidable – taking a bunch of underprivileged 16- to 19-year-olds on an expedition to Antarctica in spring 2022. He’s organising the journey along with his expedition associate, Phoebe Smith, by means of their #WeTwo Basis, which they arrange in 2019 to encourage younger individuals to discover the outside and spotlight environmental points going through Antarctica. How does he discover contributors? “I meet younger individuals on the road, give them a enterprise card and say ‘Look: I climb mountains. Would you ever wish to climb a mountain?’ They take a look at me with nothing however suspicion!”

The plan is for 10 youngsters to make use of a ship as a base to discover the marine atmosphere and the affect of rising temperatures on the continent’s panorama and wildlife. “These would be the younger individuals who might be defending our local weather going ahead,” he says. Two locations on the expedition might be funded by the Vasey Household Belief and British Airways is providing discounted airfares. Analysis performed by the scholars will feed into wider, Nasa-led analysis into Antarctic cloud formations and the area’s ecology.

Fields tells me 2019 was the bloodiest yr for greater than a decade on London streets, with 149 homicides in complete, and a surge in knife and gang-related killings. “As children we’re led to consider we are able to do something. Then you definately get to the age of about 11 or 12 and society, or our environments, simply beat that out of us. It’s a unending battle attempting to alter that.” At the least 22 youngsters have been killed within the capital this yr. The youngest is 14-year-old Fares Maatou, who was stabbed to loss of life in east London. “In 20, 30 years time, I don’t need my children to really feel unsafe strolling down the street. The extra younger individuals we are able to get to aspire to be extra, the higher.”

Fields is working with Nationwide Geographic and Disney+ on tasks together with Welcome to Earth, a six-part sequence that sees Will Smith dive into the internal workings of the planet with a unique explorer. Fields’s episode sees him displaying Smith round Icelandic volcanoes. He additionally runs Street2Peak to assist rework the lives of internal metropolis youths by means of journey – he not too long ago took six of the capital’s children up Ben Nevis – however Fields is aware of his work is way from finished.

“I nonetheless wish to go to unexplored elements of the outback and the Amazon. I’d like to stroll throughout the Gobi desert,” he says. “Each single expedition is that five-year-old child lifting up a brand new rock … I’ve bought tales of those far-flung locations, and by sharing these experiences, I can begin a dialogue. You see their minds, and the chances, opening. For me, that’s what it’s about.”

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