Meet the Queen’s cousin who cut off two toes with a penknife

Now Arc­tic ex­plorer Rosie is set to cross a 600-mile desert called the Sea of Death. No won­der Her Majesty says she’s mad!

Daily Mail - - News - by Jane Fryer

ROSIE STANCER, a cousin of the Queen and epic po­lar ad­ven­turer, is a vi­sion of pe­tite fem­i­nin­ity as we stand chat­ting in the front gar­den of her ex­quis­ite coun­try house.

Her waist is child­like and her arms so slen­der that I fear a warm em­brace might snap her in two. and then, with barely a grunt, she hoists a vast, muddy 20-kilo Land rover tyre high above her head and holds it there with her twig-like arms for, well, quite some time as she grins her enor­mous grin.

Of course she does. rosie, 58, is the woman who in 2007, calmly and with no anaes­thetic or painkillers, sawed off two of her toes with a penknife when frost­bite threat­ened to scup­per her solo trek to the north Pole.

Oh yes, then promptly ban­daged them up and walked on their throb­bing stumps for an­other 83 days and 400-odd miles, in mi­nus 50-de­gree tem­per­a­tures. alone.

now, this vet­eran of group and solo as­saults on both Poles is back in train­ing for an­other epic ex­pe­di­tion — as ever, with the bless­ing of her hus­band Wil­liam, a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant.

this time she will at­tempt to cross the 600-mile-wide tak­la­makan Desert in Western china, known as the ‘Sea of Death’ for its end­less rolling dunes.

De­part­ing in Oc­to­ber, she and three other women ex­plor­ers (two chi­nese and a fel­low Brit) will walk for ten to 12 hours a day for ten weeks, lead­ing a mile-long train of 20 Bac­trian camels laden with food, bed­ding, de­sali­na­tion kits and re­search equip­ment across the sand.

Each even­ing they will spend hours dig­ging 6ft holes to find wa­ter for their camels.

tem­per­a­tures will top 40c, plunge to freez­ing overnight and fall to a steady mi­nus 20 to­wards the end of the trip, as the ter­rain and al­ti­tude changes.

‘Only one ex­pe­di­tion leader has ever com­pleted this and lived to tell the tale,’ she says, re­fer­ring to an­other Brit, charles Black­more, in 1993. ‘But ad­ven­tur­ing is part of me. It feeds the soul. there’s a pull that I can’t re­sist.’

It’s cer­tainly in her blood. Her grand­fa­ther, the Earl Granville, was de­s­e­lected at the last minute from cap­tain Scott’s fate­ful 1910-1912 South Pole ex­pe­di­tion. at 6ft 4in, he was deemed too tall to fit in the tent and would have needed too many ra­tions.

Mean­while, her grand­fa­ther-in-law, Sir James Wordie, was chief ge­ol­o­gist on Sir Ernest Shack­le­ton’s 1914-1917 transantarc­tic Ex­pe­di­tion.

THEroyal side of the fam­ily has been a bit less ad­ven­tur­ous.

Her grand­mother — a leg­endary beauty who turned down more than two dozen pro­pos­als be­fore mar­ry­ing Earl Granville — and the Queen Mother were sis­ters, mak­ing her late mother, Lady Mary clay­ton, a first cousin to the Queen.

rosie, who at one stage lived with her mother in a grace-and­favour apart­ment in Kens­ing­ton Palace, in­sists she is ‘ only a cousin’, but there is a close con­nec­tion. Prince Philip, she says, is ‘ter­ri­bly funny’, while in her sit­ting room there is a large photo of the Queen Mother hold­ing rosie’s then baby son Jock, and beam­ing.

‘He was howl­ing but you’d never know. She was a good aunt, a good egg, a good ev­ery­thing and to­tally with it right up to the end.’

Be­fore and af­ter every trip, rosie checks in and out (by let­ter and phone call, usu­ally) with the Queen. She has also rung Prince charles from the po­lar ice on her satel­lite phone to say ‘Happy christ­mas’. Do they think she’s mad? ‘they say so but I sus­pect they don’t re­ally think so,’ she says. ‘In fact, I think Prince charles [who was pa­tron of the po­lar ex­pe­di­tions] would have re­ally en­joyed some­thing like that him­self.’

He is the source of lash­ings of High­grove fudge and Duchy Orig­i­nal bis­cuits for her ra­tion box.

Over the years, rosie has whittled ex­pe­di­tion pack­ing down to a fine art. no sham­poo, just the tee­ni­est sliver of soap, a tube of tooth­paste (‘ it’s vi­tal to keep stan­dards up), no lux­u­ries, no mois­turiser — just Vase­line — end­less high- calo­rie march­ing ra­tions, a shot­gun, a penknife and barely any clothes.

How do you de­cide how many pairs of knick­ers to take? She looks at me as if I’m mad. ‘I don’t take any undies! none. I just take lay­ers of clothes and I never take the bot­tom layer off, be­cause I mod­ify all my kit to give my­self a split crotch for easy ac­cess — I can’t be do­ing with zips and stuff.’

the trea­sured pos­ses­sions she al­ways packs are a poem, which is ‘very per­sonal’ to her and was copied out by hand by her el­der brother Ber­tie, and a pho­to­graph of Wil­liam and their son Jock, now 17 and at board­ing school.

Yes, there are low points on her trips, she says, but the ‘ toe busi­ness’ wasn’t one of them, just a blip (though the im­pact on her bal­ance has caused aw­ful back pain).

‘I’d rather have chopped them off than be evac­u­ated on day three and let down so many peo­ple,’ she says. ‘So I did.’

there was no anaes­thetic be­cause she couldn’t risk faint­ing. ‘I might have knocked my­self out on a sharp bit of ice. So you just sort of dis­em­body your­self. I pre­tended I was a sur­geon and started talk­ing out loud.’ Pass the scalpel, nurse? ‘Yes! Easy does it! all that.’ While cut­ting away dead flesh doesn’t hurt, it hurts af­ter­wards when you start mov­ing. and rosie had a lot of mov­ing to do.

‘agony on stumps,’ she says. ‘I didn’t cry, but I howled like an an­i­mal and then I got on with it.’

De­spite her pedi­gree, rosie was not an ob­vi­ous can­di­date to fol­low in the foot­prints of Scott and Shack­le­ton.

She was ex­pected to be­come a debu­tante, but says she was ‘crossed off the deb list’ af­ter she and Ber­tie jumped into the thames dur­ing the Hen­ley re­gatta be­cause, she once said in typ­i­cally blunt style, ‘it was hot’.

So she went into Pr and loved to party. She wasn’t the sort to baulk at sky­div­ing from a plane or do­ing Bri­tain’s first bungee jump.

Her first ex­pe­di­tion in 1997 came about af­ter she lis­tened, while ly­ing in the bath, to a ra­dio pro­gramme about a planned allfe­male ven­ture to the north Pole. ‘I jumped up and told Wil­liam I needed to go on that ex­pe­di­tion,’ she says.

‘It was as if a thou­sand mil­lion flash­bulbs had gone off.’ and that was that. She is not the sort for ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, yet rosie’s fam­ily are all acutely aware that one day she may not re­turn.

‘I be­lieve wholly that if you die dur­ing an ex­pe­di­tion, your spirit is quite happy. and I would hope oth­ers see that too,’ she says.

In 2003-4, when she skied solo to the South Pole, haul­ing a sledge more than twice her body­weight for more than 600 miles, her son Jock was a tod­dler.

She says she missed him so much it hurt.

One day, when the ice was dis­in­te­grat­ing be­neath her and she was cer­tain she was go­ing to die, she took her poem and a pho­to­graph of Jock and fo­cused hard on them un­til she was able to push on.

By the time of the 2007 ex­pe­di­tion, when she lost her toes and then had to aban­don the at­tempt just be­fore the end be­cause of break­ing ice, Jock was at the heart of things, run­ning a school project on it and burst­ing with pride.

‘Of course I feel guilty. all the time. But I have to do this. I have to go and he’s bril­liant. He just gets it,’ she says sim­ply.

Hus­band Wil­liam is equally un­der­stand­ing and next week, on their 25th an­niver­sary hol­i­day to the Greek Is­lands, will be per­fectly happy read­ing in the shade while she spends hours haul­ing tyres around in the heat in train­ing for her as­sault on the Sea of Death.

Just so long as she never, ever thinks of re­vis­it­ing that un­fin­ished busi­ness at the north Pole.

True grit: Rosie at home and, in­set, on a po­lar ex­pe­di­tion

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