Family man: Benedict with wife Lenka and children Natalya, Freddie and Beatrice
Continuing our series featuring the holiday memories of famous people, this week explorer Benedict Allen, 58, recalls his lifetime of adventures…
My first holiday:
We used to stay in a glorious old house called Bryn Hall in the Welsh mountains – I can still smell the ferns and moss, and hear the buzzards and the sheep calling out from the hills.
But the best and worst thing was the lack of electricity, so we had to light paraffin lamps each evening before we made the long walk up through the darkness to bed.
First time abroad:
In about 1966, when I was six, we went to Barfleur, the pretty little port in Normandy. I remember the excitement of an expedition to a lighthouse, the sea anemones in rockpools and the invasion beaches still with concrete bunkers and barbed wire. I think they scared me. Apparently I told my granny: ‘If you don’t take me back to England right now, I’ll never forgive you!’
First school trip:
We didn’t seem to have any. Perhaps to make up for this, I asked for my tenth birthday party to go to the Imperial War Museum. So 22 boys were shoved into what seemed to be only about three cars.
At the end of the day everyone lined up for their party bags, only to be told there were none. My mother didn’t approve of such ‘American’ excess. ‘I think we’ve all had a lovely day, haven’t we?’ she said firmly. ‘Here’s a paper napkin for your slice of cake.’
Intrepid: Benedict (pictured) in the Amazon. The explorer is the latest contributor to the Mail On Sunday’s holidays of a lifetime series
Not an unmitigated success. My wife Lenka was seven-and-a-half months pregnant and something had inspired me to whisk her off to southern Sicily in the heat of summer.
The hotel was a converted monastery – picturesque in the brochure, but you wouldn’t actually want to stay there. Our little oven of a room was a clay-roofed former monk’s cell; and the restaurant chef used too much salt.
The explorer pictured above aged 23 in 1983
Best holiday ever:
When I was 11 my dad – an airline pilot – flew us to Nairobi. The lions, giraffes and hippos were glorious but nothing could beat the excitement of hearing my father announce to all the passengers: ‘This is your captain speaking…’ I was so proud.
Worst holiday ever:
I thought I’d propose to Lenka during an Atlantic crossing. But the sea cut up rough and the stately vessel had none of those lovely modern stabilisers. So I spent much of this, the QE2’s last-ever Atlantic voyage, in the bathroom. In the end I proposed on solid ground – in Manhattan.
I have my sights set on East Africa. I wouldn’t trust myself to fly the airliner as my dad did, but I could help my own children believe they too could become adventurers.