Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley) Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley)
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Boris’s 70-year-old father reckons he put in some rigorous training for his charity effort in Primrose Hill, so Kilimanjaro held no fears for him

As told to Audrey Ward and published in The Sunday Times, 27th February 2011

Right kind of gorilla

I’ve just returned from scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. You might wonder why I would do such a thing at the age of 70 and rightly so. Last year I became chairman of the Gorilla Organisation, a body dedicated to saving the world’s last remaining gorillas from extinction. I wanted to raise money for the organisation — these animals are dying out fast; we’re down to 700 mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains in east Africa.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the gorillas in the eastern Congo in a wonderful park called Kahuzi-Biega, but gosh, that was quite hairy. I was there in the middle of a war involving the other kind of guerrillas, the human ones, and they were shooting off in all directions.

Altitude sickness?

I was absolutely thrilled by how many people said “You’re bonkers” when they heard my plans. They made remarks such as “What about altitude sickness?” and “Don’t you know that the tennis player Martina Navratilova had to be airlifted off the mountain?”

I was never going to be affected by altitude sickness — I played a lot of rugby as a schoolboy and I have a fairly large chest.

I told them I would do some serious training, which I did. It involved climbing up Primrose Hill in north London a couple of times. The Kuoni travel company agreed to sponsor my climb and people have been very generous with their donations. At least one person wrote to say: “I’ll give you even more money if you stay up there.”

When I arrived in Tanzania two weeks ago I was assigned a superb guide, a cook, a waiter and four porters, one of whom was permanently assigned as a loo porter. He carried the loo and a tent, so I had my own personal tent in which was my own personal loo. If the Tanzanians still had a diplomatic honours list he could have been dubbed “Loo Porter OBE” for services rendered.

My mind goes blank

Kilimanjaro is one of 12 national parks in Tanzania and getting to the summit is just the icing on the cake. The route we follow, the Rongai route, took us through the rainforest and the moorland and the scenery was spectacular.

Having set off on a Wednesday, I did some very long days of walking and on the Saturday night I made my final push to Gilman’s Point. Fortunately there was a full moon and the rocky route was well illuminated.

By 10am on Sunday I had reached the summit. It was a brilliantly sunny day. In the distance I could see the other great volcano, Mawenzi, sticking up out of the clouds.

I’m afraid I had no profound thoughts on reaching the top of the mountain. As I get older my mind is blank most of the time.

However, I do remember thinking: “This is jolly good but what a pity I left my mobile phone in the front pocket of seat 27C on the plane to Nairobi. It will take me some time to get the news of this great exploit out to the world.”

Hitching a buggy

It was a long haul down. I finally got back to the base on Wednesday. By then my feet were absolutely killing me and when I landed at Heathrow last Thursday morning I could barely limp off the plane.

Fortunately, when I arrived at the terminal there was an elderly Indian lady who had booked a buggy. She looked about 90 years old and I asked: “Do you mind if I share your buggy?”

She agreed, so I got in and the lights flashed and the engine blipped and bleeped as we drove along. I’m so glad there was no one I knew there to witness my undignified arrival in a mobile wagon.

Watch out, pandas

There are advantages to never having been elected to parliament. Maybe it wasn’t right for me at the age of 70 to become an MP, and, anyway, my life is full of huge adventures nowadays.

Before my trip to Tanzania I was busy helping my daughter Rachel, editor of The Lady, with her Save England’s Forests campaign.

Unfortunately I missed out on the furore over her article about Brazilian waxes which appeared in Vogue magazine earlier this month, but I have been to Brazil myself many times.

If my feet recover by next week, my next plan is to go looking for pandas in the mountains of central China.


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