Thursday, January 04, 2007

No fan of Duncan Chessell

As Willy Loman said, "attention must be paid". We all crave attention. Some demand it.
I am thinking of Duncan Chessell, "adventurer", who has just climbed the highest peak in Antarctica. Not alone. He had a satellite phone. He does not move without communications for, otherwise, how could he make the world pay attention to every move he makes? He has not been climbing Mt Vinson (4897m) for science. He has been climbing it because he wants a personal record of having climbed all the world's highest peaks. And he wants everyone to know that he is doing it. There are others climbing with him, but one barely hears of them. They are not media manipulators.
Chessell is an absolute expert. He is a better media manipulator than mountain climber, methinks. He has finessed reporters on various media, charmed them to bits. They all think he is their special friend. They all believe he is reporting exclusively to them. They will not hear a word against him. Of course, they do. From me.
This bloke does not have me fooled and I am appalled that experienced journalists have been suckered in. We of the media are always being wooed by people seeking publicity. PR people finess us all over the place. They treat us like good friends with the hope that we will think of them as good friends. Ingenuous young journalists make believe them - until their job description changes and they discover that they have been dumped like the proverbial in favour of the new journalist who serves the PR cause better. We jaundiced oldies know this syndrome - uncritically, since PR people have to serve their masters and getting through to us is a primary requirement.

Duncan Chessell is his own PR person. He has the media phone numbers on speed dial and he rings and texts his good media buddies daily, often many times. He even texted one colleague in the depths of the night to announce the birth of his child. The colleague was tickled pink thus to be treated like a member of the family, this celebrity family.

But Chessell is creating his own celebrity for his own selfish ends.
He is a man obsessed with his own thing - climbing bloody mountains and making a personal record. The old PB - personal best. The operative word is "personal".
Massive resources are required for the sort of PB he seeks. Delicate environments are trampled. Planes fly in to the fragile Antarctic to bring his crew in and out.
It is all spectacularly expensive.
The canny Chessell has tried to offset this by making his adventures a "charity" cause. He has called his expedition "The Centrecare Antarctic Challenge". It is like a sponsor's naming rights, but the sponsor is a church charity. I gather that we can donate to it in the name of Duncan Chessell and his challenge - hence, he can claim to be supporting its cause. But, of course, it is supporting his cause. His incredibly egocentric PB.
Come on. Who needs Duncan Chessell's name in order to donate to a church charity? If one wishes to donate, one simply donates. Chessell exploits its name for his own cause, not the church cause. How come everyone is suckered in?

No, I am no fan of this man.
I do not feel a wrench of the heart when I see him on television lamenting the fact that he is missing out on his baby daughter's growth because he has to be far away in Antarctica.
He does not have to be anywhere. He is simply putting his adventure above his family.
His wife does not seem to mind. She is getting a lot of attention, too.
In between his myriad media calls, he rings her, also.

Duncan Chessell certainly has achieved a world record of sorts, I think.
He may claim the pinnacle of media connectivity. The top of self-generated media coverage in the world today. Well, South Australia.
I am sure the rest of the world neither knows nor cares.
Until Chessell gets their phone numbers.


Milly Moo said...

Oh Samela, thank you for being so honest about this and I can say this because his wife, Jo Arnold has been a friend of mine since the very first day we started at Adelaide Uni together.

I love her dearly and have always worried about her relationship with Dear Old Duncan: a boy who took about eight years to complete a three year degree in between tramping all over the mountains of the world - funded by his parents of course.

Unlike Jo, whose parents work hard on a Loxton fruit block and myself, who picked and cut apricots and babysat every long uni summer, he did nothing but play with his expensive toys and do a lot of lovely travelling.

I'm in a bind because Jo is a wonderful person and is very passionate about Duncan's adventures, believing that they help others realise their true strengths, blah blah blah.

Maybe she's right and he has grown up a lot since they first met and started dating. But I was horrified when I visited her and complimented her on the ever-expanding baby belly and asked the most natural question in the world: "Is Duncan going to - ahem - stop the dangerous climbing and going overseas for months at a time when he becomes a father?"

Jo didn't know the answer to that one but I did. It was no - his fun, attention and 'adventures' were far more important than seeing the first wonderful days, weeks and months of his first child.

Perhaps the lure of climbing the tallest mountain 'because it's there' is something that exerts such a strong pull that a non-climber like me will never understand, but selfishness it most surely is.

Samela said...

Thanks MillyMoo, for the most lucid and thoughful comment - so beautifully written, too.
I am very glad of your support, not to mention your insight. The world seems to have been blinkered by "adventurers", mistaking self-interest for "heroics". If you ask me, true heroes are more like those who work long hours in laboratories working to alleviate pain and solve the problems of the environment.

Anonymous said...

I found both your comments interesting. I have known both Jo and Duncan for many years and consider them good friends.The very qualities you criticise in Duncan are the same qualities that help to ensure he is successful in his endeavours. He is a committed adventurer and competent owner of his business DCXP. Is it so very wrong to create a company in part to help fund his passions in life?- and also to allow other people to experience some amazing things. Much of the 'media manipulation' you accuse him of is in order to promote his business. As he is one of the owners,with a small degree of celebrity , naturally his face and name are worthwhile marketing tools.

Your experiences and personal grievances regarding Duncan seem to be Univeristy based. As a result you may not be aware that on a professional level Duncan is highly competent and skilled in his chosen field.

I am well aware Duncan is no saint. However the person who is most aware of Duncan's foibles would be Jo. Your comments, however well intentioned and protective of Jo, do belittle her. She knows very week the person she married, what drives him and what fears he has. She is an incredibly accepting woman who loves Duncan for who he is . Duncan does not embark on an expedition without the support of his wife. Their relationship may not be one you would want for Jo or yourself but it is one that works for them.

Jodie Arnold (Jo's cousin) said...

Hi there all, found this blog and had to also say something. Until you know this couple, you should not assume. Satelitte phones is an emergency essential. And yes I do know Jo and Duncan well, they are family, and yes they both have grown out of everything and they are and have achieved. I am not being biased but it is truth. These two are soulmates, they have been through a lot together and she knew exactly what she was in for from the moment they met, and including lets not forget, that this is a passion they shared even before they met. Jo is the one who keeps Duncan grounded, and without her support this kind of lifestyle would not have happened.
Blogs are opinions and you can have yours but this I feel is another case of tall poppy syndrome and sheeple attitude to something they dont know much about.

Jodie Arnold said...

milly moo, i dont think i know you, but i was wondering why your post comes across as resentful of Duncan. She has my aunt and uncle, her sister and brother and their families to support her, its what our family do...but no-one's perfect, and there is a good chance Duncan and Jo will read your post, so this doesnt help your relationship with them. Publicly highlighting personal information in criticism isnt very respectful of Jo even if you believe you are leaping to her defence. Jo is a very intelligent, strong and resourceful woman, she always has even growing up. I think you should give her some faith and credit that she can manage what it all entails.

Anonymous said...

Interestig blog, I have not met Duncan but i know people he has climbed with. I agree you are entitled to your opinion, but you do seem to be on an emotional rant with not too many facts. Adventuring is expensive and has a history of media publicity to generate the funds needed. These sort of adventures just dont happen without the media's support. They get a good story to show, he gets publicity, win win. It seems you just dont like adventure types in general, and I agree there are a few too many ego-centric adventurers who dont have the right reasons for doing such things, but its no reason to presume these of Duncan nor of his wife or any other adventurer for that matter. But... i guess no matter what you do in life, you cant make everyone happy. Its pretty easy to criticize the successful though.

JuJu said...

Obviously you are not a climber. Stand on top of a mountain instead of hiding behind your keyboard and you will appreciate why this world needs people like Duncan Chessell. Unless you are a doctor or a lawyer you need to push the PR angle anyway you can to get support for your adventures. The Great Sir Edmund Hillary was a PR maestron but you wouldn't have the courage to chastise him.

Anonymous said...

I, like "anonymous", don't know Duncan Chessell, but I do know many people who have climbed and trekked with him in Antartica, South America and especially on Everest. I have trekked and indeed climbed with a number of them myself. I totally agree with "anonymous" regarding the need for people who make their living from activities like these to generate media publicity. I like him have little patience for those who knock adventurers like Jessica Watson. But I have to say, Pamela, many of your comments resonated with me. There is something very brash and "in your face" about the way in which this man so often seems to go about things. A classic instance occured when trying to follow the traffic during the 2006 Everest drama, not so much because his sensationalist reports were at times just wrong and very harmful (see: )but because any reader could initially be forgiven for thinking, as I did for a while - it surprised me - that he was on the mountain rather than in Adelaide. The author of the best book on the Everest episodes of that time, Dark Summit by Nick Heil, seems to have made the same mistake, listing him as a member of a team (several of whom I know) "on Everest's North Side". Despite all his achievements and the difficulties of running a succesful adventure company, which I admire, he does sometimes seem jarringly keen to claim any limelight.

Anonymous said...

I do not think he is a team player, and I do not think he climbs for the right reasons.