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Adventure Talks: Andy Torbet
Andy Torbet spoke to a packed house at London's South Kensington Club on the insatiable curiosity that led him from the armed forces to exploring the world's most hostile environments.
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Andy Torbet was, in his own words, born in the great outdoors. Growing up in a small rural village close to the Scottish Highlands, Andy had a 'natural playground' of mountains, forests and rivers right on his doorstep.'Growing up, I wanted to be either a soldier or Jacques Cousteau. I never thought about getting a normal job; it never occurred to me.'
Andy essentially fulfilled those childhood ambitions while managing to avoid the trappings of a 'normal' nine-to-five job. After moving to Aberdeen at the age of 12, he joined the local diving club and developed a passion for all things aquatic. Being a soldier was still his goal, but Andy was advised to go to university before signing up. He decided to study zoology, opting for pleasure over vocation, and joined the armed forces straight after graduating. There, he spent 10 years as a paratrooper, diver and bomb-disposal officer, with stints in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and the Falklands.
As Andy rose through the ranks, he realised the job would inevitably become a desk-bound one. 'That’s how the army works, but it was never for me,' he says, matter of factly. 'So I left to pursue a career elsewhere.' With an unabated passion for adventure, Andy decided he would try to make a living as an explorer. 'I soon realised that people won't pay you to go on adventures,' he reflects, 'but they will pay you to communicate it - be it through film-making, presenting, writing or photography'. With this in mind, Andy threw himself into forging a career in the media. Often used as a 'human guinea pig' in the name of science, Andy's action-man stints on television have seen him freedive with sharks and into long-lost shipwrecks, scale sheer mountains, go white-water rafting, sky-diving, abseiling and ice diving. 'I do a lot of things that are perceived to be reckless and mad, but I am not an adrenaline junkie. I’m a control freak more than anything else,' Andy explains, adding: 'I'm often asked whether I ever get scared, and the answer is yes, but not at the time. There have been instances where, after a successful excursion, I have spent many a night afterwards lying in bed, running through what could have happened but didn’t.'
Speaking of his most precarious challenge to date, Andy was asked to do a high-altitude skydive for a major British TV documentary. Cruising at a dizzying 28,000ft, Andy (who was not as experienced as most high-altitude skydivers) was to make a solo jump over the Arizona desert. As the doors of the plane opened, he seemed to hesitate, and the crew wondered whether he'd had a change of heart. But pulling out was never on Andy's mind – he'd simply paused to admire the view and absorb such a once-in-a-lifetime moment. 'What drives me is the idea that there's stuff out there that's undiscovered. I think that's something anyone can relate to: what's behind the door? What's around the corner? What's over the next hill?' Andy's adventurous spirit isn’t driven by reckless abandon, but rather insatiable curiosity, be it his obsession with the uncharted depths of the oceans and the alien-like creatures that inhabit them or the jaw-dropping beauty found in the planet's most hostile environments. For Andy, life and adventure are one and the same. 'It's what I am,' he says, simply.
Next on the cards is a motorcycle ride through Europe to the Balkans, where Andy will attempt to climb the north face of Slovenia's Triglav mountain in just one day. For someone for whom adventure is a way of life, travelling by motorcycle seems only natural. A rider since the age of 21, Andy likens the thrill of motorcycles to jumping out of an airplane, in the sense that 'it's one of the ultimate expressions of freedom'.
Now, Andy's eternal quest for discovery is something he can share and pass on to his five-month-old baby boy. 'If anything, my son's arrival has inspired me to do more,' he smiles. 'People use kids as an excuse to do less, but for me it's actually the opposite. My family gives me a huge amount of freedom.' He adds: ‘Without them, I wouldn’t have achieved half of what I have done.'
Be that as it may, the boy who dreamed of being Jacques Cousteau and a life of adventure was always going to take the road less travelled.
Andy Torbet spoke on behalf of Belstaff’s Adventure Talks series at the South Kensington Club.