It’s not every day you see someone strolling through the City of London with a kayak on their head – that is unless you’re expecting to meet with George Bullard! If you’ve not heard of George, he’s a world record-breaking explorer and endurance athlete that has recently channeled his love for adventure into a new project – IGO Adventures.
Intrigued to hear more about IGO and his life as an explorer, we recently caught up with George (and his kayak) for lunch at the newly opened members club - The Ned.
You seem to be a man of many talents George, how should we best describe you?
“That’s a very good question! I’ve spent the last 16 years travelling all over the globe pushing the limits of human endurance. I now also run a company called IGO Adventures - so I guess I’m an entrepreneur, adventurer and explorer?”
Would I be right in thinking that you once worked here in the City? What inspired you to escape?
“I did indeed, although it was only for a brief period. I left school and went straight into public speaking and professional exploration but got to a stage where I felt I needed to prove myself. I felt that I needed to get some qualifications. I spent fourteen and a half months getting into the office at 6 or 7 in the morning – actually quite often on my kayak.”
Hang on one second, a kayak?
“Yup! I used to kayak to work whenever I could. One morning, my boss caught me on top of a telephone box sat in it - I was woefully overexcited for that time of day having kayaked almost 6km along the Thames. Everyone would be getting to work and I would be stood there with this kayak on my head – people would give me pretty funny looks, most swore at me. I didn’t really care though, I was having a great time.
“I used to live in Battersea but worked around here, I would kayak to work and get out by The Banker pub. I’d then deflate it and put it beneath my desk. They thought it was pretty classic, although it made it even more obvious that I wasn’t at home working in the banking industry. It just wasn’t me…”
Talking of kayak journeys, you recently kayaked from Greenland to Scotland – what inspired the expedition?
“The idea behind the expedition, aside from just pure fun and exploration, was to emulate the famed journey of an Inuit that landed alone on the North-East coast of Scotland in 1728 but mysteriously died three days later. No one really knew where he had come from so our aim was to uncover this ancient myth and try adding fuel to the fire of speculation that he might have paddled all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. My teammate Olly Hicks and I put all our effort and personal money into the expedition and managed to pull it off.”
Sounds like a pretty tough journey, it can’t have been easy?
“One of the scariest parts of the expedition was sleeping in the kayak – I used to slide down inside and then pull a small tent over my head. I only had about two square foot of space around my face – I couldn’t move, couldn’t roll on my side and had to sleep in one position. I couldn’t scratch my foot if I wanted to – it was most uncomfortable.
“One of the worst parts was letting your mind wander into thinking about circumstances that might happen – I began thinking about the eventuality of the boat capsizing with us asleep inside. It was pretty scary thinking about what would happen if the boat turned over and how we would get out of what was a death hole.”
There must have been some amazing moments though?
“Best bit was the last kilometer when I could see all these figures waiting for us on the beach in Scotland. I had dreamt about this moment over the past 66 days – thinking about what it would look like coming in to land. I could see all these figures and I was thinking ‘all my friends have come to see me’ – I literally thought everyone had come down to see us. As we got a little bit closer we could hear these farm animal noises and it soon became clear that our welcoming committee was actually a herd of Aberdeen Angus cows!”
You’ve recently taken on a new challenge – IGO. Tell us a little bit more about the company?
“Well, the aim of IGO is to make the ultimate adventures accessible. We organise multi-discipline challenges in some of the most spectacular wildernesses with teamwork and camaraderie at our core. We organise adventures in some of the world’s most awe-inspiring places and take a small team of people to go and live and exist in that environment as if they were on a full-blown expedition. The premise is to make it easy for busy people who work in the city to get outside and do an adventure of their own.”
So, you recently just completed an IGO trip to Norway? Sounds awfully cold – do you have anything in warmer climates?
“Looking forward – the aim of IGO is to have six expeditions across several different terrains. We’ve got one in the cold in Norway, one in the mountains in Montana and then one in the desert in Morocco. That’s actually coming up pretty soon! We’ll soon be adding to that list with one ocean based, one on the plateaus and then one in the jungle.”
I’m not the most adventurous of people but IGO trips look amazing! Is it for people like me or do I need to be a pro-athlete?
“Not at all – our aim is to make adventure accessible. We aim to help people get over the traditional barriers of fitness, cost and time. We appreciate that not everyone has weeks to dedicate to an adventure so we ensure all our holidays are between 8 – 10 days long.
“There’s no reason why anyone who lives a full life can’t have the adventure they’ve been craving - that’s where IGO comes in! Talking of pro athletes – we have actually had a number of famous faces joining us on recent IGO trips, and Welsh rugby legend Shane Williams is coming to Morocco with us.”
I’m guessing that IGO trips are great for team building as well?
“We do see a number of business teams booking our trips – they often arrive as complete pariahs and leave a week later best mates. I’ve seen adventure change people categorically. In fact, someone from our previous expedition is having their post-graduate medical degree funded by someone else they met whilst on the trip. It’s much more than just going for a catch-up beer or coffee when you’ve sat under the Northern Lights in a tent and dried your socks together.”
We saw you had one of our shirts out on the Norway trip! What does style mean to you George?
“When I’m on an adventure, style certainly isn’t the most important daily consideration. That said, when I’m back in London I like to make the effort. In terms of the clothes I buy, I naturally gravitate towards items that a good quality as I know they’ll last me forever. I’ll find a brand or I style I love and then wear it to death. In fact, I don’t think I’ve taken off my Cheyne from you guys for a number of days. Gross, I know!”
What advice would you give to anyone that wants more adventure in 2017? Should they book a trip to the North Pole or just start exploring the UK?
“As more and more people become glued to their smartphones, screens and social media accounts there will be a more prevalent desire to not just ‘exist’ as an online profile but to live in the real world. To all those that want adventure this year I would say don’t stop, don’t wait!
“In fact, I did some maths the other day and looked on Google to find out that the average person on this planet, male or female wherever they are from, lives for 71 years. Multiply that by 365 and you get 25,915 days. That’s a real quantifiable figure, you’ve got just over 25,000 days on this planet! I don’t know how far everyone is through but you’ve really got to maximise your time, what have you actually done so far?”
Now for some quick-fire questions George - who inspires you, and why?
“Shackleton – he was the true pioneer of adventure and it’s only now I realise what he actually went through in order to achieve his goals.”
“Picking my nose in public. Oh gosh, I panicked…”
Who are the five people, dead or alive, you would invite to a dinner party?
“Trump! I’d also invite Aspley Cherry-Garrard (author of ‘The Worst Journey in the World’) and Ueli Steck (famous Swiss mountaineer who recently passed away). I’d also like to throw my sister into the mix and then I’d invite Brad Pitt solely for her."
Bear Grylls or Ray Mears?
"I like them both but I would have to go with Ray."