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Thursday, 26 February 2015

An interview with Ben Moon and Ed Douglas

Ben Moon bouldering at Shivling base camp in the Himalaya. Photo: the Ben Moon collection.
 

We caught up with Ben Moon and Ed Douglas ahead of the much-anticipated release of Statement: The Ben Moon story.

 

Ben Moon:

 
After a few years' work your official biography Statement is finally about to hit the shops. How did you find the process of working with Ed on its creation?
 
It was very easy working with Ed – he lives around the corner from me and I’ve known him for quite a few years. We just got together fairly regularly for morning coffee and talked about my life. I am notorious for having a bad memory so remembering events was the hardest part. Ed did a lot of research on his own and would often surprise me with details about stuff I had no recollection of!
 
How would you describe your current relationship with climbing? What kind of day at the crag gives you the most satisfaction?
 
After losing my motivation for climbing and having five or six years away from the sport, I’ve rediscovered my passion and love for it. Now I feel as keen and motivated as I ever was. Although there are still lots of climbs I would like to do, I realise than being close to fifty – and having a family and business to take care of – I probably need to temper my ambitions and expectations. This means taking each day as it comes and being thankful for my good health. Anything else is a bonus.
 
Your company Moon must take up a fair amount of your time. What takes priority when the conditions outside are perfect but you’re faced with a stack of office work?
 
Unfortunately I would say that the business tends to take priority over my climbing. There’s always so much stuff to do and it’s extremely competitive out there these days. But climbing is still very important, not only because it’s fun, but also because it keeps me sane, fit and healthy, and is an escape from the daily agro that life and business can deal up.
 
Your mother was a teacher and your father a leading abstract artist. Being non-climbers, how has your family reacted to you becoming one of the world’s top climbers? 
 
 
I think they are proud of what I have achieved, although I sometimes wonder how much my mum understood about what I did. After my early beginnings I think she only saw me climb once and that was at a World Cup comp. in Birmingham back in ’91. I don’t know if she ever watched any of the climbing films I was involved with. I think my grandfather who climbed back in the thirties was very proud of what I achieved and that I was able to make a living out of the thing I loved most.
 
You've established many significant routes since the early eighties. Does one stand out – the one of which you're most proud?

 
I can’t pick one, so I am going to pick three! Statement of Youth, because it was one of the hardest routes in the country at the time, I had only just turned eighteen when I did it, and because it’s a three-star classic. Hubble, because its difficulty has withstood the test of time and it has been confirmed as the world’s first 9a. Voyager – with the low start – because it combines quality with difficulty and is still unrepeated after eight years.
 
Looking back, would you say that your enjoyment of climbing has generally been aligned with your technical performance? In other words, is it a case of the harder you’ve climbed, the more pleasure it’s given you?

 
I think satisfaction is aligned to difficulty and the more time you invest in something the greater the reward. If it comes too easy, is it worth having? However you don’t have to climb hard to have memorable experiences – some of the Alps’ adventurous multi-pitch rock routes that I’ve climbed with my wife, who doesn’t climb much, really stand out. But I like to challenge myself and as long as I can, I will.
 
Where are your favourite places to climb at the moment?

 
It might sound strange, but I love the UK. I really believe it has a lot to offer. People keep asking me if I have plans to go away on climbing trips and I keep telling them that I am staying in the UK. I mean, if you look at Yorkshire alone, it has so much to offer and not only in terms of climbing. Travelling is nice but sometimes it’s good to stay near to home.
 
What are your main goals – whether climbing or otherwise – over the next year?

 
Staying fit and healthy is the number one goal. After that, to climb 8b+, then 8c and, who knows, maybe even 9a again! I still have some unfinished business on Kilnsey North Butress!
 
You’ve said that you’re keen to explore more around the UK, but if you were to plan a trip further afield, where would you choose to go?
 
I would like to go back to the Himalayas just for some trekking. I think it’s the most amazing place I’ve ever visited and I always tell people they should go there once before they die.
 
Climbing has changed a lot over the last decade. What do you consider to be the greatest positives and negatives of today’s scene compared with that of the eighties and nineties?
 
I would say the abundance of climbing walls is the biggest positive because it’s made the sport more accessible. When I first started climbing it was very hard if you didn’t know a climber and, really, there weren’t that many climbers around. Negatives? I’m not sure … although maybe the amount of information now available online in terms of videos, guides etc. can have the tendency to detract from the spirit of adventure a bit. But, at the end of the day, you don’t have to use this information if you don’t want to.
 

Ed Douglas:

 
How did you find working with Ben to create his biography?
 
Both easier and harder than I expected. We'd originally conceived of producing an autobiography of Ben, but ghosted by me, in a similar way to Ron Fawcett's Rock Athlete, a process that worked very successfully. But for all kinds of reasons that didn't work out with Ben, so we switched to an official biography – his version of events but in the third person. The easy part was that Ben was open to this and also incredibly open about his life.
 
Was there anything that came up while you were writing the book that was a particular surprise to you?
 
I had forgotten how little coverage Ben got until quite far into his career. The negativity surrounding sport climbing in the late 1980s was incredible. But it didn't seem to faze him at all. He knew what he wanted to achieve and got on with it, irrespective of what his elders thought.
 
What would you say are the five essential ingredients of a good climbing biography?
 
Just five? Actually there's only really one, and it's the same for any biography: have you got past the public image and the factual details of someone's life to understand what it is about them that makes them exceptional, or that made them act or create in a particular way? Although I'm a contemporary of Ben's, and was actually running a climbing magazine at the time he was making his mark, I couldn't have written this without the perspective of twenty years and a whole lot more knowledge than I had then. 
 
You review a lot of great books on your blog (www.calmandfearless.com). Can you recommend a couple of good reads for days when the weather keeps us indoors?
 
There's a lot out there depending on your taste and current writers are well-known already. Going back a little, I love Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain and if you want a great climbing biography then Menlove by Jim Perrin is among the very best. David Roberts is a writer who is perhaps not as well known in Britain as he should be – and very readable. I loved Escape from Lucania in particular. Raymond Greene's* memoir Moments of Being is a forgotten treat, if you like that whole 1930s Himalayan vibe. 

*Interesting fact: Raymond Greene was the older brother of British novelist Graham Greene.

 

Thanks to Climber for allowing us to reproduce this interview, which originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of the magazine.

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