Conquering the Antarctic Interview: Hugh Bonneville

Posted on: March 1, 2012 in: Uncategorised

Ahead of the final concert in our Conquering the Antarctic tour this Saturday, we caught up with Hugh Bonneville, acclaimed actor from ITV’s Downton Abbey, to talk to him about his involvement in the tour.


Image: Philip Thorne

What drew you to take part in the Conquering the Antarctic tour and what do you know about the story of Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole?
The story of Captain Scott is something that I have known about from childhood, like every boy and girl from my generation; one of the great adventures, albeit with a tragic ending. I remember from an early age being inspired by the grandeur and the ambition of the expedition, despite the tragic nature of it all. Of course it was 1912, the year of the Titanic and the year of Captain Scott, what a year! It’s full of schoolboy heroism but ultimate folly in the end; the flawed ambition of Empire.

Captain Scott’s final diaries are at the heart of the concert tour; do you keep a diary? If so how long have you kept one for and why?
I haven’t kept a diary since I was 18!  It was usually full of what a terrible result I had in a football match; why wasn’t I any good at goalkeeping?

To read the diaries of Captain Scott in the context of the Vaughan Williams music (which will be performed alongside the readings in the concert) is very moving. You see the confidence with which the polar party set out, the camaraderie of the men and Scott’s admiration for his team; the great chemistry between the men and Scott’s determination to keep his leadership up, despite the will, gradually beginning to slip away.

He definitely ranks up there alongside the great adventurers such as Shackleton and Mallory. I think his tremendous spirit of adventure and daringness to fail ranks him alongside any hero. Flawed as they may be, they were all prepared to push themselves and what is known about the world, to its limits.

Have you ever had any desire to be an explorer and if so where would you go and what would you explore?
I’m a good map reader but a hopeless explorer! I’d love to go to parts of the world that are remote, but I’d be hopeless in icy conditions. I’m fascinated by rivers that hide their source. I did some wandering during my GAP year travels, but that was in several degrees of comfort compared to what these guys experienced. I wouldn’t last five seconds in Bear Grylls back garden, let alone out in the field with him!

What was your first experience with music? Do you play an instrument?
I can’t pretend to be a musician.  My parents are very keen concert goers and my first conscious memory of music is my Dad playing an LP of Faure’s Requiem. My father is an excellent pianist and his effortless technique on the piano made me furious every time I tried to plink out my Grade One. I then took up the clarinet, which remains one of my favourite instruments, which I absolutely love, and only wish I’d kept going.

What’s the hardest and also the most satisfying part of being involved in the Downton Abbey phenomenon?
The hardest thing is trying to keep track of which part of the world has seen which series and making sure you’re not giving the game away in press conferences. The most satisfying thing is to be involved in a show that has caught the imagination of so many people around the world; it doesn’t happen very often in your career. We’ve started back at Downton Abbey already. And no, I’m can’t tell you what happens in Series Three, I’ve only read up to Episode Two!

Conquering the Antarctic
3 March 2012

Cadogan Hall, London