You’re attempting a 500-mile trip to the South Pole for Sport Relief, on skis, on kite-skis and on a bike – which is toughest?
The ice bike is incredibly tough. The tyres are 20cm thick so in theory should be able to get more grip on the snow and ice. But the snow is so deep and the wind so strong that it makes the going really slow. I’m also dragging a sled with all my kit that weighs more than 80kg, so it’s a real slog.
Still, the kite-skiing must be a breeze – we hear you’re a world record holder.
I wouldn’t go that far! Kite-skiing is easier on your body than cycling, but it’s also very unreliable. You need the right wind, the right wind direction and the right snow, and it’s not often that all three coincide. It’s also dangerous, in that you can easily get blown off course. When we broke the record for the fastest ever 100km on kite-skis [in just under eight hours, on 9 January – record not yet verified] we were making great progress with high winds, so we just decided to go for it.
Did you know how to ski before you attempted this?
I did ski with the school when I was a teenager and obviously I’ve been in training, practising my cross-country skiing.
Do you think this will put you off skiing holidays for good?
Well, it will give me something to boast about next time I’m in the Alps! “Oh, did I mention it was snowier than this when I was in Antarctica?” Seriously, I’m going to snap my skis in half when I leave here.
Polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has said he doesn’t think you’ll make it to the South Pole on a bike. Did that give you any doubts?
No, it just made me more determined to prove a point. He was a bit baffled by the bike and said, “Never in my day.” So that just spurred me on to prove him wrong.
Fiennes famously ate packets of butter when he was in similar calorie-draining, freezing conditions. Will you be feasting on Lurpak?
No, I’ve got cheese, nuts and chocolate to snack on. I’ve brought 160 chocolate bars with me to keep my calorie intake up, but I’m already so over the idea of living on chocolate!
What other food have you got?
It’s all dehydrated ration packs, and I’m struggling on it. We eat in the morning, snack throughout the day and eat again at night. It’s unbearably cold if you stop, so we keep moving, trying to cover 20km every day, stopping to cook when we make camp at night.
Are you able to wash?
No, not at all. And they were very strict about keeping the weight to a minimum, so I was only allowed to bring a toothbrush head without the handle. I smell already, so by the end I’m going to stink. And I’m going to have to shave my head when I get home because my hair is just one long rat’s tail. My one concession is that I had my eyeliner tattooed on so I could dispense with bringing make-up.
Have you got an MP3 player to listen to, to help you keep going?
The batteries failed in the cold, so now I go through the alphabet in my head, naming a town and then a country for each letter.
Are you managing to get any sleep?
It’s daylight the whole time so it’s difficult if you wake at 2am. But I’m so tired at night that I am sleeping. The worst thing is the wind collapsing your tent at night and having to get up and dig it out of the snow.
Before this trial by ice you paddled a kayak down the Amazon – why do you do it?
As a TV presenter I’m in a unique position to be able to do these things, so I’d be daft not to make the most of it. I’m in a privileged position to be able to raise money for really important projects and to inspire children watching, and that’s a great spur. Though sometimes, even I think I must be insane.
Follow Helen’s Polar Challenge for Sport Relief at 4:30pm on BBC1 every Monday until March. To sponsor Helen, go to sportrelief.com/helen.
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine published Tuesday 17 January 2012.