Saturday 19 October 2019

Interview with Ben Hooper

Battling great white sharks, 30-foot surges, jellyfish stings and more, SoGlos speaks to Cheltenham’s Ben Hooper about his world record-breaking mission to swim 2,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in his expedition, Swim the Big Blue.

Cheltenham man, Ben Hooper is set to embark upon an epic expedition, in which he will swim every single mile of the Atlantic ocean, from Senegal to Brazil, in a word record-breaking feat dubbed Swim the Big Blue.

Setting out to raise millions for charity and inspire thousands, Ben said: ‘It doesn’t matter what your own challenge is, whether it’s lifting your head up from the pillow that day, or swimming your first mile, if I can inspire people to change their lives and help others then I’m achieving something.’

SoGlos talks to him further about the dangers he might encounter on his swim, his training regime, and what motivated him to tackle this seemingly impossible task.


So Ben, tell us where your love of swimming comes from?

At five years old I nearly drowned in a swimming pool in Belgium and had to be brought round on the poolside. Instead of being scared of water, it kind of had the opposite effect and that is where my water instinct first came around.

And how did that lead on to you deciding to swim the Atlantic Ocean?

It all sort of started when I was 16 and I wanted to attempt the youngest unsupported crossing of Antarctica. I wrote to Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who is now my patron for this expedition, and he sent me some incredible letters.

Obviously life is what it is though and I went into jobs, the military, the police force and studied psychology. But that’s where the sense of adventure brewed.

Then, I hit a point about two-and-a-half years ago where I got quite depressed and I thought if I didn’t turn my life around, I didn’t know what was going to happen next. So I did. I’ve always wanted to swim and ocean, so I thought let’s do this.

With having a background in police work and the military, did you find your body was quite well prepared?

Well, I went from studying psychology to doing this. I’d put on about two stone and I was swimming no more than five to 10k a week. Obviously all that needed to change, so I just started training and doing some research.

I don’t think people realise how much goes into it. If I could just eat, sleep, train, repeat, my life would be easier, but obviously there’s everything else; finding a boat, funding the boat, the logistics, the planning, the training in real conditions and so on.

Is there anything about the swim that scares you?

My daughter, Georgia said she’s scared in case I get eaten by a shark and all that is left is my glasses! I’ve come across a few sharks already and they do make your heart pump a bit, but to be honest, I think they’re more inquisitive than anything. Also, swimwear specialists, Arena, have designed a specialist wetsuit for me which includes shark camouflage.

My daughter, Georgia said she’s scared in case I get eaten by a shark and all that is left is my glasses!

What are your other methods of defence against inquisitive sharks?

The second line of defence is shark shields which is like an electrical current, third line of defence is rotting shark cartilage, which will be put into an aerosol, you then drop it into the ocean and the sharks swim away… hopefully.

Final defence is the swim safety team. They will dive into the ocean and poke the sharks with a four-foot long pole from B&Q. That should just about do it.

So are sharks your main concern?

No, my main concern is failing. I’ve put everything I’ve got into this and I have thousands of school children who are inspired by this. Most of all I don’t want to let my daughter, my charities or myself down.

Which charities are you raising money for?

Maggie’s Centres; SOS Children’s Villages; Addaction; and Cheltenham-based charity, County Community Projects (CCP).

Are these charities close to your heart?

CCP is quite close to my heart as they work with the community and those who are on the poverty line and need support. I come from a low-income family myself, my mother didn’t have a penny to her name, and if it wasn’t for the help of others, we wouldn’t have survived.

What kind of responses have you had to your challenge?

Well, having Sir Ranulph Fiennes as my patron has made my life, as both he and my daughter are my inspirations. Generally I just receive stunned shock from everyone. Most people can’t get their head around it, and everyone asks: ‘did you do the Channel first?’ No, no I didn’t.

Was that a conscious decision?

With training to swim in the open ocean, it has had to be realistic. The English Channel is on average nine degrees colder than what I’ll be swimming in and the waves are waves, unlike the swells in the Atlantic, so there’s no point in training in the Channel. It would be like training to run a marathon by cycling everywhere.

Swim the Big Blue

And how different is open water swimming to indoor swimming?

Hugely different. Every minute is different in the open water. One minute you could be in flat water, then you get a bit of wind and the tide changes and suddenly you’ve got five-foot waves punching you in the head, turning you around, or forcing you to swim sideways.

I train at Leisure at Cheltenham and the worst thing you’ve got to contend with is the chlorine! Leisure at has even been nice enough to give me my own lane to practice in, so I don’t even have to worry about other swimmers kicking me.

Can you walk us through your diet?

On average, I’m eating 8,000 calories a day and I am sick of it, I am so bored of eating! In the actual swim, we suspect I’ll be getting through 10-12,000!

How will you mentally prepare?

I’ve studied psychology and I have a psychologist from Hartpury College working with me. But, music is one of the things that helps me when I train.

Any particular songs?

‘Hall of Fame’ by The Script is one of the most motivational songs I listen to and The Day is My Enemy album by The Prodigy kicks some ass. It’s the emotive words that make a difference.

What else will keep you going on your swim?

Drawing on memories. For example, the children at Charlton Kings Junior School swimming three-and-a-half days of my swim in a week and the looks on their faces when they’d completed it.

This has been difficult though; there have been days where I’ve thought ‘am I doing the right thing? Is this all worth it?’ And the answer is always yes.

So, I see you’re looking for people to sponsor your swim, tell us a bit about Ben’s Miles.

We need to find some more sponsorship, so it would be great if we could get some local companies behind us, as it is a world first, and it is a Gloucestershire first.

Ben’s Miles allows individuals to sponsor a mile for £10, then businesses can sponsor a corporate mile from £250. This will enable you to get on the website and GPS-track my swim interactively, as well as receive brand advertising and your company’s name on the boat. And the sooner we can source this sponsorship, the sooner we can go!

We are also selling the last place on the boat for bids in the region of £15,000, and the top bidder will be able to join us on the four-month expedition.

Do you see yourself tackling any other challenges like this one?

I would personally like to do something with water safety and education, and campaign to get all children under 16 free swimming lessons… and I’m also probably going to want to have a little rest.


For more information see Cheltenham Man set to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, or to sponsor Ben, visit bensmiles.co.uk directly.


By Alice Lloyd

© SoGlos
Monday 01 February 2016

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