I studied history and politics at The University of Manchester and was heavily involved in extra-curriculum activities: most notably working in the Union bar, writing for the Student Direct, setting up the comedy society and representing Manchester with the debating society.
I also got involved with Union Politics (in order to make the Union a better experience for students), but lacking the internal darkness required to become a politician (or a history teacher), I decided to set my sights on becoming a film director. However, as things have turned out, I’m now spending more time in front of the camera than behind it.
I was in Manchester between 1997 and 2000 – just around the time that digital camcorders, non-linear editing programmes and large hard-drives were entering the hands of consumer. Before then, making videos was an expensive business – but suddenly there was an almost overnight democratisation of the process. As head of the Comedy Society, we would film short skits, the kind of thing that would have been wonderful to put on YouTube (had it existed then!).
I am currently completing the Odyssey Expedition, which is the first Guinness World Record attempt to visit every country in the world solo, on a shoestring and without flying. Over the last three and a half years I travelled to 198 countries (including some of the most dangerous and isolated places on the planet) and have just three more nations to visit before I achieve something that no other human being has ever done.
That’s all 193 members of the UN, plus some contested territories and de-facto nations thrown in for good measure.
As well as organising all of my own travel, my visas, slogging my way across the Americas, Africa, Asia and The Pacific (and, of course, simply staying alive), I also shoot and present a TV show about my travels for Lonely Planet TV (BBCW). The first series of eight episodes has been broadcast in over 50 countries worldwide on the National Geographic Adventure channel. I’m currently shooting the second season.
I travel alone without back-up and without a camera crew. I write daily blog updates (now running into over 500,000 words) and my logistics team consist of me, my (long-suffering) partner, my family and friends.
Most of my early efforts were to do with travel, but after I while I turned my attention to music videos, live event filming, corporate videos – anything but weddings!
All the while I was working on feature-length scripts, TV show concepts and short films of my own. It wasn’t the most lucrative business in the world, but I kept my head above water. In the summer of 2008, I went to Australia for a wedding. While I was there I met with the Head of Development at Lonely Planet Television in Melbourne. I had stitched together a pitch video for The Odyssey Expedition, and they wanted me to come in and talk about it.
At Manchester I really enjoyed working at the Union bar, taking part in the Debating Society, filming daft comedy skits with my friends - and, I know you’re not going to believe this, but I did actually really enjoy my course. I feel that my travels around the world have been an extension of the foundation I was given at Manchester – so long as you’re interested in the world – the vast jigsaw puzzle that it our shared politics and history, you’ll never stop learning.
Being one of the biggest universities in Europe, what Manchester can offer above and beyond your qualification is immeasurable. I could not have got this far on my travels if it wasn’t for the support of the friends I made during my time at Manchester.