A young Arctic adventurer who came within seconds of death in the Manchester Arena bombing has joined the ranks of the world’s greatest explorers.
Iona Somerville, a graduate of Scotland’s Polar Academy, has been accepted as a member of New York’s famous Explorers Club where she takes her place among giants such as Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen and Neil Armstrong.
Courageous Somerville – who, aged 15, took part in her first gruelling Arctic Academy adventure in 2016, a year before she was caught up in the terror attack – successfully completed the rigorous application process to become a member of the club, a society for adventurers and scientists founded in 1904.
She is now aiming to attend the annual Explorers Club dinner in its clubhouse, a mansion on East 70th street, a stone’s throw from Times Square. The spring event could see her rub shoulders with Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin and technology magnate Elon Musk.
Somerville, who was given the life-changing news by Polar Academy founder, fellow Scot Craig Mathieson – also a member – told The Sunday Post: “When he said, ‘You’ve been accepted as a full member of the Explorers Club’ I couldn’t believe it.
“I thought I’d never be accepted into a club whose membership includes astronauts and Ernest Shackleton. It’s incredible. My mum was crying. I was speechless.”
Somerville last week gave her first talk to the club’s UK and Ireland Chapter in London where she was presented with the 42nd Explorers Club medal – one of only 100 in existence.
The event aboard HQS Wellington on the Thames was attended by seasoned pioneers such as Polar explorer and documentary maker Mark Wood, and deep sea diver and Titanic expert Rory Golden.
The 21-year-old told how her experience with the Polar Academy gave her the resilience to battle back from the trauma of the terror attack and go on to help others.
She spoke of her goal of honouring the 22 victims by becoming the youngest member of a pioneering Antarctic expedition led by UK Paralympic gold medallist Karen Darke.
Somerville, from Edinburgh, revealed she will also be honouring the memory of its lead guide, Belgian explorer Dixie Dansercoer, 58, who fell to his death in a crevasse while on a climate expedition in Greenland in June.
She said: “He was a wonderful man, a great adventurer and climate advocate. He will be sorely missed by the whole team.”
The £250k expedition, titled the Pole of Possibility, a partnership with the Polar Academy, is on hold until next year to allow organisers to also tackle Covid-induced challenges.
Bo’ness-based Craig Mathieson, Polar Academy founder and Explorers Club UK and Ireland membership director said of her address: “Iona stole the show.
“She is an incredible young woman who has been through hell and back but still has the resilience to push through and inspire others. It felt extra-special when I presented her with an Explorers Club medal from our Chapter.”
Mathieson had urged the young explorer to seek counselling after the 2017 Ariana Grande concert attack and later suggested she apply to the elite US club. Somerville said: “Craig has done so many great things – setting up the Polar Academy and himself trekking to both the South and North Poles. The fact that he wanted me to be in the same club as him and all these other explorers was amazing.
“I felt unbelievably proud when he presented me with the medal. Ernest Shackleton’s granddaughter Alexandra was there and later told me I gave an amazing talk. It’s surreal.”
The former Edinburgh College student’s succcess is testimony to her remarkable resilience. The Manchester Arena gig should have been one of the best nights of the then-16-year-old’s life but it became the worst.
She was seconds from death when an extremist detonated a shrapnel-laden device as hundreds of youngsters and their families were leaving the arena.
The atrocity left 22 dead, and 600 adults and 340 children injured or maimed.
Somerville explained in an interview with The Sunday Post last year how she and a friend had waited 30 seconds at the end of the concert before leaving their seats and heading to the foyer.
Had they not they would have been at the centre of the blast.
Reliving that moment, she said: “I was really scared. I thought I would die but I couldn’t even phone my mum to tell her I loved her because there was no mobile service.
When we got to the exit, security had locked the doors and there was smoke. We thought we were trapped.
“Then the doors opened. Where the explosion happened was right in front of us. Through the smoke, I saw a lot of bodies and blood and bits of bolts and nails. I went into that concert as a child and came out into a war zone. It changed everything.
“I had gained such a lot of confidence from the Polar Academy. But after the atrocity, every time I closed my eyes, I could see those bodies.
“I was having nightmares. It is hard to live with the deaths of 22 people when you are still alive. I had survivor guilt.
“After the bombing I never thought I would have the confidence to go to Antarctica. But every step of the 79 miles I take will be for each and every one of the 22 who died.
“The Pole of Possibility encourages others who have suffered physical or psychological trauma to find their inner resilience and confidence.”
Somerville added: “I want to inspire others, and show them that, no matter what they have faced, they can achieve anything with self-belief and hard work.”
Star’s Foggy notion as time-traveller goes off around the world
David Tennant, who has explored time and space as Doctor Who, is back on his travels on Boxing Day when he ventures forth as Phileas Fogg.
He stars as the famous fictional explorer in the BBC’s eight-part remake of Jules Verne’s classic 1873 novel.
The first full-length trailer of Around The World In 80 Days shows Phileas Fogg set off on his grand adventure with journalist Abigail “Fix” Fortescue, who seizes the chance to report on this extraordinary story, and valet Jean Passepartout after making a bold claim to the Reform Club that he could circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.
“Some are born to adventure,” intones one of its incredulous members. “Others, frankly, are not.”
Cue Fogg and his companions cantering in a carriage across vast dusty plains, riding camels through the desert, and dining on glamorous steam trains.
We also get a glimpse of the mercurial Passepartout getting into a fist fight, Fogg cocking a shotgun, and the trio racing through the streets as it emerges that someone on Fogg’s trail has murderous intentions.
Also starring Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout, Leonie Benesch as Fix and Peter Sullivan as Nyle Bellamy, the TV adaptation follows a number of big-screen versions, including the 1956 movie starring David Niven, and Steve Coogan as Fogg in 2004.
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