Man in a Suit: Kassia St Clair meets Mike Horn, who swam the Amazon and circled the Equator ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2012
“You don’t become an explorer,” Mike Horn says in his quiet Afrikaans burr. “You’re born one.” Well, he should know. He seems like the real deal: no flaky thrill-seeker, but a man who makes arduous expeditions to forbidding places. For his first trick, he climbed 5,597 metres to the source of the Amazon and then spent six months swimming the length of the river, with no back-up team. Later, he circled the Equator without a motor, and went to the North Pole without either a motor or a dog, in darkness. “To be satisfied about myself”, he says, “I have to walk to a pole. But not in the summer: in the winter, when no one else does it."
Meeting Horn is like bumping into a shorter version of Tarzan. He is barrel-chested and bulky-shouldered; his handshake grinds your knuckles and his goodbye hug leaves your ribs bruised. Although he claims to be “not good with humans”, he seems warm, funny and charming, with just enough bite to make you take him seriously. I threaten to describe him as a weakling with a handshake like a wet fish. “I know you won’t,” he growls. “I’ll hunt you down.”
Born in Johannesburg 45 years ago, Horn now lives in Switzerland. He is in demand as a motivator and worked with the Indian cricket team before they won the 2011 World Cup. He is now nearing the end of a four-and-a-half-year project, Pangaea, that he describes as his most rewarding yet. It involves running short conservation projects, ranging from the Gobi Desert to Antarctica, staffed by groups of young volunteers who he hopes will spread the word about the state of the planet. “The world’s not in a great state,” Horn says flatly. “And we can’t bullshit ourselves about it. But if you can go out there, and make kids care for it…”
When Pangaea winds down, he has even grander plans. “Space travel is an option. Maybe I can help create life underwater. Maybe City of Atlantis is my next project.”
In 2002, Horn tied a loose shoelace—and lost the tips of two fingers to frostbite. So it makes sense that when it comes to clothes he prizes longevity, quality and functionality: his daily uniform mixes high-tech base layers and baggy foul-weather waterproofs. But to meet sponsors—who include Officine Panerai and Mercedes-Benz—he needs a suit. Our stylist chose tweed, to give a nod to the golden age of explorers, then modernised it with hiking boots and a chunky cardigan. Horn’s verdict? “Pretty comfortable.” And the boots? “Well, maybe. To walk down the street in.”
Grey Donegal-tweed suit, £695, by Mr Start; claret shirt and tartan tie, £32 (for two-pack of shirts and tie) and hiking boots, £75, both by Next; grey cardigan with collar, £240, by John Smedley; chunky grey socks, £25 per pack, by Boden
Photographer Alex Lake, Stylist Nicki Black, Stylist’s assistant Sarah Lindsay
Kassia St Clair is editorial assistant at Intelligent Life