A British Army officer who broke the world record for the longest solo, unsupported, unassisted expedition in Antarctica, has welcomed her patron for the challenge, Kate, the Princess of Wales, to a presentation she gave in her home city.
Captain Harpreet Kaur Chandi MBE, otherwise known as “Polar Preet”, shattered the record after skiing for up to 15 hours a day, battling against exhaustion, braving temperatures that went as low as minus 30°C, wind speeds which at times exceeded 60mph; all whilst carrying and dragging 120kg of equipment.
The 33-year-old covered an astonishing 922 miles in 70 days and 16 hours, having previously become the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition across Antarctica and reach the South Pole, back in 2021. She beat the former record of 907 miles, which had been set in 2015 by Henry Worsley, a retired lieutenant colonel, who sadly later died after collapsing from exhaustion towards the end of his trek.
Unfortunately, Captain Chandi, from Derby, was prevented from reaching her overall target of going coast to coast, due to adverse weather conditions that were simply too bad, but kept going as far as she possibly could within the time constraints she was under, eventually stopping around 100 miles short of her target. Nevertheless, her family, friends, and supporters could not be prouder of the plucky explorers’ achievement, and none more so than her royal sponsor.
Inspirational chats at adventurer’s “home-home”
“Polar Preet” was at her home city’s Landau Forte College, to give an inspirational presentation and shared her amazing story with her star-struck audience, and both she and the princess gave speeches and discussed mental well-being and resilience building, in informal chats with a group of Year 11 and Year 13 students. The princess has long been an advocate of the massive impact the outdoors can have on the life skills and the confidence that it nurtures.
The two ladies clearly enjoyed themselves, with Captain Chandi admitting that although she now lives in Buckinghamshire, she still regards Derby as her “home-home”, so having the opportunity to share her experiences with pupils in her favourite city, along side the Princess of Wales, made it a really special day.
Congratulations from the princess
Kate was greeted by staff and students, and typically in her relaxed manner, apologised for being late to the event, before embracing Captain Chandi, and congratulating her on her remarkable accomplishment. They walked in to the school’s theatre together to be met by thunderous applause from an all-female crowd, before the adventurer began her presentation.
Perseverance is vital
Her talk, supported by slides, was as fascinating as it was inspiring. She began by telling Kate how thrilled and excited she was to have the princess in her home city, before explaining how she had to work incredibly hard just to get the project off the ground; but because it was her dream she persevered even in difficult moments.
The trek itself was tough physically and mentally, especially she said, when it became clear she was not going to have enough time to make the full crossing. However, she went on to emphasise that the expedition was about pushing her boundaries and inspiring others to do the same, so she asked: “how could I not continue?” She said she was proud to have kept going even when she hit points where she felt she couldn’t do any more.
Inspirational presentation a “treat”
The Princess of Wales called the Army officer a “huge inspiration” when taking the stage herself. She said it was “a real treat to be here”, before raising smiles from the audience when making the observation: “I’m not quite sure how I follow Preet’s amazing presentation.” She said she hoped those attending were inspired to believe in themselves and push their own boundaries.
Princess proves to be not “tyred”
Kate then showed she was prepared to get her hands dirty by trying her hand at some of the activities that Captain Chandi had to perform throughout her trek. The royal pulled two 44lb lorry tyres attached to a harness, to simulate the weight of her sledge. Upon finishing the challenge the princess joked: “I definitely need to do some training.”
Great to be in Derby and close to family
After the princess had left, the intrepid adventurer again spoke of her love for her city and how great it was to be back. “I love coming home; my mum’s house to me feels like home-home, so it is really nice to be here. I know she is going to look after me and my grandma is just down the road.”
She was clearly delighted to have been able to spend the day with students she could identify with and to share that experience with the Princess of Wales made it “really special”. She added that she always wanted to inspire young people and Kate was an inspiration to her, because of the involvement she has with the Scouts, her early childhood project, and young people in general.
Immediately after completing her world record challenge, Captain Chandi admitted it was the “toughest thing I’ve ever done.” She reflected on how incredible it felt to have travelled such a distance, but insisted that it was always about so much more than a record. On some days, she had as little as five hours’ sleep, but maintained her determination throughout, pushing herself as hard as possible every single day.
The previous longest unsupported solo female distance record was 858 miles (1,381 km) posted by Anja Blacha from Germany, skiing from Berkner Island to the South Pole in 2019.
Never going to bail out at the Pole
Three expeditions started their planned crossings this season, and the Captain is the only one who did not stop at the South Pole, ploughing on until being picked up close to the top of Reedy Glacier. She said at no point did she ever consider stopping at the Pole.
She said she had become hooked on pushing herself after completing her first ultra marathon, which was the “Dusk to Dawn” challenge, which is 50 miles through the beautiful, but rugged Derbyshire Peak District. She said the scale of her adventures started to grow as did her definition of what is normal.
She has not yet decided whether she will attempt that crossing again, remarking that she has a full-time job in the Army and said that using all of her spare time and leave to train feels like having two jobs. “I took unpaid leave to do the expedition for which I am grateful and although the idea didn’t come from the Army, I don’t think I would have had the idea if I wasn’t in the Army, which is where I have built my resilience and got used to stepping out of my comfort zone.”
Lieutenant General Sharon Nesmith paid tribute to the soldier, stating: “To achieve what she has in the face of extremely arduous conditions and battle on bravely, refusing to give up, and to be the best she can possibly be, is a huge inspiration to so many around the world.” She finished with a simple but final telling message: “The British Army is immensely proud of Captain Chandi.”