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I love the South Downs. It’s this wild, windswept place. You can’t build on the land because it’s a national park so it has stayed the way it is for centuries. My dad Harold, my brother Mark and I all walked the South Downs Way from Eastbourne one rainy July in 1977. The three of us were camping, carrying our tents, getting wet and sleeping on the Downs during thunderstorms. It was a pivotal time in my life. I was 15, and we had lost Mum nine years earlier. This was our first trip together, the three of us, without her.
Dad told us about the hiking trail and asked us to go with him, as it seemed like an adventure, so we said yes. He got brand-new shoes especially for the trip but he hadn’t broken them in and he lasted about four days in them until the blisters set in. Four days feels like an incredibly long time with blisters! We walked together in all sorts of weather, both rain and shine, with everything we needed strapped to our back in our green rucksacks.
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I was working in the self-service café in the De La Warr Pavilion in those days, selling ice cream and teas and coffees, proper British fare, getting paid £38 a week. It was an interesting time in my life; we were just coming out of all the pain of Mum’s death and still dealing with our grief. We had got used to it being just the three of us and were trying our best to see what we could make happen in our lives now that she was gone. I was 15 years away from becoming successful and I was very much a determined idiot at that point, sneaking into Pinewood Studios – à la Spielberg at Universal – and things like that.
We camped on one of the highest points in the entire Downs and stopped every now and then to admire the beauty of it all, eating ham rolls wrapped in cling film and drinking tea from a thermos. It seems crazy when I look back now, but that’s what we did. I was happy to do it.
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We were wearing brown anoraks and sturdy walking boots and we had a bright red tent, which dad carried on his back with pride. The three of us crammed into this two-man tent, and we didn’t have a top sheet to stop the rain from coming in, so water dripped in on us all night long. I kept trying to mop it all up but it was impossible, so we had to try and sleep around the edges to avoid getting wet.
This was the first active adventure we had ever done as a family. There was a change in me after that; I realised adventure was possible and I could achieve the things I set my mind to. This February I ran 32 marathons (on a treadmill) and did 31 (virtual) comedy gigs in 31 days – and the seed for all of that was born on the South Downs when I was 15 years old. If you haven’t trekked the South Downs Way, I’d really recommend it. It’s an amazing thing to do and a beautiful place to walk.
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My dad was born in Eastbourne then moved to Bexhill, so these twin towns have played a significant part in my life. My dad wrote a book about the Izzard family history, and we all encouraged him because I realised we could self-publish it on Amazon for him. He was in Bexhill during the Second World War when Spike Milligan was stationed there.
I was visiting Bexhill Museum when I spotted a badge. It had a swastika sewn in alongside the Union flag, and I knew I had to know more so I started to investigate. My film Six Minutes to Midnight is based on a true story set during the Second World War about a finishing academy for the daughters of very senior Nazis. It’s funny looking back now because we started our hiking trip at the exact same place where the film starts, right at the foot of the school I went to, Bede’s School. Both towns are in the film, too. We filmed on the beaches, right by the beautiful chalk cliffs.
This really was a holiday that changed my life. I fell in love with the South Downs on that trip. It is beautiful, rugged and windswept but it can be an angry place too – it can challenge you. It challenged me at a time in my life when I’d lost my mum. I was a teenager and determined to succeed in my career but not sure how to get there yet.
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Plus, Kate wore her favourite Veja trainers that cost under £100.As part of the trip, the Duchess of Cambridge met with The Natural History Museum's Director; Dr Doug Gurr. The pair enjoyed a conversation in the historic museum's grounds. Kate visited the site to view 'The Urban Nature Project,' which the museum describes as "a welcoming, accessible and biologically diverse green space in the heart of London.
I have been back many times since that trip and now run marathons on that same route, just me against the wind, running through until wintertime. The trip has never left me and has lived with me ever since. It made me the adventurous person I am today.
As told to Margarita Mitchel Pollock
Six Minutes To Midnight is available on Digital Download now and DVD. £10;
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