Last summer Charity Challenge was approached by Gary Barlow about staging a Kilimanjaro climb for Comic Relief. By December we were working almost seven days a week on planning the event.
Sadly for the taboloids, there's little gossip to reveal. Expeditions to remote places are great levellers; Kilimanjaro proved no exception. The tough conditions, extreme weather and altitude sickness issues were the same as any other group might experience. And they put in the legwork - this was a long project that demanded months of training followed by an expedition under gruelling conditions.
Critics might wonder whether it was right for the celebrities to have such a large entourage of porters, guides and support staff. Was it worth it? What about the impact on local people? Did the mountain environment suffer?
There is no doubt that the trip proved extremely worthwhile. The climb raised £3.35million, with every penny of that going to provide mosquito nets in Africa, as well as helping disadvantaged people in the UK.
What made the expedition such a mammoth project was not the celebrities, but the challenge of transmitting the event to numerous media outlets each day. A BBC documentary was filmed and edited on the mountain, to be aired just three days after the climbers returned to the UK. Then there were daily updates about the climb on Radio One and online.
Behind the scenes, the nine celebs were joined by 25 people from the BBC, Comic Relief and Charity Challenge, as well as a 140-strong Tanzanian support team. Around 800kg of media equipment was flown out to Africa and two editing suites were set up at the base of the mountain.
The Tanzanian support team, led by imposing chief guide Emanuel, were completely unfazed by the celebrities, who were mostly unknown to them. The team managed the logistics amazingly well, enabling everybody to summit.
The environmental impact was light. The group climbed in low season, the portered loads were correctly divided, no fires were lit, no rubbish was left on the mountain, and all the support team were well paid, tipped and looked after according to the guidelines of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project.
The recession has led to a fall in foreign visitors to East Africa; however, the Red Nose Climb has provoked an unprecedented interest in Tanzania and Kilimanjaro. Charity Challenge received more than ten times the number of enquiries they would have expected for this time of year. Should this interest lead to bookings, well-managed tourism could provide a huge boost to the local economy.
By Jeremy Gane
The man who organised the big charity trek in Tanzania explains what happened behind the scenes - and what the consequences have been for Kili
He is a director of Charity Challenge (www.charitychallenge.com), which provides fundraising expeditions for the UK charity sector, and a director of tour operator Gane and Marshall (www.ganeandmarshall.com)
. Additional reporting by Lianne Kolirin.
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