“The premise of this new documentary strand – following the lives of three people with the same birthdate, only one of whom achieved fame and glory – is so brilliantly simple, you wonder why no one has thought of it before. (Actually, someone did think of it before, as the format originated in Norway – though how they filled the airtime once they’d used up all the members of A-ha is anyone’s guess.)
It’s a show about the choices we make in life, and the choices life makes for us. A distant cousin of The Queen, Ranulph Fiennes’s title at birth was Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, which must have been a nightmare to sew into his PE kit. On the same day – 7th March 1944 – Ewart Rennalls was born 5,000 miles away in Jamaica, while Frances Kelly started life in the cobbled back streets of Leeds.
As a toddler, Frances suffered third-degree burns in a fire; packed off to hospital and denied any contact with her family, she became convinced she’d been abandoned. The scars, both physical and mental, ran deep. Ewart, meanwhile, was forced to swap Jamaica for ‘a tiny slice’ of terrace in chilly Birmingham, battling against racial discrimination as he built a successful sales career.
Sir Ranulph didn’t have to bother with anything as dull as a job. His ambition to emulate his father’s military career was thwarted when he failed to get enough A levels for Sandhurst (which is reassuringly meritocratic – though his dad-shaped void is a reminder that money and privilege are no firewall against heartache.)
Instead, he became the greatest explorer of the age, getting such bad frostbite he sawed off his own fingers in the shed. (He keeps them in a tin.)
He returned from one round-the-world trip a national hero, complete with flag-waving reception, even though he’d basically just been indulging a rich man’s hobby. Frances, by contrast, went about mending her broken childhood by quietly spreading what happiness she could, adopting a dying daughter and going on to foster 97 children. For this, there were no flags, no medals, no glory. And who cares, actually, when all you really need is love?”