He has ventured into active volcanoes with Richard Hammond, accompanied Steve Backshall up Venezuelan mountains and set records rowing across the Atlantic. Is Aldo Kane the next big name in adventure?
On 29 March this year, five British men made land in Venezuela in a 8.5m x 1.2m boat, breaking several world records in the process. They’d set off from Portugal some 50 days before, in a quest to cross the Atlantic Ocean from mainland to mainland. Among them was a name that rang a bell. Aldo Kane. Wasn’t he the guy who we’d watched helping Steve Backshall through Venezuelan mountains on the BBC just weeks before?
A quick Google told us we were right, and that his CV was bursting with further adventurous feats. Following a career in the Royal Marines, Aldo has been running Vertical Planet, a technical safety company for the film and TV industry, a job which has taken him to hostile deserts with Man of Steel star Henry Cavill, Siberia with Tom Hardy and sinkholes with Richard Hammond. Could he be the Next Big Thing in adventure? We sent Will Robson to find out…
Will Robson: Have you recovered from your epic Atlantic row?
Aldo Kane: It was amazing, and lots of other things, but I’ve been back home six weeks now and normality returned fast. Within a week I’d all but forgotten about it! I don’t know how anyone writes a book about rowing because it really can be quite boring. But seriously, when I look back, it seems completely surreal, most people get in a plane and fly for 10 hours to Venezuela, whereas we got in a boat and rowed two hours on and two hours off for nearly two months. The whole thing was quite bizarre.
WR: How did you come to join the crew?
AK: The idea came up a while ago in the pub, when the team skipper Matt [Matthew Bennett]asked Ross [Johnson], and then me, to join his crew. If you’re going to do something like this row, having three marines who can ‘grizz’ through anything, is helpful.
WR: Did you learn anything new about yourself on the row?
AK: It bought the best and worst out of all of us. It was like being at war when 95% of the time it’s boring and then you have the 5% of the time when it’s full on and you’ve capsized, and everyone is in the water thinking that this could be the last thing we ever do. It did reinforce my belief that I could cope with most things in life and not be scarred by them.
WR: Does work keep you constantly travelling?
AK: Last year overall was bonkers: it started by me driving to Thailand, then I did a TV shoot in Venezuela and then two shoots in Ecuadorean volcanoes, taking in about 27 countries in all. This year’s been a funny one as the last time I worked was six months ago because the row took me out of circulation for months. But I’m off to West Papua in a few weeks with Steve Backshall to do another documentary so it’s full on again. I’m working on a programme that I came up with that should begin filming next year but it’s hush-hush at this stage.
WR: Did you always want to be a Royal Marine?
AK: When I was younger, my twin brother Ross and I were both in the Beavers, Cubs and Scouts – dad was a Scout – and we always had access to the Scottish countryside. We were brought up in Ayrshire but we’d camp all over on our own from the age of 12, in places like Glencoe.
When we came to choosing careers, Ross and I were dead against working in an office so we looked at military options.
I signed up at 15 yrs and eight months old – the youngest age you could join. I then went for commando training. Once in the Marines, I knew I wanted to be a sniper because I liked working on my own and had confidence in my own abilities. So I went for it straight away, passing recce troop selection at 18 and then the sniper course soon after.
WR: How did you manage to get into doing adventure TV work?
AK: It was never really on my radar before and it was a lucky break that showed me just how transferable many of my military skills were to civilian life. I had a call about a BBC documentary about Richard Hammond’s journey to the centre of the earth.
We met in a café and they asked if I could get a camera crew inside one of the most active volcanoes in the world in the Congo. Of course I said yes, as you do, without even thinking about it and never having been in a volcano or having any idea of the security situation in the Congo. That was about six years ago.
WR: What does your company Vertical Planet do for TV companies?
AK: In simple terms we’re a technical safety company for the film and TV world, specialising in operating on location in remote and hostile environments. That includes things like rigging and diving – we’re not a ‘health and safety’ company.
WR: Can you give us an example of a dangerous situation you’ve had to cope with on a shoot?
AK: In Ecuador last year, we were inside a volcano giving off poisonous gases and firing lava up to a kilometre away from the cone of the volcano – and these lumps of lava are person-sized. So to run and look after a shoot where you have 30 people living in such a toxic and hostile environment is pretty stressful. What’s most important is to be cool, calm and collected as people run about looking to you for leadership and reassurance.
It’s why I often find the ‘how they made it’ segments you see at the end of some programmes a lot more more fascinating than the show itself, as I’m wondering about the logistics, skills and determination it took to get ‘the shot’.
WR: Have you had situations where you’ve had to say something can’t or shouldn’t be done?
AK: Every time we go on a job, we find ourselves in this situation at some point. A director or cameraman has a hit list of the shots they need to get, regardless of practicalities or the dangers sometimes – like a lava bomb exploding, or fish jumping out of the fastest part of the river. So we get together and discuss what they want. We’ll work out how risky it is.
I think being ex-military, we’re much less risk averse and we’ll look at every way possible to achieve the aim – but it’s always a case of compromise and being diplomatic. Ultimately you’re there to help them get the shot, while bringing them all back safely.
Technical skills may win you the first job, but it’s your interpersonal skills that will keep getting you work.
WR: Has any of the ‘talent’ surprised you by how well they’ve adapted to life in a hostile environment?
AK: Henry Cavill (Superman) blew me away by how capable he was in the world’s most hostile desert on a Discovery shoot. Henry dispelled the myth that actors can be hard work; he was keen to get away from all the trappings of stardom. Henry’s brother is an officer in the Marines and he was very adaptive and good with his administration. For that time ‘in the bubble’ you develop good friendships – as you really have to get on to get the best out of the shoot. I’m still in touch with most people I’ve worked with.
WR: Is there any big trip you’d like to do just for yourself?
AK: I’d like to climb a big mountain such as K2, and I’m talking with my Royal Marine mate Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox (star of show SAS: Who Dares Wins) about maybe skiing across Greenland or a North or South Pole traverse.
Read the full interview in our Summer Camping issue, out now