Former Barnard Castle School student Nick Talbot inspires pupils at his old school

Posted: 18th April 2024

Nick with a pair of Bentley Beetham’s skis


A MOUNTAINEER who had a life expectancy of 16 has returned to his old school to inspire pupils in their endeavours.


Nick Talbot, who has climbed Mt Everest despite living with cystic fibrosis, returned to Barnard Castle School to celebrate the 100th anniversary of another Old Barnardian attempting the world’s highest peak.


Former pupil and housemaster Bentley Beetham was part of the ill-fated 1924 British Mount Everest expedition, during which Mallory and Irvine lost their lives.


The centenary also marked the historic name change from North Eastern County School to the current Barnard Castle School.


Mr Talbot told pupils: “Cystic fibrosis destroys your lungs and made my childhood very difficult. At five-years-old I was in an oxygen tent at Bishop Auckland Hospital with staff wondering what was wrong with me.


“At 13 I was admitted to hospital with three types of pneumonia and had three months off school, when they figured out that I had cystic fibrosis and the life expectancy of 16. My parents only told me about the life expectancy of the time when I was about 40. I remember things like waking up in the middle of the night coughing up blood and being unable to stop coughing in different meetings and having to leave.”


Then ten years ago Mr Talbot was lucky enough to be one of the four per cent of patients who benefitted from a new drug. “In 24 hours my lungs started to clear but you cannot repair the damage that has been done,” he said. “And this is because charities have been putting money into research that has resulted in these miracle medications.”


Mr Talbot began helping the Cystic Fibrosis Trust by trialling new drugs, increasing awareness of the condition and raising money for research.


“At over 8,000m the oxygen level is only half of normal so the craziest thing I could think of was for someone with cystic fibrosis to go up Everest,” he told pupils.


“It took me six weeks to climb over 8,000m. When you come down you can feel your toe nails come off and your feet becoming squishy with the effort. Crossing the crevasses was the scariest thing but I forced myself to do it.”


He said on one expedition an earthquake in Nepal caused an ice bomb blast. “It was a 300m wall of ice and snow coming at me at 200mph,” he said. “It knocked me to the ground but I got back up. A teammate died and another broke his leg right in the middle of Everest basecamp.


“Ice axes and gas cannisters were flying around, all the tents were gone, everything was gone and I had to scrabble around and dig for my stuff. I found a sleeping bag and a down suit. I had a broken thumb and ribs and every breath was agony. We had to come together to help each other and managed to get out the following day. But I went back again and ended up on top of the world for 40 minutes. The media coverage helped me raise tens of thousands of pounds for the trust.”


He urged students to think about the most outlandish goal they could to push them out of their comfort zone.


“It is important to aim for things that scare you and to embrace failure,” he said. “If you never fail you are not really trying at life. You need to live life so you don’t have any regrets.”

Categories: Barnard Castle School