David de Rothschild

Explorer David de Rothschild wants you to live curiously

The adventurer on the importance of fear, the power of nature, and what GDP really stands for

It’s sometimes said that David de Rothschild looks a bit like Jesus. But I don’t remember any of those Sunday School illustrations appearing quite so bloody amiable. Sure, there’s something nicely ecclesiastical in the sun-washed skin and surf-instructor locks; in the mahogany beard and in the wizened, glinting eyes. But it’s unlikely Jesus would dance, almost at gunpoint, to the sounds of late-period Kajagoogoo under the watchful eye of an Ecuadorian chieftain (or perhaps he would — never did finish the book myself.) 

In this way, de Rothschild is a true explorer — though not, he’s keen to stress, in the “rough and tough” mould of Ernest Shackleton or Ranulph Fiennes. Instead, he’s motivated to explore the limits of human understanding — and if that means doing the funky chicken to the thud of an Amazonian ghetto blaster, then so be it.

This mission has seen de Rothschild create a catamaran from 12,500 plastic bottles and sail it halfway around the world to raise awareness of plastic waste. It’s seen him campaign to give nature its very own seat at UN meetings. And it’s seen him work with master Swiss watchmaker Breitling to launch a new limited edition timepiece that supports the Ocean Conservancy movement. In short, the adventurer wants to ease shut the chasm that has formed between humans and nature. After all, as he explains, this may be our only chance of survival on Spaceship Earth…

Explorer David de Rothschild wants you to live curiously

I’m not sure you could call me an explorer. There are a lot of incredible explorers who came before me, and a lot of incredible explorers who will come after me I hope. And I feel like you have to earn that. And I think there’s a certain perception of being tough and rough — and for me it’s more about exploring our own understanding than it is about endurance. I’m more interested in pushing our limits of curiosity and our understanding of the natural world. My motto is “live curiously.”

I find it funny that when we go outside, we step into this beautiful palette of nature — and yet we always have to wear neon and turquoise and bright red. I like bright colours, but you can’t go about silently in your gore tex, and every time you take a step there’s a crinkle and a wrinkle. It tells you a lot about our relationship with nature.

Explorer David de Rothschild wants you to live curiously

I’m fascinated by the relationship between humans and nature. There’s this false dichotomy that nature is on one side and we are on the other. We’ve created a gap — and the output of that gap is pollution, human fingerprints, degradation. So if we can shut that gap and bring people closer to nature, we can give ourselves a chance of living on Spaceship Earth a little bit longer. 

What’s interesting about being in nature is not just the wellness that you feel, but the purpose that you feel. Exploring is just as exciting in the city as it is in the deepest cave and the highest mountain. Yet in the city we tend to push nature to the background, as an ornament or a hobby.

Explorer David de Rothschild wants you to live curiously

Getty does an annual analysis of all their images, a kind of trending report. And the fastest growing trend for 2018/19 was images of people doing things in nature. People standing in a vista, on a kayak, on a cliff face. Being in nature gives us a purpose, and it allows us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Most of the time we spend outside now we spend for the purpose of moving between A and B. Just sitting outside for a moment and getting a bit of sun on your face (or a bit of rain) makes you feel a little bit more alive.

I remember once being down on the border of Peru and Ecuador. We’d gone to meet this community of people called that Atara who are very tough. Finally, after days in the canoe, we meet them — and they’re all very suspicious of us, and it’s very tense. After a few rounds of chicha, a ceremonial moonshine, we were all starting to get pretty drunk. The chief of the village got out this eighties, Run DMC-style ghettoblaster. And he pulled out Now That’s What I Call Music volume 1 — and asked me to show him how to dance to it, because they had absolutely no idea what it all meant. They probably should have killed me for my bad dancing — but the chief just kept saying a phrase that translates to “strong move.”

We’ve taken fear and made it into a bad thing. Actually, fear — from an animalistic standpoint — is a heightening of your emotions. It’s your body preparing yourself, and getting yourself into that natural state. It’s you getting more in touch with who you are — which is an animal. 

Explorer David de Rothschild wants you to live curiously
Superocean Heritage Ocean Conservancy Limited Edition

If you’re going to use nature in your advertising or your imagery (i.e your company is named Amazon) do you not thing you should be paying a royalty to the Amazon? If you’re Puma, do you not think you should pay a royalty to big cats? In the automotive industry, at least 40% of its advertising involves nature. Pay a dividend to nature. With the amount of money Amazon is worth, they could buy their namesake and save the entirety of it from illegal logging.

We need to tackle what we use as a measure of economic success. Right now we use GDP, which is a measure of output. Output can include things that are negative. If more prisons are built, GDP goes up. But is that good for society, if we’re incarcerating more people? When the BP oil spill happened, we had to clean up. So GDP went up because of that work. GDP includes defence spending, as well. Right now, it’s a Grossly Deceptive Position. I was in Bhutan recently and they’ve introduced a metric for gross national happiness. If happiness is only tied to profit then we’re in trouble. 

David de Rothschild is a member of the Breitling Explorer Squad and supporter of Ocean Conservancy, with whom Breitling recently launched the new Super Ocean Heritage II Ocean Conservancy Limited Edition.

For more from the world’s greatest explorers step inside the Gentleman’s Journal x Breitling Adventurers’ Lunch

Further Reading