Amidst the rose beds and yellow Ambassadorial residence, with a decorated elephant for added glamour, a dazzling array of Everesters rotated in front of Mark’s live microphone – multi-summiting Sherpas, veterans from the 1953 expedition, legends such as Messner, Habeler and Breashears. And of course Sir Ed, elderly and warm in the humid May sunshine. The Ambassador’s stylish French wife had set aside their study as a sanctuary for Ed and June, and I asked if they needed a shower to cool off. “Not necessary, Lisa. We’re not fussy like that!” June retorted.
It was of course a British expedition in 1953, even though the first to summit were a Kiwi and Tenzing Norgay from Darjeeling. The Brits have been gracious in hosting the Everest-Sagarmatha-Chomolungma anniversaries ever since. Elizabeth Hawley and Chris Bonington took me to the 1993 40th celebration in the Ambassador’s drawing room where I met the original expedition’s fearsome leader Lord John Hunt, mellowed into a charming old man. In 2013 the 60th took place in the Defence Attache’s house as the Residence was undergoing timely earthquake strengthening.
The then-Chief Secretary (now Nepal Ambassador to China) and Everest leader Leela Mani Paudyal did the honours, with Reinhold Messner and New Zealand’s Lydia Bradey jointly cutting an anniversary cake, their speeches lost to a faulty microphone. And next week the 65th will again be marked by Nepal, Britain and New Zealand.
It was three years after the Kathmandu golden jubilee that Torquhil and Peter asked me to arrange another Chivas ceremony, this time close to the Hillary home in a classy Auckland restaurant full of showy begonias and New Zealand wine masters, hosted by their Paris-based boss.
The plan was to present Sir Ed with another large cheque for the Himalayan Trust and in return to retrieve the most expensive bottle of whisky of all time for the Chivas Brothers Archive in Speyside, Scotland’s oldest distillery, where it now resides.
There was some confusion and red faces when it came to finding the precious bottle – for safekeeping it had been carried back from Nepal to UK, but a search of Torquhil’s rambling Scottish castle drew a blank. To widespread relief it was eventually tracked down in the bottom left-hand drawer of the brand manager’s desk in the London office.
That balmy summer evening in New Zealand, Sir Ed had as usual prepared notes for his speech. On the back of an old envelope in spidery handwriting, he muddled up whom he was thanking for what bottle and for which cheque. I gently put him right, but I do regret not having kept that envelope.
Third generation Hilary
Hillary meets Hillary
Sir Ed’s funeral