‘My Dad always encouraged me to row when I was at school, but I didn’t ever listen back then; maybe this will finally satisfy his wishes!’
Hugh Gillum is talking about the upcoming challenge he has set himself; alongside three close mates, he will be setting off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands in December 2019, with the goal of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Antigua in the Caribbean.
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is the world’s toughest rowing race – over 3,000 miles unaided across the Atlantic Ocean. More people have reached the summit of Everest or travelled into space than have successfully rowed an ocean. Life for Hugh at the moment consists of his work in sports sponsorship and training for the row, alongside looking after his one-year-old son at home. ‘He’s more exhausting than any of the sessions on the Ergo!’
I meet Hugh by Hammersmith Bridge, a stone’s throw from school. We quickly find ourselves reminiscing about our days at St Paul’s, with conversation inevitably drifting towards rugby. We both played throughout our years at school, with the camaraderie amongst team-mates being what we both loved about the game. ‘Some of my most special memories are running around on Big Side, the hard-fought victory over Wellington in my last year at St Paul’s is certainly something I’ll never forget. That sense of going to the trenches with your mates and digging deep together, it creates special bonds. Let’s hope we get another win with this row and cross the Atlantic in the fastest time of all the crews competing in this year’s race!’
The crew’s real goal for the row is to make a difference to the lives of less fortunate children in London. ‘I was always aware how lucky I was to attend a school like this, particularly since I was on a very generous bursary throughout my time at St Paul’s. To try and improve the lives of those in our city who are not so fortunate certainly drives the motivation for all the early mornings out on the river and late nights in the gym.’ To do this, the crew are partnering with West London Zone, a charity that works with some of the most vulnerable children in inner West London, seeking to empower them and direct permanent change in these communities.
Looking out at the river, with life bustling around it, reminds us both that this part of London is a world away from the middle of the Atlantic. The storms, the darkness, the routine of two hours rowing followed by two hours rest, repeated nonstop for around a month, will push the four members of the crew to the absolute limit. But that adversity is what has drawn them all to the challenge. The gauntlet has been laid down, now it’s time to see if Dad’s prophecy about Hugh’s potential as a rower will be realised.
To learn more about the row, head over to the crew’s website and discover how you can help them achieve their goals. This article was written by Hugh’s brother, another Old Pauline, who was working back at school.