By Simon Courtauld
In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry 'Gino' Watkins returned from an expedition to the white depths of the Greenlandic ice cap. He was hailed as a precocious talent, even as a worthy successor to Fridtjof Nansen, who had recently died. When Watkins died the following year, during another expedition to Greenland, King George remarked on the tragedy of his death, and Stanley Baldwin wrote that 'If he had lived he might have ranked . . . among the greatest of polar explorers'. Yet Watkins had only just begun to establish himself, and his reputation swiftly faded. Simon Courtauld recreates Gino Watkins's expeditions to Greenland by way of seven finely drawn character studies - of Watkins and his companions. At first glance, Watkins seems an unlikely candidate for polar heroism: a socialite, given - in London - to decadence; willowy and beautiful to the point of effeminacy. Yet he was also charismatic, ambitious and, on occasion, entirely ruthless.