Socialite, mountaineer, charity campaigner and mum-of-one, Annabelle Bond OBE tells Carolynne Dear why she’s always up for a challenge. Photography by Michelle Proctor. For Southside magazine
An hour before my interview and shoot with the socialite and glamour girl Annabelle Bond, an email comes through from her private account. Oh help, I think, she’s either cancelling or wants to lay down the law about my line of questioning. As it turns out, it’s neither.
“I know it’s a cover story, but are jeans ok?” she asks.
I mentally breathe a sigh of relief. “No problem, sounds good,” I type back.
And this is exactly how she’s dressed when she opens the door of her Peak home to me later that afternoon – jeans-clad and casual, but incredibly stylish. You’ve either got it or you haven’t, as my mother would have said. And Bond definitely ‘has it’.
“Come in, come in,” she enthuses, waving me through an outrageously glamorous house and ushering me to a comfy seat overlookng the backyard pool. “Coffee?”
There are no airs and graces, no uncomfortable silences and certainly no flashy behaviour. Irreverent, fun and immensely likeable, Bond is easy to warm to.
“I got knocked over by a car walking home the other night,” she casually interjects as we sip our lattes. Really, are you ok? I ask. “Yeah,” she laughs. “I told the guy no worries and it was lucky he’d knocked over a nice English girl who wouldn’t make a fuss!”
This kind of throwaway response is classic Bond. “I do think people take life too seriously these days,” she adds. “I mean, sure, he was the one who reversed out, but I was looking at my phone… Life’s not some perfect Instagram feed. Things go wrong. You need to keep a sense of humour.”
Maybe it’s down to this positive outlook, but over the last few decades Bond has achieved a series of feats that are nothing short of remarkable. She has climbed Everest, held the record as the fastest female climber in the world, raised millions for charity and received a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). And – the reason for today’s interview – she is currently ambassador for Laureus Sport for Good, a global movement that celebrates the power of sport ‘to bring people together as a force for good’. There are people that live full lives, and then there is Annabelle Bond.
These days, she can be found living with her daughter, two cats and a dog, occupying a stunning home perched atop Victoria Peak with sweeping views over Central – as well as the roofs of her parents’ and sister’s homes in a neighbouring complex.
“It’s great having family close by, especially being a single-parent,” she says.
The father of Bond’s daughter, Isabella, is ex-fiance billionaire banker Warren Lichtenstein who lives in the US. Column-inches have already been devoted to their split in 2007.
“My mum and dad are in Hong Kong for three months or so, they divide their year between the US, France and here, and my sister (Lucy Bond Marriott) is here most of the time, when she’s not zipping back to her children’s boarding school in the UK,” she says. Bond’s younger brother, Jon, also lives in Hong Kong.
Despite her British passport, Bond considers Hong Kong to be home. “Everything here is so efficient and safe, I really appreciate what a well-run city it is,” she says. “You look at all the politics and the vitriol in the US right now, whereas Hong Kong has such a great work ethic – it’s everything a capitalist society should be, everyone working hard rather than standing around moaning about the government.”
Isabella has just switched to Harrow Hong Kong after completing primary at ESF Peak School down the road. “So now we’re out catching the school bus at 6.40am,” she smiles. In true, sporting Bond style, once Isabella is safely on the bus, she sets off on her daily two-hour trail run.
A peripatetic family life is the outcome of a peripatetic childhood. Bond was born in Singapore, the daughter of former HSBC chairman Sir John Bond, who was knighted in 1999 for his services to banking. The family moved to Jakarta when Bond was a young child, where she attended the British School, and then it was onto Hong Kong. She was sent to boarding school at Riddlesworth Hall in the UK at the age of eight.
“Yes, eight was young,” she acknowledges. “But we were sent to board because dad’s job moved around so much, so it was a practical decision. It really was a different era. Hong Kong to London in those days involved four transfers; we used to stop in Thailand, India, Muscat or Bahrain and Frankfurt, unaccompanied, so once we were in school, we were there for the term. There was no skipping back for half terms and exeats.”
Mostly good memories, she remembers missing home at one point and penning a letter to her parents about having no friends. “And one of the teachers came over and said, ‘now, your mother’s not going to be very happy receiving that, is she?’ So she tore it up and I wrote another one telling her what a great time I was having instead,” she laughs. “Oh my god, different times! Although we did all come out with very good manners.”
She excelled at sport from an early age (“I was on every team – netball, rounders, swimming, hockey, cross country – and my parents made sure we were proficient at all the things that would be useful socially later in life, like golf, sailing, skiing, tennis and horse riding, which I’m really glad about”. These days Bond still manages to hold her own at Shek O golf club and, at her parents’ bequest, skis every winter with the family in Austria), but admits to being “quite naughty” at school and she never made it to university.
So she “mucked around in London for a bit”, driving the chief executive of Trafalgar House “mad” in her first paid job and then working with a concert promoter and getting to hang out with ‘80s teen heartthrobs A-ha. (As likeable as Bond is, I do admit to a slight stab of jealousy at this point in the interview – hanging out with Morten Harket? Some girls really do have all the luck). “And then I think dad felt I needed to do something a bit more serious, so at 21 I came back to Hong Kong and worked for Savills for ten years.”
She found a pad on Bonham Road and had an amazing time. “When you come back as a worker as opposed to a banking kid, things are very different. No more fancy club memberships and upmarket housing and now I was paying for my own holidays. But it was great fun. When I’d reached all my targets at work, I could devote the rest of my time to running.”
In 1996 she joined the Goldman Sachs trail running team and signed up for the infamous Oxfam Trailwalker event, a 100km hike across some of Hong Kong’s most challenging terrain. She went on to run it three more times, in ‘97, ‘98 and ‘99, and says it taught her a lot. She goes as far as crediting Trailwalker with her mountaineering success. “Knowing I could run for 16 hours straight meant I could push through the barriers when summiting a mountain.
“It was brutal, six months worth of training followed by a gruelling trail run. One year I came back with three toenails missing.” A cheeky request at a nail bar in town for a discounted pedicure the following week was – rather disappointingly – turned down.
She then got engaged, gave up her job and moved to Idaho, which she found desperately slow compared to Hong Kong. Together, she and her finace hiked through New Zealand and ran the Inca trail in Peru. At that point they parted ways and she went on to Bolivia, climbed three more peaks and ended up travelling extensively around South America.
She ended up on the Chilean team training to climb Everest by pure chance when the expedition leader got chatting with Bond’s mother at a party in 2003. “Mum was bragging about this one climb I’d done which was really quite underwhelming, but anyway she must have sounded convincing because in the next sentence he asked if I would be interested in climbing Everest. And my mum, without a moment’s hesitation or even thinking about asking me first, says oh yes, I’m sure she’d love to. So the next thing I know I’m travelling out to Ecuador to start training with the Chilean team.”
On May 15 2004 she became the fourth woman in the world to summit Mount Everest. “On the final day of the ascent when I realised I was going to make it, I cried all the way up. The adrenalin that day made me feel stronger than I’ve ever felt. But I didn’t feel I could celebrate properly until I’d made it back down again. Then I phoned home.” Ever the glamour girl, she was credited in the press for having her lipstick with her at the summit. “I’m not sure about that,” she laughs. “But I definitely had it at Base Camp. We had a great after-party.”
Once safely back at sea-level, she went on to climb the other six peaks that, along with Everest, form the Seven Summits, the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents. She completed them in just 360 days, earning herself the title of fastest woman climber in the world, a record that she held for eight years.
Having had an ovarian tumour removed shortly before her attempt on Everest, Bond raised a massive US$1.5 million during her climb for the Eve Appeal, a charity supporting ovarian cancer sufferers. In 2006 she received her OBE from Prince Charles for services to mountaineering and to charity. Further accreditations include being made an honorary colonel of the Chilean Army along with the rest of the Everest team, and a member of the Royal Council of Ingxotha by his Majesty King Zwelithini Goodwill KaBhekuzulu of KwaZulu for her work with the Thanda Private Game Reserve in South Africa. “Yes, I’m an honorary princess in Zululand! King Goodwill presented me with a royal necklace at a rather beautiful ceremony,” she says.
Ever the go-getter, that same year she joined Prince Albert of Monaco no less on a seven-person expedition to the North Pole to raise awareness of global warming. The training included her having to live in the kennels with the dogs for four days. “One was pregnant so there’s this litter of huskies in the North Pole called ‘Anna’ and ‘Belle’ and other derivations,” she says cheerfully.
In 2007 she gave birth to her daughter Isabella and now dedicates her time to raising her as well as supporting various charities, although motherhood hasn’t slowed her down in the sporting arena. In 2009 she ran 250 kilometres a-piece across the Sahara and Namibian deserts for the Eve Appeal and in 2016 completed her first triathlon in Phuket. “The cycling was a bit of a challenge,” she laughs. “The last time I’d ridden a bike it had a bell and a basket.” She now cycles regularly and was most recently in the US riding in Aspen.
But her current passion project is Laureus Sport for Good, the charity of which she is ambassador. Together with Just Challenge, a Hong Kong-based company that organises custom adventures for executives, Laureus will be leading its annual fund-raising expedition to Africa in May 2019. The event will be led by Brian O’Driscoll, the former Irish rugby union captain.
“I just think sport is so important,” says Bond. “Nelson Mandela was the first patron of Laureus and I think his quote says it all – ‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite.’.” laureus.com