Ed Balls won an army of fans with his full-on performances on Strictly Come Dancing – but his fanciest footwork took him to even greater heights.
Step by gruelling step, the former Labour MP joined celebrities to tackle 19,341ft (5,895 metres) Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief .
Like many of his new chums he endured severe altitude sickness, vivid dreams and rollercoaster emotions – he even blacked out.
With Ed in Tanzania were Strictly judge Shirley Ballas, 58, Pointless quiz host Alexander Armstrong, 49, Little Mix singers Jade Thirlwall, 26, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock, 27, BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker, 41, Love Island’s Dani Dyer , 22, TV presenter Anita Rani, 41, and US sports pundit and NFL star Osi Umenyiora, 37. All star trekkers who reached the top on March 1.
Here’s Ed’s diary…
This is it! We’ve arrived at Forest Camp. I’m used to putting up tents so I’ve helped Shirley put hers up and we even impressed the group with an impromptu cha cha.
When the women from Little Mix ask me if I liked their music I was able to sing one of their songs. It was one of my proudest moments – all thanks to my daughters, who bought me their album for Christmas and told me to learn the words.
Leigh-Anne, Dani and Jade decided they didn’t want to be on their own tonight so the three of them went in one tent and had a second for their kit.
No one got any sleep because we were kept awake by monkeys in the rainforest squealing and barking.
Shirley has been nicknamed Two Bowls Ballas after showing how she washes her hair in two buckets.
We’ve started to stink and it’s got worse as the day has gone by.
Heavy rain finally eased and as we turned a corner we saw Kilimanjaro for the first time. It was a striking moment, but daunting because it looked so unbelievably far away.
Today was my birthday. I cried. It was down to the altitude sickness, not because I turned 52, though.
Aside from the lethargy and vomiting, you suddenly find yourself full-on weepy crying and you can’t explain why. Even Osi cried – he tried not to let on, but we all saw.
The cooks made me a banana birthday cake and after a speech I opened my presents. A Kindle from my wife Yvette, which I’m too exhausted to read, and Uno and juggling balls from my kids. I feel quite isolated. Having no emails, no Twitter and no alcohol is good.
But not being in touch with family is hard. Everyone misses home.
The altitude sickness has affected everyone today. Jade and Anita are quite poorly and at one point Dan was in such a bad way he couldn’t speak and was so out of it he couldn’t remember what was going on.
To keep the spirits up we would sing as we walked. Little Mix, The Sound of Music and hymns like Jerusalem and To Be A Pilgrim got us through.
But as we went higher we struggled for breath, so couldn’t sing. I also had some crazy dreams from the anti-malarial pills.
My dreams were quite vivid, even psychedelic – a bit like a 1970s Athena poster. It’s quite common and not something to worry about.
A lot of the mountain is quite bouldery. I jumped off a rock and lost my footing, almost taking out Osi.
But he’s a Superbowl winner so I just bumped off him. If it had been Dani we would have both gone down the mountain.
There was one moment where we were talking about novels and Dani wasn’t really listening.
When Anita asked her who her favourite heroine was, Dani said: “Oh no, I don’t take anything like that.” She is so funny.
Walking up to eight hours a day, you have to occupy yourself somehow. So we talked about everything from our past relationships to toilet habits.
We also talked about Brexit ! In the evening the camp was given a sneak preview of Little Mix’s new single and Jade entertained with her impressions.
Her Britney Spears and her Norah Jones were unbelievable.
We go to bed at 7pm to prepare for the summit climb at midnight.
But no one slept for more than about half an hour.
Anita and I were suffering after being badly hit by altitude sickness.
We became very lethargic and just wanted to lie down and sleep. About 5.30 in the morning, five hours into our climb, I realise I’d blacked out.
I came round and couldn’t remember the past hour.
Your brain isn’t with it, it’s almost like you’re in a fog.
It was at that moment it dawned on me and I thought ‘I’m going to fail’. It was scary.
The doctor told me I had to get up to the plateau and do a medical check because she didn’t think I could carry on. By this point I was yellow.
I had to find something in me, so I had a cup of tea and 10 biscuits and had to really concentrate. For the last hour to the summit the doctor and two guides walked with me.
I would stop every two yards and sway, but the guides would push me back up and I would go again.
For the final 10 yards, Alexander and Dan held my arms.
Then we all dropped our sticks and the whole group touched the sign at the summit at the same time. It was an amazing moment.
We are back down the mountain, albeit somewhat tired and delirious. I stood at the bottom, looked back up and thought to myself ‘I was there just yesterday and we’ve made this whole journey by foot’.
It was really quite sobering. You realised how hard it had been.
The journey changed me and I am really proud that so far it has raised a mighty and lifesaving £880,000 for Comic Relief.
The Bigger Red Nose Climb is airing on BBC 1 on Wednesday March 13, at 9pm.
Donate at comicrelief.com/Kilimanjaro.
Comic Relief is on Friday March 15, on BBC1 from 7pm.
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