Shannon Fairchild’s recent shoot for ‘Women’s Health: The Future We Deserve’ saw her take on Yorkshire’s Three Peaks while interviewing three inspirational women. Here she shares the highs and lows — and unexpected challenges — of this once-in-a-lifetime project.
(Shannon Fairchild is a Senior Producer at ITN Business.)
I read Wuthering Heights at uni, decades ago, but it never occurred to me that the Yorkshire Dales — where I was heading for our 2024 International Women’s Day shoot — would be covered in heather. Or that the heather would be any source of concern. With three peaks to climb, three extraordinary women to interview, and all our tech to carry, the list of considerations was already fairly long.
We were hiking the Three Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales National Park — Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough; covering nearly 27 miles — within a 12 hour period. But we also had to film and interview, for our ‘Women’s Health: The Future We Deserve’ programme.
We were interviewing presenter and endurance athlete Louise Minchin, alongside two other women who were completing the Three Peaks Challenge with MOVE, a UK charity that advocates for keeping moving when living with and beyond cancer.
Rachel, our Production Assistant, and I contemplated every eventuality; unpredictable English weather, technical issues; injuries. We chose our equipment with care. We pored over the Risk Assessment. We liaised with the event organisers… and then their organisers.
Our camera operator needed to be agile, with equipment that could accommodate the climb and the terrain — including a drone to capture the sheer scale, and get sweeping shots of the vistas.
The big day arrived. In the morning, we’d been delayed by traffic and rammed carparks, so we set off at a decent pace to make up the time.
A wind was whipping up and chilling us to the bone. The hike was punishing and ambitious — even for Louise, who was easily the fittest among us. The sun was still rising in the sky as our muscles fired up, and a fierce headwind continued to make each step that little bit harder.
To make matters worse, the howling wind was compromising our filming, making sound quality a real issue. Luckily, the drone still seemed able to fly and film, despite being buffeted by turbulent gusts.
As we approached the summit, obscured behind thick mist, our filming became even more of a challenge.
I had another problem: my lungs were burning, my eyes were watering, and my nose was streaming. Something was causing my hayfever to flare in a major way. Fortunately, I’d come armed with allergy tablets and tissues.
Halfway down on our descent, the camera operator or I could no longer keep up with our subjects. Thankfully, Rachel could. Camera in hand, she heroically kept up the rigorous pace, leaving me — now a sneezing, sniffling, wheezing mess (even with antihistamine tablets) — and the cam op to bring up the rear of our group.
We continued to fly the drone, both to capture footage and keep an eye on the advanced hikers.
Near the base I struck up a conversation with two of the MOVE participants. They sympathised as I moaned about my “allergies”, and soon shared their stories: “She’s just had a hysterectomy; and I’m battling stage four metastatic cancer with a 5% survival rate”.
I wasn’t so much shamed as humbled; they were digging deeper than I was, in every way imaginable.
To say I gained much-needed perspective from the adventure would be both a cliché and an overstatement. But to say I was deeply moved and inspired by the tenacity and strength — of mind and body — of the MOVE participants… that would not be.
Later, as I rested at the tuck shop at the base of the third and final peak, I spoke to a young couple. The man could see I was suffering from allergies, and explained to me that the dales are covered in heather.
“Ah,” I exclaimed, “that’s it! I’m allergic to heather. And with this wind…” .
They laughed, before he went on to tell me he’d been battling leukemia, and had just had pioneering Car-T cell therapy (which I’d learned about from our programme last year).
I wondered then if one of the reasons a person living with or beyond a cancer diagnosis might push themselves to the edge of their physical comfort zone, was to prove that they were still here; still alive, still able. To regain some sense of control when they feel they otherwise have so little.
I also realised I should have paid more attention to my university professors: Heathcliff was a telltale that the dales were covered in heather. Alas, all the preparation in the world cannot prepare us for every single thing that life will bring our way.
MOVE Charity was founded in 2016 by international athlete Gemma Hillier-Moses to provide people with the support that she never received when she was diagnosed with cancer aged 24. Through the work of MOVE, she hopes to support and inspire others that are affected by cancer. Find out more here.