HE’S served in Gulf War and embarked on expeditions to North and South Pole, but it was exploring a project closer to home which has brought him the greatest satisfaction.

Craig Mathieson set up West Lothian-based charity The Polar Academy in 2014 to help young people complete an Arctic challenge through a dedicated training programme.

And now he has earned a place as one of the Top 50 global influencers in newly formed ‘The Explorers Club 50’.

The 51-year-old from Bo’ness, West Lothian, is one of only 50 explorers globally from over 400 nominations to be inaugurated into the elite club as part of the illustrious Explorers Club based in New York.

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The Explorers Club was formed in 1904 and has more than 100 years of exploration legacy behind them, empowered by the most extraordinary accomplishments of human history: First to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, first to the surface of the moon—all accomplished by their members.

The Explorers Club 50 was created to give voice to a special group of individuals who are exploring, inspiring, and creating the future - the future of the planet, the future of food security, of palaeontology, of biology, what our communities should look like, and so much more. The Explorers Club 50 was established to not only reflect the great diversity of exploration, but to give a voice to these trailblazing explorers, scientists, and activists doing incredible work.

Craig Mathieson leading an expedition of the Polar Academy

Craig Mathieson leading an expedition of the Polar Academy

Mr Mathieson said: “I don’t think I have stopped smiling since I found out about the award especially as it is for the work of the Polar Academy. Although I do feel like this is not just for me, but for the charity. It is like winning an Olympic Gold medal.

“I feel extremely humbled that my work has been recognised in the inaugural Explorers Club 50: Fifty People Changing the World that the World Needs to Know About. It is of course all the students, parents, staff, trustees, friends, patrons and sponsors who have supported me and believed in The Polar Academy that really deserve this award.

“For me, true exploration isn't about self-promotion, planting flags or feats of endurance. Instead, it's about the furtherance of knowledge and understanding of our wonderful and fragile planet and the positive effect it can have on people. It's a huge privilege to be an explorer, a privilege which must be shared for the benefit all.”

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As a young boy he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his hero Artic explorer Captain Scott, but he became disillusioned at school.

“I was surrounded by people who told you what you couldn’t do instead of what you can do,” added Mr Mathieson. “When I joined the army I thought it would be full of exploring and expedition opportunities but I ended up being posted to Iraq. It was after leaving the army that I began expeditions to Greenland, the North and South Pole. They were harsh trips but you were surrounded by people who brought out the best in you.”

In 2006 he took a teenager, who he described as broken, to the North Pole and after achieving such a feat, Mr Mathieson saw a massive difference in the young man which is when he began to think about the possibility of a project which led to the Polar Academy.

He turned his back on his career as an accountant and put everything he had into setting up the academy which identifies ‘invisible’ 14 to 17-year-old secondary school children, crushed by a lack of self-esteem and gives them the chance to redefine their physical and mental limits.

“I think the reason the project works is the kids have trust in us. They undergo 12 months of training which shows real mental resilience ahead of the eventual two week expedition.

“We don’t charge for it as we think that would attract the wrong type of person. All we ask is that they speak to and inspire 3000 teenagers at the end of it all and that is how we keep going.”

Gruelling training for Craig Mathieson ahead of an expedition

Gruelling training for Craig Mathieson ahead of an expedition

Mr Mathieson was nominated by two people. One was Lisa Fox Keating, an American teacher and archaeologist, who said: “I work with young adults every day, and have a particular interest in social anxiety, depression and esteem issues. When I first heard about The Polar Academy, I was struck first by what a wonderful idea it was and a great way to reach those harder to engage with teenagers. However, as my relationship with the Academy has grown, it is the kindness and humbleness of Craig as a human being that I find particularly inspiring. I loved his vision, purpose and dedication and was never in any doubt that he would be a top nomination. Every country in the world should have a Polar Academy.”

Mark Wood, chairman of The Explorers Club GB & Ireland, said: "Modern day exploration is about utilising technology to expose the true worth of our planet. Explorers have a tremendous responsibility to inspire the next generation to reconnect with the environment and modern day pioneers like Craig Mathieson are leading the way with these ethics. Craig combines his own experience and understanding of the polar regions to improve the lives of others. The Polar Academy is unique in the way that it doesn't hold your hand- it allows you to make mistakes - to fall over and then get back up - to re-focus and keep moving forward. Craig is an understated - modest explorer who has a direct impact on the lives of young people, and this is why I backed him. "

To find out more go to www.thepolaracademy.org