Book review written by Gemma Redrup and featured in the Horse and Hound magazine, September 2018
Life On The Edge: Tristan Voorspuy’s Fatal Love Of Africa is a newly-released book, written by his great friend, Adrian Dangar.
Once described by the actress, Joanna Lumley, as “the man with no fear”, Tristan Voorspuy (pictured throughout) spent his whole life living up to the legend.
Tristan was a consummate horseman who evented, raced, played polo and hunted all his life and established a successful riding safari operation in Africa. He also saved east Africa’s last surviving pack of hounds from folding and was responsible for introducing many young people to riding and hosted numerous Pony Club camps at his home at Deloraine in Kenya.
He completed early stints in Northern Ireland and Germany with the Blues and Royals regiment, but his true love lay in Africa, where his life was cut tragically short in 2017 on his beloved Sosian Ranch.
From his epic motorbike ride from Cairo to Cape Town, to extraordinary wildlife encounters and many death-defying light aircraft near misses, Life On The Edge documents how Tristan was determined to live life to the full. It is also the story of compassion, conservation and, ultimately, tragedy.
In the last two decades of his life, Voorspuy transformed the overgrazed and drought-blighted Sosian Ranch in Northern Kenya into a celebrated game reserve, acclaimed tourist destination and successful cattle ranch.
True to form, it was while defending this property that an unarmed Tristan, on horseback, was gunned down and killed, a murder that sent shockwaves around the world.
Adrian Dangar first met Tristan Voorspuy in Devon 30 years ago, and with his help later established Wild and Exotic, a travel company specialising in riding safaris and tailor-made journeys around the world. He published his first book, True To The Line, in 2017.
In this book extract, Adrian documents the time Tristan realised he needed an extra pair of hands to assist with guiding on his safari:
“With a young family, a full life at Deloraine, and back-to-back safaris during the busy dry-season months, Tristan realised during the course of 1994 that he was going to need the help of another guide to keep pace with the bludgeoning demands on his time, but no one sprang immediately to mind. He appreciated the help of gap-year students, but most only stayed for a few months before returning to the UK, just when they had learnt enough to be of real help. These young men and women were referred to as gappies, and over the years several were to arrive at Deloraine after their parents had been clients on an Offbeat safari. A few ended up staying much longer and became an integral part of the operation, but genuine gappies lacked the skill or gravitas to be given positions of real responsibility.
“A fully fledged riding safari guide requires a rare combination of skills that include detailed knowledge of the bush and wildlife, the ability to ride well, and the aptitude to communicate with guests and camp staff alike. Any guide working for Tristan would also need boundless energy, the hide of a rhinoceros, and the stamina to stay up around the campfire until the last client had turned in for the night.
“These thoughts were far from Tristan’s mind when he walked into the bar of the Manyatta Polo Club at Gilgil after chukkas one Sunday afternoon and bumped into twenty-seven-year-old Mark Laurence enjoying a cold beer. The two men struck up a conversation, during which Tristan learnt that Mark was a second-generation Kenyan who had enjoyed a successful career as a jockey that began as a sixteen-year-old apprentice. After being crowned champion jockey in Kenya, Mark had moved to England to ride for the leading National Hunt trainer Josh Gifford, before returning to Kenya and finding work as an overland safari guide for an Italian tour operator.
“Tristan grew increasingly interested as he listened to the former jockey’s potted life history, his fascination for the bush and the revelation that he spoke fluent Swahili. Several whiskies later, he looked Mark up and down one more time and told him, ‘F**k guiding in Land Rovers. You can ride, come and guide for me.’ A week later, Mark joined the Offbeat team and stayed for the next 12 years, during which he became known as ‘Sparky’, after turning up at a fancy-dress party kitted out as a lightbulb.
“Remembering his own baptism of fire, when starting to work for Tony Church, Tristan asked Mark to be his assistant on a couple of rides, before sending him off on his own. Guests were already seated for dinner during Mark’s first safari with Tristan, when a night watchman came into the Olare Lamun campsite to warn that lion were bothering the horses. Game viewing opportunities with Tristan always took precedence over everything else, so dinner was temporarily abandoned as guests jumped in to the Land Rover for the short journey to where the horses were tethered on a long rope. Tristan employed askari watchmen to protect his horses at night, but the sentries had abandoned their posts and were huddled in the back of the nearby lorry, jabbering excitedly and banging tins together to keep the predators at bay.
“Mark picked up several lion lurking with menacing intent in the beam of his spotlight, and as they retreated into the darkness, Tristan stepped out of the Land Rover wearing the colonial East African evening attire of a colourful cotton kikoy, laundered shirt and blue flip flops. Mark shone the light on the retreating lion as Tristan ran through the long grass towards them, cradling a glass of whisky and repeating at the top of his voice, ‘Leave my bloody horses alone,’ not relenting until he was convinced they had gone off to find easier prey.”