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Old Harrovian Was Poles Apart

As ice and snow bring Harrow’s roads to a standstill this week, February marked the 18th anniversary of the death of champion skier and Old Harrovian, James Riddell MBE.

Whilst most of our borough are battening down the hatches and turning up the heating, Riddell would no doubt have delighted in seeing Harrow’s streets hidden under blankets of sparkling snow.

Bowled over

Born in Wandsworth in 1909, James Riddell was educated at Harrow School where he enjoyed cross country and cricket – most notably, he played victoriously against arch rivals, Eton, at Lord’s Cricket Ground.  Whilst at Harrow, he developed his interest in Winter sports, which continued on through his time at Cambridge University.

In 1929, he raced, and came eighth, for Britain at Zakopane in Poland, in the first ever international downhill race, having persuaded the International Ski Federation to allow the race. During the same year, he won the Kandahar Club’s Muerren Inferno, which is still considered to be the longest and most challenging of amateur downhill races. He was British National Champion in 1935 and held the role of vice-captain to Arnold Lunn’s son, Peter, at the 1936 Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Black run

During the war years, James was seconded to the 9th Army Battalion where he set up the Middle East Ski and Mountaineering School at the Cedars of Lebanon, close to Beirut and, he received the MBE for his work teaching over 20,000 soldiers the art of mountain mobility and survival techniques.

Already a prolific author, Riddell’s marriage in 1959 to fellow skier, Jeannette Kessler, resulted in not just a long marriage ending only in Jeannette’s death, but also a joint project; a book named ‘Ski Holidays In The Alps’.

Although James retired from sports in his 70s, he often returned to Muerren, the Kandahar Club’s Swiss Alpine headquarters, where, despite failing eyesight, he developed an interest in painting watercolours which he then continued at his home in Hampshire where he produced a unique skiing stamp collection.  After the death of his Jeannette, he married Alison in 1973 and their daughter, Jemma Jeannette, arrived in 1976. He died on 2 February 2000 aged 90.

Sportsman, photographer and author, James’ death in 2000 at the age of 90 marked the end of an extraordinary career and an extraordinary life.

By Nicci Rae

Image Credit: Harrow School