Ed Balls: I talked Brexit on Mount Kilimanjaro to prove my mind was OK

Ed Balls: I talked Brexit on Mount Kilimanjaro to prove my mind was OK

Ed Balls has said he used his knowledge of Brexit to convince medics he was not suffering from any mental side effects of altitude sickness while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

The former shadow chancellor, who was one of nine celebrities tackling Africa’s highest mountain for Comic Relief, said he was hit by altitude sickness during the climb.

He told ITV’s Loose Women: “It’s possible for the altitude sickness to become very serious and go to your brain, so at six in the morning I had to do a mental agility test.”

Ed Balls, third from right, with his climbing co-stars (Chris Jackson/Comic Relief/PA)
Ed Balls, third from right, with his climbing co-stars (Chris Jackson/Comic Relief/PA)

Balls said he was asked questions and had to walk in a straight line, heel to toe, “because they were trying to see whether my mind was going wrong”.

“Because if that was happening, they would have rushed you straight down, they put you in a big oxygen tent and take you down, so there was a point where I was wondering, ‘is this going to be OK?'”

He added: “That was a moment where I actually realised it could stop me getting there, and after seven days – and we’re doing it for Comic Relief – suddenly, I wouldn’t make it?

“So you have to think ‘this is the moment’ – I had four cups of tea, 10 biscuits and said ‘I’m OK’, and I gave them a long discussion about Brexit, and they said ‘he knows what he’s talking about’.”

Balls and his fellow climbers – TV presenters Dan Walker, Alexander Armstrong and Anita Rani, Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas, Love Island winner Dani Dyer, NFL sports pundit Osi Umenyiora and Little Mix singers Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall – reached the mountain’s summit last week.

Against all odds, they arrived at the top of Kilimanjaro at the same time, despite being told that would be highly unlikely.

Balls said: “We were all crying at the top, and the thing all the experts had said was, it’s impossible for nine people to all get there at the same time, they said we’d all get dispersed, and we said, ‘no, we’re going to do it’, and nine of us made it.

“We touched the sign at the same time. I genuinely think – it was the most amazing group – if it hadn’t been for the other eight, I wouldn’t have got there and I think all the others feel the same.

“It was the most uplifting and collective thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Balls said it was the first thing he had done where his teenage children “weren’t totally embarrassed”.

He added: “I’m old enough to be the father of Jade, Leigh-Anne and Dani Dyer, and I would just say, if I was the dad of those three, I would be unbelievably proud. They are such special, amazing people.”

The Comic Relief 5,895m (19,340ft) ascent was documented for a special programme to air on BBC One next week.

- Press Association

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