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In 2011, Jennifer Pharr Davis set the world record for the fastest thru hike of the 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail, which she hiked in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. During a thru hike, hikers stay on or very near the trail for the duration of the trip, only hiking off the trail to restock supplies and food.

In doing so, she became the first ever female record holder for the trail. She was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012, and is a former Ironman triathlete and collegiate tennis player. Pharr Davis, who hiked the trail from north to south, hiked at a pace of 46 miles per day.

We caught Pharr Davis in Kansas, where she and her husband Brew and daughter Charley are on a journey to hike in all 50 states.

You first hiked the entire Appalachian Trail at age 21, and then you hiked it again in 2008, setting the women’s world record, and most recently in 2011, when you set the overall world record. How were those hikes different from each other?The hike I took when I was 21 probably changed me more than any other trek. It was my first long distance hike. Being 21, I was very impressionable and I think the trail taught me a lot of lessons as far as the allure of simplicity and silence and solitude and quality relationships and really changed my priorities. As much as I changed, I also felt like the trail really had been such an amazing feature and there were still lessons to be learned so that’s why I went back. I went back and back before I even thought about the record.

When did trying to set the new record first cross your mind?

My goal is to have a lifelong relationship with the trail and those major life changes off the trail that affect my own on trail experience. When I got married, I didn’t want to be away from my home or my husband as long. I’ve always had an interest in endurance sports and athletics. I felt like it’d be a really new and different way to experience the trail and to try and pass my limits in the form of a record. The time frame was a lot more family friendly (laughing).

Your husband Brew was your race support when you set the record. How did you two meet? How did you talk him into being your support?

He was friends with my older brother. Brew loves the outdoors and he likes to hike, but when we got married, he was like “I’m not sure that’s really me (to hike the entire Appalachian Trail) so I want you to follow your heart and your dreams and I’ll just help you and I can hike here and there.” He came up with the idea of the supported hike because he didn’t want to do the whole trail with me. That sounded great to me to have help along the way.

I’ve heard you like to call the record more of a “love story” because of Brew being your support. What makes you say that?

When I think about the record in the summer of 2011, I get a lot of recognition and the athletic accomplishment gets a lot of attention, but I know I would’ve quit without Brew. I tried to quit and he wouldn’t let me. When I think about the story, it has as much or more to do with his selflessness and his support than my athleticism. There’s other people who have the physical capabilities to set a trail record, but I think the support was really unique.

Also it was special because before this, the record had always been set by men. Not only was I a woman, but having my husband helping me along the way he knew me really well and gender roles were really reversed in a way that is good for people to see. It’s good for people to see husbands supporting their wives. I think there’s a lot more to the story than athleticism.

It’s been really sweet. One of the motivating factors behind the record was the knowledge that I wanted to be a mother. I knew that having a child would be very different and I would probably be going slow for a long time. I thought it was a great window, or a great season to just leave it all on the trail and go fast, go far. I knew for a long time it would be going slow and savoring every step. I still go outside as much as I did before, but it’s very different. It’s day hikes or single overnights. Now we’re stopping to change diapers or nurse on the trail, so it’s very different. Pretty soon she’ll want to be toddling or walking down the trail or playing more outside her carrier.

Brew and I would both like to section hike the entire Appalachian Trail, in pieces, and there’s a lot of other long distance trails that eventually I’d like to hike. We did the Colorado Trail in 2009. I’ve also done the Pacific Crest Trail. I haven’t done the entire Continental Divide Trail. That’d be nice to become a triple crowner (someone who has thru hiked the Appalchian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail). Something for the next 40 or 50 years. I feel like I have time. Brew just started working with me this summer, which has allowed us to do this national book tour. Our goal is to hike and speak in all 50 states. Colorado will be the 26th.

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“Ithink I could actually make quite a good spy,” says Ben Whishaw. “I wouldn’t want to be one, but I think I possibly could.” The 35 year old actor is certainly dressed for the part when we meet head to toe in black and has been getting in a lot of practice over the past year, reprising the role of Q in the latest James Bond film, Spectre, and then in the rather more darkly realistic BBC drama, London Spy, which goes out on BBC1 in November. It would be wrong of me to give too much away, suffice to say that the story would seem to be inspired in part by the real life case of Gareth Williams, the M16 agent whose corpse was found locked in a holdall in 2010.

For Whishaw, who has played so many vacillating characters over the years from Shakespeare’s ultimate ditherer, Hamlet, to the bisexual John in Mike Bartlett’s Royal Court play Cock Danny’s unambiguous sexuality makes a welcome change. “That’s one thing he’s very clear about and very strongly embodies and no problem,” says Whishaw, who himself came out as a gay man in 2013, after the Daily Mail started digging around in his private life.

“It was an odd thing because I wasn’t trying to hide anything but I am naturally quite private, I suppose”, says Whishaw, who, it was also revealed at the time, has been in a civil partnership with Australian composer Mark Bradshaw since 2012. “How do you make that statement to the world?” he asks. “It’s hard. Anyway, it all happened as it happened and now everybody knows and it’s not an issue really.”

It may not be an issue, but it has made Whishaw easier to interview. In the past he has seemed reticent to the point of being tongue tied, and while even now he is not the most free flowing interviewee each answer weighed up with almost painful deliberation he seems surer in his own skin. “I feel very comfortable now in myself,” he agrees. “I think people ask questions when they sense something is being concealed from them, and I don’t have anything to hide.”

While Whishaw delved into the history of M16 for his role in Spectre, he says he deliberately avoided research for London Spy. “Because Danny is not from the world that he finds himself thrust into, it was very important to that he doesn’t know he’s in a spy drama,” he says of a character that reminds him of many people he knows. “He has never found a path really, I suppose lots of potential that’s never been realised or properly tapped into. Yeah, he’s lost in a way that’s so easy to happen in London.”

Nothing however could be more remote from Whishaw’s own experience. In 2004, six months out of Rada and a complete unknown, he found himself an acclaimed Hamlet in Trevor Nunn’s modern dress production at the Old Vic, the same theatre where John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Alec Guinness, Michael Redgrave, Peter O’Toole and Derek Jacobi had delivered their princes of Denmark.

“It happened very unexpectedly,” says Whishaw. “I was only 23 and mainly I just needed to survive it. I remember thinking, ‘if I start thinking about the magnitude of this, I’m going to crumble,’ so I just kept my head down.

“I don’t know what I’d think of it if I watched it now. It was interesting for people to see the character played by someone who looked like he was 18 or 19 rather than, you know and I suppose that was effective about it.”

He is being unnecessarily modest about what was an incredibly auspicious beginning to a career that has continued both on stage and in TV and film, with the lead role in the 2006 film Perfume, as Sebastian Flyte in Julian Jarrold’s 2008 movie of Brideshead Revisited, the poet John Keats in Jane Campion’s Bright Star, and, course, stepping into Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese’s shoes as Q in Skyfall. Did director Sam Mendes discuss why he had cast a much younger actor in the role?

“Weirdly there wasn’t a great deal of discussion,” he says. “Q is there to perform a certain function in the film that has been very well established the in the last 50 years. In a way that was more important, getting that right,
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understanding what people expect from Q.”

And it’s hardly Hamlet, I suggest. “It’s not, but not everything can be Hamlet and you wouldn’t want everything to be Hamlet,” he replies, adding that the glamour of being associated with the Bond franchise makes up for any artistic limitations of the role. “It’s hard not to enjoy the excitement that it generates in people. Nothing else I’ve done has generated that much anticipation. And it’s really been lovely because it’s unusual to return to work with the same group of people on a different film.”

One group of people that Whishaw expected to be hanging out with more often, but alas did not, were the cast and crew of the Abi Morgan’s BBC2 period drama The Hour, about a fictional 1950s TV current affairs programme. After two series in which Whishaw co starred with Romola Garai, Dominic West, Julian Rhind Tutt, Anton Lesser and Anna Chancellor the sort of cast, in other words, that most TV commissioners would sell their own children for as well as Emmy, Bafta and Golden Globe nominations, the BBC unexpectedly killed off the show after only two series, with the somewhat odd comment that “we loved the show but have to make hard choices”.

“I really loved that show too,” says Whishaw, who played ambitious and hot headed reporter Freddie Lyon. “I loved that group of characters, and in hindsight it was a real shame. “Not boorish,” he chides. “Her slightly frightened husband, maybe, uncomprehending about what she’s doing.”

Suffragette is one of a welter of projects, current and future, on Whishaw’s slate.

“Eddie makes a very striking a very tall woman,” he says, reminding that Redmayne has played Viola in Twelfth Night, which has also been one of Whishaw’s ambitions, ever since seeing Harriett Walter as Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse. “I’m not knocking on people’s doors begging to play her, but I was excited that gender was no longer an obstacle for playing these roles,” he says.

Whishaw is also excited about another of his current releases, The Lobster, the English language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos a comedy drama set in a dystopian near future and co starring Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell. “It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever been in,” says Whishaw, who plays a character called Limping Man. “I think it’s a real work of art.”

I wouldn’t know where to start in summarising the plot of The Lobster, so I’m grateful when Whishaw has a shot at it: “It’s set in a hotel where people are sent if they are partner less, and you must find your partner within a certain amount of time otherwise you’re turned into an animal. Yup, that’s the premise of the film.”

And that is the last that we will see of Whishaw for a while, unless you manage to get tickets for what is likely to be the hottest show on Broadway, a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, directed by Ivo van Hove, the avant garde Belgian dramaturg who won an Olivier Award in 2015 for his barefoot production of A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic. Whishaw will be co starring with Sophie Okonedo.

Does he prefer film or stage acting, I wonder. “I just take what ever’s offered at that moment. I go with whatever I like. I like the variety. After that I’d like to another television series.”

Does he hanker for A list Hollywood stardom? “Not really. I’ve always enjoyed being there [in Hollywood] when I’ve gone, but it’s always been for something specific and I can’t imagine just going there to I don’t know wait for something. I like it here and I like the work that’s happening here.”

And in any case he has a date to keep. Sam Mendes having repeatedly been refused permission to film his Bond movies inside M16’s HQ on the south bank of the Thames in the post modernist building dubbed “Legoland” Whishaw himself has been invited in by the spooks. “I’ve been asked to go and present a screening of Spectre at M16 so that will the first time I have entered the building for real.”

As for the Freddie Mercury biopic, in which Whishaw was supposed to have played the late Queen frontman after the originally mooted Sacha Baron Cohen left the project citing “artistic differences”, that seems to have gone into development hell. “I don’t know. I truly don’t know. I’ve got no news about it,” says Whishaw. “There’s no script as we stand and no director and therefore no film, so we’ll see.”

Whishaw did a screen test for the part two years ago, in which he sang “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I’m impressed, I tell him. “I don’t have a great voice but I do have quite a big range apparently” before adding with what I have come to recognise as characteristic self deprecation, “Or so the singing teacher told me; I don’t know whether he was just trying to make me feel better.”

Spectreopens on 26 October; The Lobsteris on general release,
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and London Spybegins on BBC1 in November