When Paul Jameson was told his days were numbered, he drafted a mega bucket list – and has experienced incredible highs after the ultimate low blow.
Adventurer Paul vowed to make the most of every minute after learning he had terminal motor neurone disease and was told he had just a few years to live.
After breaking the news to family, Paul asked his wife Jess and their three children to help draw up his ultimate wishlist.
Paul, 60, said: “I simply said to them that I want this to be the start of my life, not the end.
“They all understood straight away what I meant. That evening we had a few too many drinks, cranked the music up and started making a list.”
That was in 2017. Since then the entrepreneur has exceeded the average life expectancy of two years and his list of more than 50 achievements in 42 months is staggering.
That first year he climbed 19,340ft Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with Jess, 56, son David, 27, daughter Jo, 25, and friends.
Near the summit they marked out a court to play the highest recorded game of tennis.
He also helped an orphanage and a school in the East African country.
Endurance nut Paul – a marathon runner and cyclist who has tackled Tour de France routes – rode 110 miles in a day in Switzerland and did a 100km walk across the South Downs.
Then there was trekking in Borneo, cycling in Vietnam and a lads’ holiday to Las Vegas.
He went to Japan and Russia to watch England play in the Rugby and Football World Cups.
And he, mum Shirley, 83, and daughter Rosie, 19, had matching tattoos with the motto “One life, live it”.
Paul – who founded the Mankind range of male grooming products – was diagnosed with degenerative neurological condition MND in June 2016. He had problems swallowing and was slurring his speech.
Jess, a GP, had suspected the worst. When given the news at the Royal Surrey Hospital, they both broke down.
Paul said: “At first it was shock and anger – but then I realised what an amazing opportunity this was.”
It was climbing some of the world’s most iconic peaks that reaffirmed Paul’s love for life – and made him think yet more closely about death.
Descending 15,774ft Mont Blanc in the Alps almost ended in disaster.
Paul, from Godalming, Surrey, said: “I almost fell to my death on Mont Blanc and couldn’t quite reach the summit of the Matterhorn – I realised if the MND didn’t kill me, the climbing would.”
Paul, who now communicates via a type-to-speech app, has raised over £150,000 for charity.
He has just “sung” an opera with a baritone at the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera – another dream come true.
And last April Paul was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Honours List.
By this time he had set his sights on doing “something bigger and better” with the time he has left.
He said: “Those near-death experiences really made me realise, ironically, how unprepared I was for dying – my bucket list had distracted me from what was right in front of my face.”
Paul arranged another family meeting and shared his thoughts.
He added: “I told them what I wanted at my funeral, that I was writing them each personal letters to open once I’d gone, how I’d sort the practicalities for after I’d died – and it struck me nobody had suggested this to me in the years since my diagnosis.”
Paul hit upon the idea of a website where people can curate their life story, with text, images and video.
He raised £180,000 from crowdfunding and private investors and, after more than a year in development, the family last month launched a free website called Aura.
Users can create time capsules to be opened later, there is a hub with facts and advice, and visitors to the site are encouraged to talk about death.
The family also set up Facebook groups Grief Chat and Death Chat, so people can discuss dying without the usual taboos.
Paul said: “Aura’s more than just tying up loose ends, it’s about positively engaging with impending death.
“Death should be a celebration of life, not something we avoid discussing like a bad smell. I might only have a few months, or a few years, left.
“When I’m gone I want to feel proud of what I’ve left behind, how I’ve inspired others to embrace life and also death.
“As our motto goes, ‘One Life, Live It’.”
PAUL’S AMAZING BUCKET LIST TRIUMPHS
Aug 2017 Non-stop 26-hour 100km Gurkha Trail walk across the South Downs.
Sept 2017 One-day 110-mile cycle around Lake Geneva.
Oct 2017 Climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and played the highest-ever recorded game of tennis at the summit, raising over £100,000 for MND research.
Nov 2017 Paul, his mum and daughter had arm tattoo with an infinity sign and the motto “One Life, Live It”.
May 2018 Cycled around Lake Como, Italy.
June 2018 Did the 54-mile London to Brighton bike ride.
June 2018 Organised and hosted a glam rock 1970s and ’80s party for 200 people.
July 2018 Watched England play Belgium in the Football World Cup in Kaliningrad, Russia.
July 2018 Completed the 100-mile Prudential Ride London, raising money for MND research.
Aug 2018 Three-day climb up Mont Blanc, including a near fatal fall.
Dec 2018 Four-day lads’ trip to the casinos in Las Vegas.
Jan 2019 Trip to Melbourne to watch the Australian Open tennis, followed by a week at the Great Barrier Reef.
Feb 2019 Jungle trekkingin Borneo in search of orangutans.
Feb 2019 Cycled 126km up the east coast of Vietnam, from Hoi An to Hue.
April 2019 Cycled from London to Amsterdam.
July 2019 Climbed Mount Canigou in the Pyrenees, with bad fall on descent and helicoptered off the mountain.
Aug 2019 Climbed the Matterhorn, Switzerland.
Sept 2019 First hatchedthe concept of Aura.
Oct 2019 Watched England play in the Rugby Union World Cup in Japan.
April 2020 Awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for fundraising for MND research.
May 2020 Raised £180,000 to develop the Aura platform.
Dec 2020 Successfully launched Aura.
Dec 2020 “Sang” with a professional baritone at the London Coliseum, the home of the English National Opera.