William Lindesay's 35-Year Love Affair With The Great Wall
When people ask William Lindesay where he is from, this Brit answers that his ‘first half’ is from the UK, his second half is from China (where he’s been for the last 35 years), and that his better half, his wife Qi, whose name means ‘Beautiful Jade’ is from China. It’s their jade wedding anniversary, 35 years, in April 2023.
Explorer, geographer, historian, author, film-maker, and the often-consulted know-it-all about the Great Wall of China, William has a bookshelf filled with his own books about the Wall (ten in all) and piano-top full of awards and photos of him receiving them, having been made an OBE (Officer, Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II, and as a recipient of the Friendship Award of China shaking hands with Premier Zhu Rongji. He was recently named a luminary in ‘The Explorers Club 50, Class of 2022’. William and Qi have two grown-up sons, Jimmy and Tommy, and he describes his family as ‘Wallnuts’. The family host ‘WildWall Weekends’ at their courtyard home beside the Wall in Huairou District.
What’s on your mind?
My writing efforts over the last few years are all bearing fruit in this autumn harvest season. It’s a crazy book glut! My complete Great Wall life story titled Wild Wall is being published by Earnshaw Books. A children’s book, actually written to be a live show, is being published by the China Children’s Publishing House — that’s called The Golden Great Wall. It has a fantasy beginning and end, and factual and fun core! And I have the Chinese language edition of The Great Wall in 50 Objects coming out as well. So, lots of final checking of book covers and getting the great and the good to write blurbs. That’s been great fun, looking up various ‘friends of the Great Wall’ who I have had the pleasure and honor to tell the Wall story over the past few decades.
Wow, if that table top full of proof copies isn’t enough, I am also keeping up by keeping in touch with our two sons, Jimmy and Tommy, who are making a journey on foot along the whole length of the Great Wall, just like I did in 1987. They are 1700KM into their traverse, nearly at the ‘Heart of the Dragon’, in Shaanxi Province. Qi and I have recently returned from Yinchuan in Ningxia, where we did some filming and catching up with them around the camp fire. I asked them what supplies they wanted from Beijing. They answered “Ralph’s Chocolate Cake’ … from Sanlitun. We bought a whole cake. Wow, are those bakes wholesome, or what? When we checked in, we were almost overweight!
What motivates you to get moving every day?
To keep backache and stiff joints at bay, and stop the old man from entering my life and house! The Great Wall itself is a monumental motivation to me. It’s a survival story … how and why it was built … who and why it was built for (against). People on both sides of the Wall were trying to survive. We are too.
What keeps you sane in all the madness?
I am always focused on my subject: all things related to the Great Wall. So my passion is diverse. I am never tired of the Great Wall, although I must admit now, the walks along it do tire me out a little more, and earlier than they once did, when I had 2 hour 39 minute marathon legs.
To echo a quote about the endlessness of his interest in London, by Samuel Johnson, come the day I'm tired of the Great Wall I will be tired of life!
I tend to limit most of my energy and time to things within my own control. I take a great interest in international affairs. I like to watch BBC News for an hour around 5pm while having a glass of beer before dinner. My days have a certain routine, because I have an adorable black Labrador, called Hadrian. He’s named after that emperor’s wall in England — it was one of my ‘stepping stones’ that led me to the Great Wall.
I always go out just before dawn with Hadrian, to ‘play’ tennis and frisbee, his two favorite sports. He’s a keen Wall walker! For me, it’s the hours before midnight which give the precious sleep, so I retire early. I get up very early, about an hour before sunrise, to ‘beat the enemy’ — going lazy, by staying in bed. I stay sane this way. When I have time I like to do some baking, stuff like cheese scones and banana bread. I’m always looking to mark an achievement by a family member by opening a bottle of champagne.
I listen to what my wife says, because my sons have always said ‘When Mum’s happy, the whole family is happy’ — and they’re right! I always take here a cup of tea in bed at dawn, make her a cup of tea when she comes back home, from shopping or wherever. I keep my feet on the ground, by cleaning the windows, mopping the kitchen floor, and Dyson-ing the whole house every day. I mean, with a lab you have to!
What is your favorite thing about Beijing?
That goes without asking! My wife and I met in Beijing and it’s been our home city for three decades. We are here because the Great Wall surrounds the capital on three sides, west, north, and east, so it’s a great place to study and savor the monument. It’s also well connected to the rest of China and Asia and the world — usually.
Contact William at email@example.com or on WeChat (ID: wlindesay) for signed copies of his books!
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Images: William Lindesay