From time-to-time, people come up to me, telling me what a wonderful life I have led. Yes, I welcomed the opportunity to travel extensively in the Himalaya - I have met some extraordinary people and in the main been treated well. In the big cities (as is the case all over the world) one needs to be "on-one's toes". Up in the mountains local people are almost always delightful. Yes, I have undertaken a number of lecture-tours in North America (being invited to speak about the plants I have photographed in the Himalaya), enjoying splendid hospitality. Yes, I seem to have been favourably received by most of the hundreds of audiences I have spoken to (not just, by any means just about my travels in the Himalaya) - who I informed and entertained, often providing an perspective of a standard comparable to the best photo-journalists in the world - indeed it is becoming increasingly clear that my level of insights EXCEEDS that of any journalist.... I have often been to parts of the Himalaya several times, often staying at the homes of local families, allowing me a unique insight. Yes, occasionally, as a result of what I do, I am shown "behind-the scenes" at private and public gardens and despite my dire financial circumstances, am shown respect. Yes, I have accumulated a unique combination of knowledge and expertise about the study (overall), cultivation and conservation of Himalayan flora - yet what good has it done me financially? None. The 35 years I have devoted to this has left me out-of-pocket - not that there was much in the pocket in the first place (in a dire situation financially if I am honest). The nearest equivalent to me in recent times were Oleg Polunin and Adam Stainton (author's of 'Flowers of the Himalaya' - the best reference guide to the flora of this region. Oleg was a public school botany master (and later published books on flowers of different parts of Europe); Adam had a healthy private income (through his mother coming from a Scottish Whisky family family) - so never needed to work and could to travel wherever he wished.
I did lead a number of treks, showing clients flowers in the Himalaya; I escorted the group from Heathrow, saw them onto their return flights, then stayed on, covering travel costs to the Himalaya, which helped and provided me the opportunity to take slides for use in my lectures
Almost everyone ASSUMES that I generate at the very least, a decent income from my 'activities'. That has never been the case! Working freelance is always precarious. A few, who are well-known figures (appearing on television) have a good income - though even then it often took many years to establish themselves. For most it is a struggle. Just as I always advised those who contacted me in the past about setting up a specialist plant nursery, that they would do well just to cover their costs. Hardly any who run such nurseries end up earning a living and then only by putting in very long hours - far longer than almost anyone else who works..... Though for some, they like to be kept busy in semi-retirement.
Title slide of a lecture to be given by Chris Chadwell - I typically leave my house about 1600hrs, travel to a destination in the SE of England, returning after midnight, which given the modest fee I charge, works out (with preparation time) to BELOW THE MINIMUM WAGE PER HOUR.....
As for my 'career' being one long round of adventures in far off lands? I have had plenty of uncomfortable experiences, with more than my fair share of serious gastro-intestinal episodes -the equivalent of food-poisoning. When I show images during my lecture of beautiful mountain flowers and snowy peaks, many in the audiences dream of being there themselves. The reality, is that it takes time to acclimatise and for many being at altitude makes them depressed, home-sick, wondering why on earth did they decide to come to such a place? High up in the borderlands of Tibet, this can be accompanied by a dry, raking cough. Appealing though it may seem to my audiences hearing my tales and enjoying the photos during my lectures on "plant hunting in the Himalaya". Much of every year has been spent undertaking, dull, monotonous tasks. I have no social life.
Income? This has always been minimal. The level of interest in growing more unusual seeds (most of those who get round to inquiring, never actually buy a single packet of seed through Chadwell Seeds) has dwindled since I began in 1984. The sources of supply have dwindled, so there is much less to sell. As for my 'lectures'. I have never held a position as a lecturer at a college or university, so all my digital presentations are one-offs, which I charge a modest fee for (see: A typical lecture (I do not drive but travel around the country by train and bus) involves me leaving my house about 1600hrs, returning home after midnight. Add in preparation time, that works out below the minimum wage for adults. I charge slightly more for a booking requiring an overnight stay - taking up more than a full day in total - which works out at below the minimum wage for teenagers. I am experienced, an expert and 57! Last month I gave 2 lectures. This month there will be none. Most of the societies I speak to, have dwindled numerically, some closed (as much due to an unwillingness to serve on committees than numbers or funds). So matching the 20 or so lectures I have delivered most years (some for charity) is increasingly hard. And Chadwell Seeds has now closed altogether.
A satisfied audience at one of Chris Chadwell's lectures, having a cup of tea - most clubs and societies Chris speaks to charge a modest annual, the gardening ones generating funds through plant sales but after paying for the hire of the hall can only pay speakers a limited amount; the big name speakers can charge hundreds of pounds as they are well-known figures, with people being prepared to pay well for tickets; increasingly membership of most clubs and societies is dwindling, some closing because they cannot get people to serve on the committtee
I have never been paid a penny for the years of my life studying Himalayan flora back in the UK or during lecture tours in the US, when I have taken advantage of being in that country to consult specimens at herbaria there. Yes, the modest income from sales of seed has contributed to my travel and associated costs - indeed was ESSENTIAL as was my association with P.Kohli & Co. I was paid a modest amount for the tours I led to the Himalaya. Occasionally, a little support has been received which helped towards my costs in the Himalaya on plant conservation projects (and presenting Kohli Memorial Gold Medals).
Why do I do it? A very good question? A local person in the UK who knew me (who had been a professional scientist, benefitting from a comfortable pension) aware of my circumstances, could not understand why, in addition to the un-paid botanical research and conservation projects, I spent time raising money for charities? Some years ago, a close relative of mine exclaimed that I had "nothing" (in a material sense) but was not bothered by that. Given recent events, where my reputation is being brought into doubt, I cannot but question the wisdom of devoting my life to the study of the flora of the Himalaya - especially as despite making sustained efforts (over decades) hardly any interest had been shown in what I have done or am attempting to do, from those professionals in Himalayan countries, whom you might expect to "jump" at the chance of learning from my expertise - offered for free! So perhaps, it has all been a complete waste of time? Have I been a fool? Not a comfortable thought as I struggle to pay my basic bills and face an uncertain future. During most visits India, I am asked to arrange for them a place (for free) on some post-graduate course of study back in the UK. After all, all ALL British are rich and all Western botanists must be rich! IF I had ever had the money, I would surely have studied for a higher degree myself! Other, comfortably off (some rich) Indians, ASSUME somebody MUST be paying me A LOT OF MONEY to go up into the Himalaya. They would not do so otherwise. One friend from the region told me NO local botanists work like I do......
But I shall endeavour to keep going, somehow.....
Could what I have just said be a "front"? I view with contempt, anyone thinking this.