‘Postman Pat van’ heads to Iran as team drive 10,000 miles across 20 countries and three deserts for charity

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By Alice Tuohy | Thursday 05 July 2018

A team of friends will take ‘Nancy’, a van styled on the famous TV postal van, from London to Ulan Ude, Siberia, as part of the notoriously gruelling Mongol Rally.

Dan Gillett, who lives in Finchley, London, has been preparing for the renowned challenge for months with his girlfriend Flo Gillingham and friend Katie Shipp, who live in Brixton, alongside friends Sam Thornton, also from Finchley, and Dan Bradley, ready for the start of the rally on Monday 16 July.

They are doing the challenge in support of Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, as well as the Mongol Rally’s chosen charity Cool Earth and have raised almost £4,500.

Dan was inspired to support Alzheimer’s Research UK as two of his great aunts, Nancy and Joan, died with dementia and the team has chosen to honour his aunt Nancy by naming the van after her.

The 26-year-old said:

“My great aunty Nancy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and sadly passed away in July 2013, so it’s fitting that we are doing this challenge five years later in her name. A short while later my great aunty Joan was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – she used to make all of the family’s birthday cakes, knitted my first school jumper and all of our christening gowns, and it was when she struggled to make her youngest great nephew’s christening gown that we realised something was wrong. Sadly, she passed away in January 2017. So, Alzheimer’s Research UK is really important to us as a family.”

Dan admitted that signing up to take on the Mongol Rally was just one of several big decisions he made last year as part of an ongoing “quarter life crisis”.

He said:

“I learned to fly, changed my job and bought a silly car. I was wondering what I could do next and the topic of the Mongol Rally came up – as a big fan of Top Gear I thought this sounded like the closest thing to a Top Gear challenge we could possibly do, so we signed up in October last year, paid the £625 admission fee so there was no backing out and that was that!”

The challenge has very few rules but is very strict on the type of car a team can use; no engines bigger than 1.2L, costing no more than £1000 and it must be “farcically unsuitable” (so no 4x4s). The team chose a 1997 Suzuki Wagon R with a 996cc engine and no air conditioning, perfect for days spent driving over the desert!

The team of five will also be effectively relaying throughout the route – joining and leaving the rally during different legs of the five-week journey so there will always be three people in the car. The two Dans and Flo will tackle the three weeks of desert driving from Armenia to Siberia.

Dan explained that they have to complete the 10,044-mile rally across 20 countries, three deserts and several mountain ranges completely unaided by the organisers – though they can ask for help from locals if they break down, get lost or run out of fuel, food or water along the way. He added that they have no mechanical experience and some of the team didn’t even have valid driving licenses when they signed up to take part.

They had the choice of three rough routes, and with five weeks to complete it in they chose the southern route which passes through Iran. They are required to undertake a seven-day Government sanctioned tour to pass through the country and a convoy of 20 of the 400 teams taking on the Mongol Rally will go through together.

Dan said:

“With not long to go we’ve arranged all our visas, assembled all our equipment and got the car into as roadworthy a state it will ever be again! We have been acclimatising ourselves by driving in the heat wave, so now all there is left to do is actually complete the rally and finish our fundraising – we’ve raised almost £4,500 towards our increased target of £5,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK and our other two charities by running two quizzes, a barbecue, a race day and a raffle. Hopefully seeing our suffering in 39c temperatures through Central Asia will inspire even more donations!”

To find out more about their mammoth challenge and to sponsor Nancy and the team visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/NancyDrivesToSiberia

Christie Hyland, Regional Fundraising Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“We are so grateful to Dan and the team for choosing to support us as one of their chosen charities. We can’t wait to follow their journey in Nancy and wish them the best of luck for the biggest road trip of their lives!”

If you’d like to take on your own adventure why not take on the famous Machu Picchu trek for Alzheimer’s Research UK: https://alzheimersresearchuk.org/event/trek-machu-picchu/

For further information about Alzheimer’s Research UK, or to find out more about fundraising for the charity, call 0300 111 5555 or visit www.alzheimersresearchuk.org


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Alice Tuohy