Gemma Atkinson trekking along the Great Wall of China – photos and interview

Gemma Atkinson has been trekking along the Great Wall of China with Olivia Newton-John. She is the latest UK celeb to join Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Great Walk to Beijing’. The stage four team, who joined Olivia on Monday, have covered 40kms of tough terrain at 40 degree gradients in the Shanxi hinterland, China.

They have been camping at freezing temperatures in remote villages along the route, where they have enjoyed camp fires and dinner with the locals.

Other celebrities on the walk include Dannii Minogue, Toyah Willcox and Scott Wolf. Stage 5 sees the arrival of Sir Cliff Richard, Joan Rivers and Sarah Cawood.
The celebrities are walking to raise money for the ‘Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre’ a revolutionary centre which will be the primary site for cancer trails and vaccines globally. The walkers can be sponsored at

What made you decide to take part in The Great Walk to Beijing?

I am aware of how breast cancer touches so many women, thankfully no one in my family has been affected, but I still want to do my bit to help. I am also working closely with the Teenage Cancer Trust at the minute, as I think it is really important to try and change the way cancer is treated across the world.

How are you finding China?

The villages we are walking through along The Great Wall are really remote and it has been a real eye-opener compared to how we live at home. But the locals are all so incredibly friendly and even though there is a massive language barrier, they really want to make us feel welcome.

Any jet lag?

Well I had 16hrs of flying to get to stage four of the wall and that consisted of 3 consecutive flights. When I finally arrived in the province I then had a 2 ½ hour coach ride – so I was pretty tired, but I got stuck in straight away tomb raider style! The energy of the group keeps everyone going and whenever there is someone down, there is always someone there to pick them up.

You have been camping with all the other walkers – what was that like?I really enjoyed the camping, we had a massive bonfire and all sung Grease songs, it was great fun. Then the villagers put on a massive firework display, it was really amazing and rivaled any bonfire night in England. Although some of us had to share tents and I woke up with the exorcist in the middle of the night, as my tent buddy had sickness and diarrhea! So, I had to get up at 5am when it was pitch black and freezing to give her some space! Luckily I had learnt to make a fire in the jungle, so I go the camp fire going with the villagers and sat round for 4 hours until the rest of the camp woke up.

What are the other celebs like?

It has been really exciting to meet Olivia Newton-John, she is so friendly and down to earth. She is really committed and passionate about the new Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre (the reason we are walking) she has been a pleasure and an inspiration to walk with. Scott Wolf from ‘Party of Five’ is also really lovely, he and his wife lost their bags – but it hasn’t got them down, they just got stuck in and started walking!

What is the walking like?The first day we did a 15km trek along the wall in the mountains. This is really rough terrain and not like the picture perfect images you see of the wall on postcards. Today we did a 17km hike which was 60% uphill and it was tough! The ground is really rocky in paces and then deep soft sand so it is challenging to walk on. Also, there are sheer drops on each side of you so you don’t want to have a fear of heights.

Any injuries yet?

Unfortunately I pulled a tendon in my calf today whilst out walking. It was really painful, but I have had some physio tonight and am ready to go on tomorrow. I guess with a thing like this a sore tendon is nothing in comparison with what cancer patients go through, so it really puts things in perspective.

Have you met any interesting people?

The Australian cancer survivors who are doing the walk are a true inspiration. They have been through a really rough time and have some amazing stories. They are an inspiration to listen to. It really brings home that with an event like this and by working as a team we can help cancer patients of today and tomorrow.

What home comforts are you missing?

Obviously my fella and definitely my mum’s home cooking, oh and my bed! I normally have a Chinese takeaway every Sunday, but I think I will give that a rest for a while.
One thing you could not live without on the wall?

Oh that is definitely my mobile phone. I need regular contact with my mum – she is a life saver! I have been texting her constantly and she has been offering some really sound advice, one thing she told me was ‘don’t drink the water and shake when you pee’!!

What is the toilet situation?

It is quite funny, they have a little red tents every 5kms along – someone runs ahead and re-assembles it at each point. It is very basic inside – basically a commode, but we are all in the same boat and when you have to go – you have to go!

Is there any time to relax?

No – it is totally full on as we are walking all day and in really remote areas. The last hotel we stayed in was the nearest hotel within a 300km radius, it was also only $8 a night – so that says it all really, and there wasn’t much chance of getting a massage!

You have done the jungle and now your doing an extreme 64km trek on The Great Wall of China, is there any thing else you fancy conquering?

This has actually really got me into hiking. I have toned up and lost weight – so bring it on Everest!

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