Over the weekend hundreds of runners took part in The Durrell Challenge, a charity 13K road race in Jersey. It’s a fundraising event in aid of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. The charity supports conservation projects in Jersey and Overseas which continues the work of their great predecessor, Gerald Durrell, and helps to save endangered species which would otherwise become extinct.
The weather was gorgeous for the event and the photos that were shared online looked like everyone was having an amazing time. I don’t think I would have looked as good if I was taking part! One photo that really caught my eye was the selfie which was shared online by Henry Cavill.
Henry, who was born in Jersey, is an ambassador for the Durrell Trust and even took part in the race. I followed his noble adventure via his Instagram stories and he was smiling the whole way and taking videos with his fellow racers and his brothers who also joined in. Towards the end of the race the Man Of Steel star posed for a rather curious photo with a gorilla…
Inside the suit was Will Highfield. Will works at the Jersey Zoo and even on his days off he volunteers at the gorilla enclosure. I don’t think he wears the suit to work but he has been spotted around the Island in it. He even has his own Facebook page and encourages people to take photos of him when they spot him in the wild!
Will ran the whole course in the hairy costume to help raise funds for a project that clearly means so much to him. His goal is to help build an indoor enclosure for the gorilla family where he has volunteered for over 2 years. Here is the link to his JustGiving page if you would like to donate to such a worthy cause.
I reached out to Will to pass on my congratulations and we ended up turning it into an interview once I learned all about his hard work and dedication and here it is. Enjoy.
Will, first of all, well done on completing the Durrell Challenge! How are you feeling today?
Thanks very much Luke! I am feeling great today, I really enjoyed my run yesterday with Henry and even walked to work today (7.2km).
What can you tell me about the “Jersey Gorilla”?
Jersey Gorilla started after running the Jersey Marathon last year for Jersey Zoo. I really enjoyed the training and the event itself however I wanted to raise more funds and awareness for Jersey Zoo. I thought if I completed the Jersey Marathon this year in a suit it would be even more successful. As I work with the gorillas here on my day off for the last 2 1/2 years, a gorilla suit seemed like the most logical and fun choice.
How did you prepare for this heroic challenge? Lots of bananas?
I do eat a banana every single day to keep me going! I also start the day with a big bowl of porridge which gives me lots of energy for running.
The weather was beautiful yesterday, did that make it a harder experience to run in the suit?
You’re right, it was a fantastic day yesterday which did make me worry about the suit. Saying that we had a great pace and the shady spots and breeze were very helpful. Henry kindly asked if I wanted him to pour some water down my back which was a lifesaver and kept me going in the tougher sections!
He really is a Superman! Running a great distance is difficult enough but to do it in a gorilla suit is incredible. What kept you going yesterday?
Since starting my fundraising campaign on 1st January 2019, I have been completely overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity. Knowing that in 4 months, together we have already raised £8,700 for Jersey Zoo, that keeps me running and I know the Jersey Marathon will be the same.
Henry Cavill is an ambassador for the Jersey Zoo and I am sure, like many others, is incredibly proud of you. How did it feel when he stopped you for the selfie?
He is a local man who is extremely passionate about the Island and the important global work that we do here to save species from extinction. It was a really incredible moment when he took his phone out for the selfie and his photo has since been seen by over 300,000 people which is amazing.
After I saw the photo with you yesterday, I had to get in touch and congratulate you. Not only for completing the race but also for your moment in the spotlight. What was it like meeting him?
Yesterday was my first time meeting Henry and it was an absolute pleasure. I was just behind him on the start line and when I asked if he would be happy for me to run with him he welcomed me into his group of family and friends. He set a great pace and we ran the entire Durrell Challenge together. He is one of the most genuine and nicest guys around and I felt very lucky to get to chat to him along the route. He even gave me some top tips for strengthening my leg muscles which I am very grateful for and will be following them right up until the marathon itself. As we approached the finish line, I offered him to cross first as I was already so happy with the entire run but again he showed just how friendly and down to earth he is by insisting I cross before him. After crossing the line he stopped and got his phone out for a selfie together and then we met up again in the VIP area after the race which completed the whole experience. I still can’t really believe yesterday happened but I am incredibly grateful to Henry for making the entire day something that I will never forget. I look forward to seeing him again next year!
Now, you mentioned he gave you some tips as you ran the event. What advice would you give to someone who was interested in taking part in the Durrell Challenge, or any race?
I would strongly recommend getting a good nights sleep and having a stable breakfast, ie porridge or toast with peanut butter (of a variety which doesn’t contain palm oil of course!). Also to ensure you train so that you know what to expect and your body is used to it. These are the basics however something which might not be obvious is to run at your own pace. It can be very easy at the start of a race to begin too quickly due to the crowds and adrenaline but this is best avoided to ensure you finish strong.
How did you relax after you completed your run? Did you have a favourite meal planned?
I was very lucky that my Fiancee Gemma was waiting for me at the finish line. I completed a few interviews after the run and then we made our way to the VIP area for some food and drinks. We both celebrated the run with a glass of red wine which she really deserved as she has been so supportive of all my training runs, events and media appointments. I really couldn’t have got this far without her! We finished our afternoon with a chat and photo with Henry then went home to relax together.
Finally, what is next for the Jersey Zoo and the “Jersey Gorilla”?
I have loved the training, marketing and fundraising whilst also working and volunteering on my day off here at Jersey Zoo. Once I have run the Jersey Marathon this year, I would like to run other marathons around the world in my gorilla suit to continue raising awareness and vital funds for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust here at Jersey Zoo. If anyone does wish to suggest any I would love to hear from you!
Will, thank you so much, not only for the interview but for all of your hard work and your heroism.
If you would like to donate to Will’s JustGiving page please click here.
Follow the Jersey Gorilla on social media and see where he runs to next!