‘We never had a body to mourn’: Spencer Matthews opens up about expedition to find dead brother
Spencer Matthews has opened up about his expedition to find his brother, Michael Matthews, who died after summiting Mount Everest in 1999 aged just 22.
The former Made In Chelsea star turned broadcaster, 34, stars in Disney Plus’s one-off documentary, Finding Michael, which tells the story of his brother’s disappearance and his family’s journey to recover Michael’s body 20 years later.
Michael Matthews was the youngest Briton to summit Everest, but just three hours after he reached the peak, he went missing. His brother, Spencer, who was aged 10 when Michael went missing and died, had always struggled to accept his death, in part because his family did not have a body to mourn.
Then, in 2017, Spencer’s family was sent a picture by a climber that showed what appeared to be a dead body buried in the snow, in a similar location on the mountain to where Michael went missing.
In the documentary, Spencer visits Nepal for one month and recruits Nirmal Purja, the 14-peak record holder and star of 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible, to lead the expedition with a 10-man search and rescue crew. The team head up the mountain armed with drones and the skills to veer off summit lines and search for Michael’s body.
In a Q&A session before the film’s screening last week, Spencer opened up about the mission to find his brother and how it helped him to come to terms with his brother’s death.
Spencer said that he had a “special” relationship with his brother before his death, and revealed that once he knew it was possible to visit Everest to find his brother, he was “compelled to try”.
“We liked the idea of bringing Mike home,” Spencer said of his family. “We were uncomfortable with him being left on Everest, and the fact that we never had a body to mourn or say goodbye to felt wrong.”
He continued: “I always had images of him being alone, cold and face down on the mountain. Most families have the ability to go an visit their loved ones – we had never had that opportunity.”
“My mother always described us as twins separated by time. We looked similar and I felt like a young version of him. We had the same tastes and were, what felt like, the greatest of friends”
Spencer explained that his brother always had “adventure in his nature”.
“He was a talented climber. He didn’t do it for the record. He was a very modest kid who simply enjoyed pushing himself to what many would consider to be uncomfortable limits. It’s in all our blood.”
In the documentary, Spencer meets with Man vs Wild star Bear Grylls, who had met Michael months before he died, and had vowed to support Spencer after he lost his brother.
In the Q&A, Grylls said: “I always dreaded Spencer one day saying he wanted to lead an expedition to try and find out what happened to his older brother.”
“When he came to tell me, I knew what he was going to say. What can you do though? I tried to remind him to be smart above all and come back alive.”
He continued: “And I tried to help him assemble the best team in the world to give it the best chance of safety and success. No mountain is ever worth dying for and never more so than when you have a young family as Spencer now does.”
Grylls revealed that he felt somewhat “guilty” that he had previously encouraged Michael to climb Everest at such a young age.
“I first met Michael a month or so before he set off to attempt to climb Everest. He asked me for some advice as I’d reached the summit the previous year.”
“So when Michael never came home and was determined lost to the mountain, it was awful,” he said, adding: “For a long time, I felt guilty and that I shouldn’t have been as encouraging.”
“If someone wants to take that level of risk then that’s fine, but ever since then I’ve never just unconditionally supported aspiring climbers who want to go attempt Everest. The mountain can kill fast and there are no guarantees in the death zone above 26,000ft.”
Finding Michael is streaming on Disney Plus from 3 March.
If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support: mind.org.uk, nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth, mentalhealth.org.uk.