2004 Jury Member

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise

Location: United Kingdom

Sir Christopher Ondaatje
United Kingdom, Born 1933

Retired businessman, author, explorer, philanthropist, sportsman and art collector, Sir Christopher has followed his many passions and made some unexpected but fascinating discoveries.


Ondaatje is a man who has periodically “reinvented himself”. Born in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and educated in England, Sir Christopher moved to Canada in 1956 and made his fortune in corporate finance and publishing. In the early 1970s, a chance reading of Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton’s biography changed his life, for he realized “this was the life I would like to have led”.

In 1988, he sold his business, moved to England and began pursuing his obsession with finding the source of the Nile. Following in the footsteps of Burton and other explorers whose theories on the Nile he questioned, Sir Christopher embarked in 1996 on a three-month, 10,000km expedition to Africa and ultimately revised the long-held belief that the Nile originated in Lake Victoria.

Sir Christopher’s passion for geography and adventure is described in his seven books, including The Journey to the Source of the Nile and, most recently, Hemingway in Africa, in which he recounts how he set out to follow Hemingway’s route through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

A member of Canada’s victorious bob-sled team at the 1964 Olympics, Sir Christopher is today a keen cricketer and an enthusiastic supporter of the arts, contributing millions of pounds through the Ondaatje English Foundation and other trusts. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, and is a council member and benefactor of the Royal Geographical Society.

Other 2004 Jury Members