The man who in 2009 beat out 35,000 applicants for what was touted as the “best job in the world” — caretaker of Australia’s Hamilton Island — got more than he bargained for, including amazing adventures, a brush with a deadly creature, while he lost and gained a girlfriend — who is now his fiancée.
Ben Southall, 37, won the highly sought-after job of caretaker of the idyllic Hamilton Island on the Australia’s Great Barrier Reef with its $150,000 salary and housing at a luxury villa.
“At the time I saw the advert, I thought it would be like living on a desert island like Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’,” Southall told the BBC. “It became bigger the further it went on. It was after I won when I did a 10-minute slot on the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ which was broadcast in 140 countries that I thought, ‘this is pretty big now.’”
Southall, who previously worked as a charity fund-raiser, moved to the island with his then-girlfriend Breanna Watkins in 2009. Over the next three years he traveled the region, posting photos, videos and diary entries to a blog on his experiences.
Though some might rest on their laurels having won such a fantastic dream gig, which many saw as a PR stunt for the region, Southall took his work quite seriously. He says that with the over 100,000 people working in tourism in Queensland, he could not let them down.
“I put in a lot of work — it should have been entitled ‘the busiest job in the world,’” he said.
The Petersfield, England, native said that he has now fallen into a role of a “roving reporter,” and has had his position title upgraded to tourism ambassador. While in Australia he also worked on a six-part series with National Geographic and was involved in an Australian children’s show called “Totally Wild.”
But his time did have its share of dangers. What was likely Southall’s most frightening moment on Hamilton Island came when he was stung by an irukandji jellyfish – a tiny and extremely venomous sea creature, which are often no larger than a fingernail.
“I was enjoying a post-Christmas jet ski session with some friends at a quiet beach on Hamilton Island,” he wrote on his blog at the time. “As I climbed off the back of the ski and onto the beach, I felt a small bee-like sting on my forearm.”
He described the experience as the venom spread through his body.
“I was feeling pretty hot and sweaty, had a headache and felt pretty sick too with pain in my lower back and a tightness in the chest and a really high blood pressure,” he said.
The man who at least 35,000 people envied three years ago has no immediate plans to return home, as he plans to hit Asia next. And although he split up with Watkins, 18 months later at a tourism event he met his now fiancée, Sophee McPhee. The couple plan to wed in November.
“I didn’t expect to stay out here. I’ve always travelled and had wanderlust. This is the longest time I’ve stayed in one place,” he told the BBC, adding that he has learned a great deal and had amazing experiences. “They’re great things to have done and if it wasn’t for the competition I don’t think I’d have done them.”