The Best Work Experience In The World...
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The Best Work Experience In The World...
By Carol Driver
Unlike Ben Southall on the first day of his new job, I remember to pack my flip-flops.
Not exactly taxing. And I was ready to make the most of it – to me The Best Work Experience in the World translates into ‘relax and enjoy paradise’.
I meet Ben on Hamilton Island where he’s been living rent-free with girlfriend Breanna Watkins in a luxury three-bedroom home. It’s part of his six-month island caretaker contract which nets him £74,000. Nice work if you can get it.
He bounds up to me, that trademark grin plastered across his face, and shakes my hand rigorously: “Are we going to have some fun?” he says loudly, and I find myself wanting to “whoop” and high-five him.
Before I can reply, he’s rushing off to do a radio interview and present the weather on TV, leaving me trailing behind as we walk along the marina.
In just nine weeks, Ben’s already been propelled into celebrity status – he can hardly take two steps before being stopped by well-wishers wanting to shake his hand or by starry-eyed teenage girls hanging on his every word.
An hour later, we’re at Hamilton Island Airport with pilot Andrew who will be flying the 18-minute journey to Brampton Island in our private six-seater plane.
The view over the Whitsundays is spectacular; we spot whales in the turquoise Coral Sea, and Ben, 34, chats non-stop about which islands he’s visited.
Before I’ve even had time to get used to the smallest plane I’ve ever been in, we come into land on one of the shortest runways I’ve ever seen where we’re met by Voyages resort manager Jason Yule.
It’s the only retreat on the island, which has 12 pristine beaches and is surrounded by sparkling azure waters
My luxurious room is located perfectly for viewing stunning sunrises from the hammock on the balcony. But I only have enough time to say, “I could get used to this,” before Ben tells me
I’ve got 10 minutes to freshen up before our first activity.
Activity? That wasn’t on my agenda.
We’re shipped over to the neighbouring island – Carlisle – for a two-hour group tour around the lush Melaleuca Forest. Our guide, Kate, gives us an insight into the fascinating geology, history and biology of the island.
She then introduces us to the green ant. Before the words are out of her mouth, Ben, who’s been disappearing to shoot video clips, take pictures or update Twitter, jumps in.
“The Aboriginals used to eat these. Their green bums taste of lime and are full of vitamin C,” he exclaims, picking an ant up in between his thumb and forefinger and putting it in his mouth.
“Yes,” Kate laughs, “As Ben’s just demonstrated, you can eat these, or you can just lick their backsides to get a taste of the lime.”
Everyone tries it, except for me. Ben doesn’t let me off the hook, and before I know it, he’s holding an ant’s bum to my mouth and I find myself licking it, much to everyone’s amusement.
Ben mingles with the other guests; they’re all keen to hear what he did before the Tourism Queensland job – and what he’s going to do when it ends next year.
After driving around Africa last year – his Five Mountains, Five Marathons and Five Charities trip – Ben now knows what he wants. And the Best Job will no doubt be an ideal launch base.
He exclusively reveals to me that he will be rowing the length of the Great Barrier Reef – raising cash for charity. Alongside this, he’ll be working as an Adventure Ambassador for Tourism Queensland and driving around Australia – a venture for which Land Rover has already offered him a new vehicle.
The energetic person you saw in his application video is really what he’s like ... all the time. He can’t sit still for more than a few minutes. At school, one of his teachers branded him a “problem child” because he was hyperactive.
This is worrying when you find yourself next to him for a five-hour, eight-course dinner, as I do that evening.
No matter how hard I try to engage him in conversation, he fidgets, stretches his back, checks his phone, Tweets, calls his sister, jumps from one subject to the next and then back to the first ... I’m worn out just watching him, and, after dessert, call it a night.
The following day, I decide to have a leisurely breakfast after a lie in and head to the restaurant. Ben springs up out of nowhere, explaining that he’s booked us both on a fishing trip.
He’s been up since 7am and has already been for a run and played golf.
Our boat anchors about 15 minutes from the island. Ben’s determined to catch something and baits his hook while explaining to me why he thinks he won the competition which attracted 34,000 applicants.
The innovative concept was borne after an idea was mooted to give away an island. After discussions, TQ decided it could get more mileage out of an ongoing initiative – and it was right.
Costing $1.8m (Aus), the Best Job campaign has generated more $300m(Aus) in media coverage. And the region has seen bookings jump more than 20 per cent since its launch.
“I’m just myself and I think that’s why I won,” Ben says.
“Like with the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, when I first met her, I walked straight up to her, shook her hand and said, ‘How you doing Anna?’ And I think people like that because I’m not fake.
“Some of the people who auditioned were tired on day four; they were putting on a front, but this is me, I just keep going.”
Nothing’s biting, so our skipper decides to move the boat to another quieter spot, just in front of the resort.
Ben’s not biting either when I push him to admit that he’s going to propose to 22-year-old girlfriend Bre, who’s training to become a stunt woman.
He says: “Bre and I haven’t had a normal life yet – last year we were sleeping in a tent on top of a Land Rover in Africa and now we’re in a luxury house on Hamilton Island. We need some normality before anything else can happen.”
Ben then starts to entertain the other guests – being loud yet personable. So it’s a surprise to hear him say he’s not confident.
“The one thing I would change about myself is my lack of self-confidence,” he admits.
“Having this job has definitely helped.”
Back at Brampton, I try to convince Ben that we both deserve a rest, but he’s having none of it. Instead, we almost speed walk along the 10km national park route to Turtle Bay, spotting tame kangaroos along the way.
We snorkel in the crystal-clear sea, searching for turtles, which, unfortunately, we don’t find. Ben splashes around in the water, making his latest video clip for his blog.
It’s time for lunch, so we head back to the resort. Afterwards, finally, Ben concedes that, as the tide is heading out and it’s too late for us to take out a catamaran, we can sit by the pool.
The view is spectacular, overlooking the calm sea and a small island, about 800 metres away. I lie back, soaking up the sun, while chatting away to Ben.
At last! However, I’m torn between not waking him so I can relax and thinking that I should so that he doesn’t get caught, literally, sleeping on the job.
But I don’t have to. In less than two minutes, he’s awake.
“I need to do something. I’m beginning to feel lethargic. I’m going to swim to that island,” he says, standing up and pointing across to what looks like, to me, a challenging activity.
I pass on the offer to join him, telling him I’ll watch. When he’s at a safe distance in the water, I head back to my room and finally relax on the hammock.
Later, I meet Ben for a quick dinner before he disappears to start work for the evening – updating his blog and downloading photos and videos. I go to bed and sleep.
I’m awoken the following morning by a call from Ben, reminding me that I’m booked in for a jetski safari.
I meet him at 10am. He’s already been for an 8km run and is full of energy. Once on the jetskis, Ben’s enthusiasm turns to mischief, as he creates waves in front of me in an attempt to knock me off, which, thankfully, he fails to do.
The jetskis are great fun, and the engines have been quietened so as not to disturb the environment or other guests too much.
However, they’re still not eco-friendly, something which Ben observes on Twitter, writing: “I have just become a marine terrorist by going on a jetski safari. Can I ever forgive myself? What a laugh though.”
So rather than the island caretaker being a literal job description, with Ben stranded on a desert island tending to wildlife, his role is more Big Brother meets I’m A Celebrity... than Survivor.
Considering the campaign title, it would have been fitting to ask Carlsberg to produce the adverts. Is This The Best Job in the World? It would ask. Probably.
Is Ben the Best Man For The Job? Without a shadow of a doubt.
We just have enough time to enjoy a final lunch before jetting back to Hamilton on another private plane.
It’s back to three-star reality for me, but, for Ben, the five-star adventure continues.
(Follow me at twitter.com/Caroldtravels)
Enjoy a 12-night trip to Hamilton and Brampton islands with Qantas Holidays 020 8222 9124) from £2,195 per person. Price includes flights, transfers, five nights on Hamilton, five nights on Brampton (www.Brampton-island.com) and two nights in Brisbane. Valid for travel from 16 Jan to 31 March 2010.