15 October 2009 by Pete Mathers
Ben Southall, a 34-year-old charity worker from Petersfield in Hampshire, made headlines around the world when Tourism Queensland chose him from almost 35,000 applicants to be the caretaker of Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef, a position promoted as The Best Job in the World. A fair description, you might think, for six months of lounging around in paradise, snorkelling, blogging and occasionally skimming leaves off the pool that comes with his three-bedroom house and £70,000 pay cheque. But is being the victor of one of the most inventive pr campaigns to date as wonderful as it sounds? I spoke to Ben to find out.
What Went through your mind When you heard you’d got the job?
Total disbelief. I went into the selection process for a bit of fun back in January that’s all. Considering I did everything off the top of my head and didn’t prepare anything for the final stages I’m still pretty staggered that the role came my way.
Nearly 35,000 applicants is an astonishing number. How did the selection process work and what do you think made you stand out from the crowd?
All of the final 16 applicants had been under the spotlight since we submitted our initial applications. Our media, writing, swimming, blogging and social skills were heavily monitored. The judges told me after the final that “having a Queenslander’s way of life” was very important and I think that’s what clinched it for me.
You were certainly well travelled before heading to the reef. What Would you list among your previous travel highlights?
Last year I drove around the entire African continent, something I’d wanted to do for a number of years. The entire experience was jaw-droppingly good. I love getting off the beaten track and found Gabon, Cameroon and the Congo very interesting.
As island caretaker, your principal job is to explore, report on and promote the islands of the great barrier reef. With over 600 islands in total, where did you start?
There’s a lot of islands and not that much time to do it. Together with Tourism Queensland, we identify islands which require exposure, then some very busy girls in the office produce an itinerary that allows me to go there.
Do you have a typical day?
Not at all. In fact a normal routine has gone right out the window. Generally I will head off to a new destination, explore the region, discover the highlights, have a few social engagements in the evening and spend what’s left writing about it.
What have been some of your highlights?
I’m a real water baby so have loved the swimming, diving, sailing and kayaking which most of the islands offer in one form or another; and the range of accommodation, from tents on the beach to 5-star resorts, means I get to wake up to different views all the time.
How can the public keep track of what you’re up to?
Every experience I have is documented by my own fair hands and then posted on the Best Job in the World website: www.islandreefjob.com.
What can you see from your bedroom window?
Every bedroom in the house has the same fantastic view across the Fitzalan Passage towards the Coral Sea. The range of greens and blues lit up by the sunrise is fantastic. Oh and you’d better add the resident turtles and whales which glide past most days.
With all the travelling, blogging and media commitments, do you ever have time to just relax?
It’s certainly a busy lifestyle but that’s sort of how I live my life anyway. After a few days visiting an island there’s usually a chance to sit back and enjoy the view and the ocean. I wouldn’t let it just slip by I can promise you!
What do you think you’ve learned from the experience?
To take every opportunity that’s thrown my way. If that means staying up a little later than usual or working harder than normal so be it. We have one chance on this planet – let’s use it.
So why should we visit the great barrier reef and which islands are best to stay on?
Ha, the age-old question. There are seven natural wonders of the world, this being one of them, and when you get below the surface of the ocean and take a look at what’s there it’s awe-inspiring. Whether you dive, snorkel of just float along, the reef is an amazing place. There are too many places to stay to focus on just one. There are retreats for couples, backpacker islands, untouched national parks, luxury islands with pampering resorts and others focused around the ocean and the life it supports.
And finally, is it really the best job in the world?
For sure. Some people may find the fast-paced lifestyle a little intense but that’s what I thrive on – it’s just who I am. You can’t beat this experience. I suppose that’s why they called it The Best Job in the World. It’s certainly that to me!
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For your own adventure on the Great Barrier Reef, call a Wexas Australia expert on 020 7838 5967 or email [email protected]