Why on earth would you want to sign up to something like this?
I went to Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic, as part of the NHS response, and I found it a life-changing experience. That extreme situation really made me analyse what I’m doing and who I am. I think that extreme experience makes you feel very alive. So it made me want to seek out other adventures like that. And I thought that the Mutiny idea would be really interesting, from a doctor’s viewpoint. To see what sort of a toll it would take on our bodies. To practice with such basic kit. And I got what I wanted – it was pretty extreme.
Why do you think you were chosen?
I think I probably fit a few niche boxes. I think I came across as the slightly uptight, posh doctor, which wasn’t the sort of vibe I was going for! I think I have a different perspective on things, as the medical person on the trip.
How did you prepare for the series?
I had to prepare as the medic, and also personally. As the doctor, I was reading up on all the possible scenarios that could occur – snakes, sharks, jellyfish that we could encounter, learning about things like saltwater sores and malnutrition, which aren’t issues I have to deal with in Lewisham. And then, from a personal perspective, the main thing I was worried about was sunburn, because I’m very pale. So I was panicking about that a bit. We all tried to put on weight beforehand. I really regret not putting on more weight before the journey. I lost more weight than anyone, and I really struggled with that. I found myself thinking about it a lot in the six months before I went.
What was the reality like, compared to the theory?
It was much harder than I thought it was going to be. The conditions we were in were far tougher than I’d expected. I knew it would be hot, for example, but when we had our weeks of extreme heat, I’d never felt heat like that in my life before. It was unbearable. Mentally and physically. But we also had weeks when it was freezing. I had chill blains on my fingers. People were in agony, because it was so cold and so wet. I had no idea it would be like that.
What did you miss the most, from everyday life?
I tried not to focus on that sort of thing, because I didn’t think it helped you get through the day. So some people would really obsess about their home life, or specific people they were missing, or food. I think that could stress you out, so I tried not to miss things. Obviously you miss everything, especially food. I think the thing I missed most was a comfortable bed. The sleeping conditions were horrible, and I lost so much fat around my body that I couldn’t lie on anything without being in quite a lot of agony.
So you didn’t get enough food and sleep?
No way, not at all. We were constantly doing four hour shifts, so at no point could you sleep for longer than three-and-a-half hours. Over two months, that takes quite a toll on your body. Especially when you’re doing really physical stuff in hard core conditions. And absolutely no way did we get enough food. When we didn’t have a little supplement of fruit or coconuts, we were only on about 400 calories-a-day.
What was the aroma like, all living on close quarters on the boat?
Pretty gross. It was quite interesting. There was a huge deterioration in smell at the beginning. The first week was disgusting, and I really didn’t think I could cope with it. But then you just got used to it. Or people stopped smelling. Then it didn’t bother me anymore.
What kind of relationships did you form?
That was definitely the best bit of the whole experience. I knew that we would become close, I knew it would be a very intense experience. But I’m surprised at how close I feel to everyone on the boat. Of course there are people that I’m more close to, and people that I maybe struggled to get along with. But that was a really special part of the whole thing.
Were there ever tensions among the crew?
Yeah, of course, absolutely. People were at the very edge of what I think it is possible for a modern man to do. So if someone is a bit grumpy, or someone snaps at you, or someone does something really stupid, that can be enough to put you over the edge for a moment. You might have a little freak out, shout at someone, you might go mental. And the longer the journey went on, the more that happened, and the more tense the atmosphere got.
What was Ant like as a skipper?
It’s quite weird. I’m getting better now, but I couldn’t talk about Ant for quite a long time without crying, which is really weird. That’s not the type of thing that normally happens to me. He’s the most amazing leader I’ve ever met in any walk of life. I’ve worked in the NHS for six years, I did that Ebola trip, I’ve worked in Cambodia, I’ve never met a leader like Ant, ever. I think it would be very hard to meet another one like him. Totally unique. He was so selfless at all times, he’d always put the group needs above his own needs. He would do that when the camera wasn’t rolling. I could not have done it without Ant. No way. I don’t think anyone could have done it without him. I don’t think any of us could have.
What were your lowest moments?
I’ve got three. In the first week there was a storm, and in the middle of these huge waves, in the pitch black, with torrential rain coming down, I was hallucinating. I’ve never been that scared. You’re totally powerless. All you can do is sit there. I think I was holding Ben or Rish’s hand. I really did think we were going to capsize and die. Then there was a more chromic thing, where I just lost a huge amount of weight. I lost a quarter of my body weight, and so I couldn’t move without being in pain, I couldn’t sit down without being in pain. I couldn’t lie down. And I’m a doctor, I know that the sort of weight loss I was showing was very, very unhealthy. I was probably teetering on the edge of having to leave the boat. And then, as a doctor, there was a point where Freddie was really quite unwell – his pulse and his observations were all completely off and he was behaving in quite a strange way, and I knew it was because he was really dehydrated. It was just so frustrating, because I couldn’t use any of the equipment. It was all encrusted with salt and messed up, so I felt really powerless to help him.
What were the high points?
Loads, actually. The high point was probably Vanuatu. We stayed with this local tribe, and they looked after us amazingly. And it was at the end of this really grim, wet period in the boat, so we really did need some time to rest and have some fresh food. They were so kind and open, it was just a really, really perfect experience, and just what we needed at that time.
What did you learn from this experience?
I knew that I was mentally resilient, I know I can deal with stressful situations. I’ve worked in A&E and in horrible situations, and I know I can deal with it. But I’d never put myself in a situation where I had to prove myself physically and emotionally. I put myself under such a long period of physical, mental, emotional stress, and just to know that I came through it is something I will carry forever. I know I can deal with pretty much anything having dealt with the horrible shit we went through.