AT school Tom Williams was mercilessly bullied for being overweight.
He was teased with the bizarre nickname ‘Bum’ and picked on relentlessly by other kids in the playground.Tom Williams won the Channel 4 series Alone[/caption] He survived alone in the Canadian wilderness for 35 days[/caption]
By the time he was an overweight teen, dyslexic Tom had perhaps unsurprisingly given up on education too.
But now the 40-year-old has had the last laugh after purposely putting on weight to win £100,000 on Channel 4’s survival show Alone.
In the UK adaptation of the hit American TV show, 11 Brits were dropped off alone near the Mackenzie River in north-west Canada with just a rucksack.
They were expected to find shelter, food and water and sustain themselves for as long as possible in an area home to 3,000 bears as well as moose, cougars and wolves.
Tom was crowned king survivalist after lasting 34 days.
The dad-of-one, from Portsmouth, has come a long way since his classroom days and hopes his win will give other bullied kids hope for the future.
He said: “I was the fattest kid at school between the aged of five and 14 and was picked on by the other kids.
“Academically I was labelled a failure and the teachers said the only way I’d end up at university was if I climbed through the bathroom window.Tom says he was bullied and labelled a failure at school[/caption]
“But maybe it was the right amount of adversity to eventually spur me on.
“I’d love to let children who are having a terrible time know that you can blossom in the future.”
Tom, who now runs his own island adventure company, had to relive his heavier days after choosing to put on three stone for Alone so he wouldn’t starve.
He said: “I knew keeping up calories would be a problem and that I’d lose weight so I wanted to build a bit of timber before I went in – and managed to put on just over three stone in seven weeks.
“Seventy percent of a challenge like that is mental and if you’re not getting enough calories in and constantly hungry things will start falling apart.His shelter in Alone[/caption] The impressive dwelling kept him safe from the elements… and bears[/caption]
“I was able to catch a fish a day and lived on berries and drank tea made from peppermint.”
Tom had just an axe, saw, sleeping bag, cooking pot, fishing net and fire striker to survive and says the first few hours of being dropped in a strange landscape were the worst.
He said: “You’re dropped with just a few hours to nightfall and you know you have to build a basic shelter and have something to eat and drink before the sun goes down. I found that part really difficult.
“It would take an hour to even drink some water because it needed to be sterilised by boiling and then cool down.
“I also had a bad fall carrying a bag of rocks for the chimney of my shelter and hurt my back.. I was worried it would end my time on the show but I managed to find a willow plant, which contains aspirin in the leaves and it got better after resting.”
Tom and the other contestants were warned about the threat of bears – but he says the biggest ‘danger’ were mice in his shelter.
“I could hear them scurrying when it was dark and one night one ran over my face,” he said. “After five or six days I created a homemade mouse trap using two stones and that stopped them.
“I was aware that there were bears in the area but the only evidence I saw was a single footprint within the first few days of arriving, which looked like it had been there a week or so.
“But I was always on high alert to every little noise. It is so quiet out there in the wild that all your senses sharpen and, any little noise, my fight or flight response kicked in and I’d wake up.”
Tom Hanks inspiration
Tom, of Portsmouth, said he never got lonely on the show despite leaving behind wife Eleanor and son Edward because he constantly talked into his camera – which he compared the football Wilson in the movie Cast Away.
The film sees Tom Hanks’ character befriend a ball he spends hours talking to like a human being.
Tom said: “I found constantly chatting to my camera and saying what I was doing really helped. It was my Wilson.”
Tom said the peace and solitude was so magical that he felt ‘euphoric’ at times – and says more Brits need to get out into the wild.
“Out there all I had to think about was shelter and food and I had a real sense of clarity,” he said.
“I would reach an almost meditative state, a kind of euphoria at times. If you think about it, man has spent 99 per cent of our existence in the wild so that’s the more natural setting. The world is so fast nowadays that I’m not surprised so many people suffer from anxiety”
Tom jumped at the chance to star in the show after watching the hugely popular American version of Alone.Tom with his family[/caption] The daredevil has a taste for adventure[/caption]
When producers called his company to see if he could think of anyone who would like to take part he asked them ‘what about me?’
He was worried about leaving son Edward but says: “When he knew I was going away he got upset and I asked if I should go and he said ‘yes dad because to try is good. He’s a little sage.”
Every contestant was allowed a family picture in their shelter and used a knife to etch Edward’s quotes into the wall.
Taste for adventure
The family now intend to use the cash to buy a property in Lisbon, Portugal, where they now live.
It’s not the first time Tom has taken on such a massive challenge.
His love for adventure started when he and a friend won a 367-mile amateur race to the North Pole in 2010.
He has also cycled the Andres, sailed 8,000 miles and is a snowboard instructor and dive master.
When he looks back on his school album he can hardly believe it’s the same person.
He said: “I’ve had various sales jobs over the years but soon realised they weren’t a good fit for me.
“I think I’m proof that you don’t always need to be brilliant academically.
“We tend to judge children by how good they are at school but don’t consider any other skills and abilities and I hope they read this and realise they can do whatever they want if they work at it.”
Stream the entire series of Alone on Channel 4 now