Max Woosey has woken up in his tent in the depths of winter, teeth chattering, his sleeping bag and blankets coated with frost. The 11-year-old was almost tempted indoors one night when his tent blew down in a storm but he repitched and carried on.
This summer there have been some uncomfortably hot, sticky nights, especially after the family labradoodle, Digby, took to snuggling in with Max and licking his face at all hours.
But on Tuesday night Max, from Braunton in north Devon, will enjoy – and he insists it really is enjoyment – his 500th consecutive night camping out, an adventure that has raised more than £600,000 for charity.
“It feels amazing to reach 500 nights,” said Max. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long because so many cool things have happened since I started camping. I never ever thought that it would last this long, but I absolutely love it.”
The marathon began in early 2020 when Max’s mum and dad, Rachael and Mark Woosey, were helping to care for a neighbour, Rick Abbott, who had terminal cancer.
The Woosey family saw first-hand how the support of North Devon hospice helped their neighbour remain in his own home and, just before he died, Abbott gave Max his tent and told him to have an adventure with it.
When the first national lockdown was announced in March 2020 and it became clear the hospice would suffer a financial hit, Max decided to do a fundraising camp out until lockdown was over, thinking it might last a few weeks and he might raise £100.
As lockdown restrictions dragged on, Max refused to come in from the cold and donations poured into his JustGiving page. He attracted national and international attention and was invited to camp next to the lion’s enclosure at London zoo and in the Downing Street garden.
He met Boris Johnson and there was an awkward moment when the PM’s dog, Dilyn, grabbed Max’s cuddly toys, Spike the lemur and Heidi the lion. “I was chasing round the garden trying to catch Dilyn,” said Max. “That was bizarre.”
He has begun to receive fanmail, some addressed simply to: “The Boy in the Tent, Braunton, Devon.”
As his 500th day approached, Max had raised £640,000 – more than half of what the hospice estimates it will have lost in donations due to the pandemic. And got through 10 tents.
His mother, an accountant, said the 500 days had been life-changing for the family. “It started off as my little 10-year-old boy camping out in the garden for a few nights and hoping to raise £100. None of us can really believe what has happened.
“I’ve said to him on numerous occasions that he doesn’t have to stay outside any more, and that he has already achieved something special, but he always says no.”
Rachael Woosey said she told him to come in when his tent blew down – but he refused. One night during a thunderstorm she found herself Googling whether it was safe to camp out when lightning was around. Next morning Max told her he had been counting the seconds between the thunderclaps and the lightning and knew the storm was far enough away. “He told me: ‘I knew I wasn’t going to die.’” Max tested positive for Covid at one point but still stayed outside, with his mum sleeping next to him.
In March, to celebrate his challenge reaching the year point, a Big Camp Out for youngsters was organised. About 1,000 children from around the world camped out and raised half a million pounds for charities. “It created a community,” said Max. “We couldn’t meet each other because of Covid but we knew children were all doing something together.”
Max’s dad, a Royal Marine, said he was hugely proud of his son. “I think he likes the freedom sleeping in the tent. Nobody is checking exactly what time he goes to sleep. He has a bit of control.”
But is there any sign Max will soon be coming back to sleep in the comfort of his bedroom? “No, this is me, this is what I do now,” said Max. “I don’t have any intention of stopping just now. I love being outdoors and being closer to nature. If it stops being fun, I’ll come in. But I can’t imagine that.”
When he leaves school, Max hopes to become an adventurer or a professional rugby player. But even if he becomes rich and famous, he says he will not be interested in staying in smart hotels. “A tent will do me,” he said.