Why did you want to go on Treasure Island?
I love a challenge. I've achieved a lot in my job and my career and then I really felt that I had to know if I can do this. Can I actually do the things that so few people in the world have done? So it was probably the mental challenge of it. Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis! I guess it’s that sense of being a husband, father of two, having a sensible, grown up job, doing all these things that people tell you that you're meant to do as a grown up. I think I had a sudden flip, am I actually ready to be this grown up? I’m a brain surgeon so there's all the expectation that you look after others around you ensuring you can get them through life but actually, can I do that for me?
Were you looking forward to going back to basics?
Yeah, I think a digital detox is interesting because since no-one can get in contact with you, it's actually quite liberating. It's this liberation in being un-contactable, and that's pretty amazing because usually I'm on call, you're looking after kids, you're constantly thinking about work or family, but I couldn’t do anything for my family, I couldn't do anything for my patients, actually it was really quite nice to switch all that off and just think about me, my actual responsibility was just me. I had to survive.
What did you make of Bear Grylls when you met him?
There was this moment where, you know he's very inspirational, he's achieved so much, he's met so many people, I was on the back of the boat going for a pee and thinking, "I'm actually going for a pee next to Bear Grylls. How very bizarre!”
Did he give you any advice?
He gave me some advice about time, about being aware of the sunsets and how much time will prevail by using your hand as a marker. Each finger indicated a certain time period. So that was interesting and he just gave us generic advice, just to enjoy the experience. We'd been chosen for this once in a lifetime experience that people can only dream of doing.
What was the one thing that you were concerned about before you went on the island?
So my dad had a prostate biopsy not too long before and his results were pending. So as a doctor, knowing that he had had issues relating to his prostate that was pressing on my mind quite heavily, you know, in terms of what would happen, how would it pan out if something happened. I discussed it with my family and said, "Look, I'll leave it to your discretion to say if I need to come back or not and what information is given to me." I was constantly aware that I could get a message that he's sick, or he's unwell, and then thinking, "Well what decision do I make on that?" If he was sick but it was not life-threatening, do I come back? I could look at it one way and take the view he's not dying therefore I don't need to come back. Or, if he's dying of this, I'd have to come back and support the family. So that was probably quite pressing the whole time I was on the island.
What did you make of the other islanders?
It's quite funny because you could see that there was alpha male and alpha female kind of characters trying to establish power and authority. And then there were also people who were quite content not to establish anything, to try to just sail through it. It quickly became apparent that there were some who were incredibly lazy and were very good at giving the impression they were busy.
You’re a leader in your work so how did you fit with the alpha males?
I think being a doctor helps because as the medic, there's almost this kind of perceived role. There was an established understanding of roles so I could kind of fit into that role without having to be eager. I was probably the quiet one. So I'm not normally quiet, and for the first two weeks on the island I didn't say a great deal. So I kept quite quiet and just observed. Then, to my detriment I think, I just kept quiet and I didn't really engage. I kind of thought that as long as I can suss where the water is, the fire, the food, I can then have my opportunity to come through the experience unscathed. That's kind of what I did for the first two weeks. I kept myself quite busy, that probably meant that people looked at me as just the person that did stuff, always trying to invent or make something, or trying to fish or hunt. I had to keep myself busy, and that was my method of controlling my mental health.
As you isolated yourself from the group did you manage to bond with anyone?
Well, I think a part of my skill is I was able to give out what was needed to that person at that time. So people who wanted to chat about fancy cars, I could do that. Or people who wanted to talk about going out, football, or whatever, I could kind of tap into what their need at that time was and discuss it, but not necessarily reveal a lot of me. It was kind of a masking tool, so in doing that I was able to engage and bring people along.
Did Ivar spill any stories about the royal family?
Not really, he was particularly cagey about his past, but you were able to learn a bit about him, his lifestyle and interesting things like the link between the Mountbattens and Battenberg cake. You know Battenberg cake? That all comes from him and his family! The four squares of the Battenberg cake reflect different princes of the realm, it’s amazing, as someone born and bred in London, Great Britain, you kind of take a lot of things for granted.
How did the introduction of the money impact the dynamics of the group?
It became of real importance to certain people. In becoming a great importance to people, it meant that the social dynamics changed. There was almost a sense of who do I trust, who do I not? What's the purpose of money for each person? You know, like £500 for one person may mean an incredibly large amount, for another it’s a new handbag. Now, is that correct or a status thing? But who am I to say what the value of money is for each person?
What were your thoughts on the money?
I really wasn't overtly bothered. Of course I would love to have money, of course that would be wonderful and great, but that wasn't my drive of being on the island. My drive is I want to know that if a plane crashed and I was on an island, could I survive it? Could I actually survive it for what it is? I came away thinking I could. The money was an additional bonus. So the charity that I work with in Belfast, Helping Hands, is for the children's hospital, if I can promote or bring some money in, or as a result of the show bring about increased awareness of them, then that's my role to play. So I could do that. A proportion of the money I found has gone to the children's hospital charity. So that was my driver of trying to find the money and do something within it. What I was most amazed by, by doing that and being involved in that and being open about that, other people gave money towards the charity.
What did you think when you found out people like Ivar and Marco had found money and were hiding it?
It's human nature, like I know that one person on the island, the most unlikely person, had said that had the opportunity arisen, she would have put her hand in the bag of someone, knowing that there was money in it and taken it. That was Irene, the oldest lady on the island. It certainly shows a different light to people, doesn't it? It brings out the evil, also the greed and makes you do silly things. But when you're hungry and tired and this money has no relevance in the sense of your survival, that money is not going to help. I mean you're not going to burn it, you're not going to smoke it, you're not going to do anything. It's actually not going to aid your survival, but it has such a driver in how you portray yourself.
Aside from the money, was there any other big divides in the group?
There was no divide of capability, no divide of those that could do and those that couldn't. It was trying to work out what everyone's role amongst that was and so there were certain people who just couldn't do anything. Everyone had to find their own way of justifying their existence on the island, so Emily was excellent at dividing food, but that didn't necessarily mean that she went out and caught all the food. Everyone found some method of justification, and the problem is, if you weren't getting wood for the fire and you were seen to be lazy and sitting about, then it could very quickly become an issue. When no-one's going out to get the water, and it's the same people going off and bringing back 40 litres of water in 30 degrees of heat and then preparing it, you see other people not doing so, but drinking the water and it wrangles you, it gets under your skin, and in the overall scheme of things, what would be the equivalent? It would be the person who didn't clear the microwave after they use it at work, and it's kind of the way these things are. It becomes magnified because your survival is dependent on it.
Were you ever called into action while you were out there?
Yeah there were a few people who had hurt themselves but it wasn’t anything major so just assessments of people. Probably the biggest thing was Morag drinking the contaminated water when everyone told her not to. Our water got contaminated with sea water so obviously you can’t drink salt water without getting ill.
How did you find the food situation?
I think we ate pretty well, to be honest, better than I expected. We had oysters, fish, goat, loads of coconut. It wasn’t anything like what we’re used to eating but it was enough to get by. People asked me about food after we got off the island and I always say we ate everything but humans! We talked about so many crazy things like would we eat each other if we had to. The really interesting thing is money changes people’s thoughts about survival. So I wanted to build stuff for camp but most people couldn’t be bothered, especially once they had their hands on money. Why build a shelter or a bed when you’re sitting on a load of money? They knew they would survive, they knew that they would eventually get off the island so all the focus was on the money and they didn’t give a care about the state of the camp.
How much weight did you lose?
I was over fourteen stone when I got on the island and eleven when I got off! I dropped the most amount of weight. My profile picture on Instagram has a slogan "Control, alt, del”. I had this moment where I was able to control, alt, delete my life. My blood pressure came down, my cholesterol came down, my physicality changed. I went from a 38 inch waist to a 30. I'm much fitter than I've ever been. I look much better than I've ever been. All these other markers improved so I realised on the island that there was a positive effect. This ketosis, this state of burning my fat was happening to me. So yes, it was incredibly tough, but there was no other way of me having that change in my life. People pay thousands on diets, and I had one that in 35 days dropped me 20+ kilos.
What did it feel like when you saw yourself in the mirror for the first time?
I was horrified. I knew I must look different because I had to cut maybe four or five different belt holes. They could see that, and by the end of it I had to walk around with my trousers dangling around my butt like some kind of hoodlum. It just, it was so sudden that when you looked in the mirror and saw that, you just thought, "Wow."
How has that impacted you off the island?
I mean the challenge for me off the island is to keep it off and maintain that “control, alt, del”, kind of ideology that I have made a difference to my physical health. Now I run five miles to work, work then run back. That's just embedded in my weekly routine. I train and I can see differences in my physical nature, my clothes are fitting differently. I needed a new wardrobe, I've spent money on new clothes. That's all been good, my family have seen a difference. My work is better, my operating is faster, I'm less sluggish.
So it has impacted your work?
Oh yeah, massively. The operations that I do that took me a long time have taken less time now. The only thing I can say is I was sluggish and now I just feel like there's additional clarity of thoughts in terms of operating, there’s more confidence in who I am and what I can do. I've seen that, in my operations I’ve been involved with since coming off the island. I feel better in how I approach things with family and my patients.
It sounds like it's been life changing for you?
Oh, yes, it’s been life changing for me, there is no doubt. When I went on this island aged 42 I was given an opportunity to make a decision about where I was headed in my life, physically, mentally. I had that “control, alt, del” moment where I reset and it's reset me for the better and off I go. I am very aware that my job gives a certain uniqueness to me. The things that I see in my work are not the norm in terms of, not many see the back of a two-year old's brainstem and have to make decisions about removing tumours and if you don't do it, the child may die. If you do, do it, the child may be left with significant problems. How do you make these decisions? I feel like my time on the island has helped in clarity of thinking and decision making.