He has survived a record-breaking storm, endured icy mornings when he woke with frost coating his blankets and battled a bout of Covid during a heatwave. But after two years of sleeping under canvas Max Woosey – the boy in the tent – is on the verge of, if not giving up life under the stars, then at least embarking on a new chapter.
“I’m still going to be in my tent a lot,” said Max, who has raised more than £700,000 for charity. “But now I’ve done two years, if there’s a big, dangerous storm coming I may come inside, or if we have a trip to London I may stay in a hotel. I’m not going to have to be outside every night any more.”
It comes as some relief to his family. Max’s mother, Rachael Woosey, said: “That will make a huge difference – trying to go anywhere and do anything is complicated at the moment.”
When the family visited London for an awards ceremony, they had to find a hotel prepared to let Max sleep on a balcony. “It will be really nice to be able to go away and not have to ask ‘How are we going to do this? Where is the tent going to go?’. It will be nice to have a bit of normal family life, and if Max chooses to sleep outside when we’re at home then that’s fine.
“It feels like a bit of a transition. Our concern has been that he feels under pressure to do it, but he’s the only one that puts the pressure on. It will be nice that if he’s out there it’s because he wants to be, not because he feels he’s letting anyone down.”
Max’s marathon camp began in early 2020 when his mum and dad, Mark Woosey, a Royal Marine, 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 friend remain in his own home. 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. He thought it might last a few weeks and he might raise £100. It went on, and on.
There have been ups and downs. The ups included camping trips to Downing Street and Twickenham stadium. He has got through about a dozen tents and found that, generally, hot sunshine did more damage than strong wind or rain.
Lows included last month’s storms, including Eunice with its record-breaking winds. Max’s father joined him in the tent that night. “The storm didn’t bother me but my dad’s snoring did,” said the 12-year-old.
Actually, an invite to a sleepover with friends at his new school – he has started secondary school since his adventure began – was trickier.
“I was quite new to the school,” said Max. “I didn’t want to say no; I didn’t want to seem like the kid who didn’t do sleepovers. It was quite awkward.” A solution was reached. “One of them said ‘Why don’t we all sleep outside?’, so we did.”
This weekend Max is taking part in a “big camp out”, having invited not only friends from north Devon but also people from around the world to sleep outside, or even make a den in their bedroom. Some may raise money, but it is also about having a communal experience.
When Max wakes up on Tuesday, he will have reached the two-year mark. His mother said she was very proud. “If there’s been a problem he’s sorted himself out. He’s known he can come and wake us but he hasn’t. I think because of that he walks a bit taller. He’s solved problems and that is something he is always going to have with him.”
Max said he had learned resilience. “There have been lots of nights of horrible weather – times when it’s raining or freezing – and you want to go inside but you think, ‘No, I’m out here raising money, it’s a good cause’. You’ve got to keep on fighting.”