Max Woosey’s pea-green tent is flapping and sagging in the wind and drizzle. The bunting is limp. The sleeping mat looks grey and tired. Even his teddy looks chilly and Digby the dog has scarpered inside the house to the warm.

But perched cross-legged on his sleeping bag, Max, 13, is beaming. ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life — it’s made me happier, more confident,’ he says. ‘It has changed everything.’

As we chat, Max has just completed his 1,096th night under canvas. Three full years of camping out in his Devon garden, in rain, sleet, snow and wild and windy storms, with just Digby the aged labradoodle for company.

He has raised a staggering £636,221 for his local hospice (more than £700,000 once Gift Aid is included), has awards and accolades coming out of his ears and is now Braunton’s most famous resident.

But tonight will be his last night.

But perched cross-legged on his sleeping bag, Max (pictured), 13, is beaming. 'It's the best thing I've ever done in my life — it's made me happier, more confident,' he says. 'It has changed everything'

But perched cross-legged on his sleeping bag, Max (pictured), 13, is beaming. ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life — it’s made me happier, more confident,’ he says. ‘It has changed everything’

As we chat, Max has just completed his 1,096th night under canvas. Three full years of camping out in his Devon garden, in rain, sleet, snow and wild and windy storms, with just Digby the aged labradoodle for company. Pictured: Max on his first night on March 29, 2020

As we chat, Max has just completed his 1,096th night under canvas. Three full years of camping out in his Devon garden, in rain, sleet, snow and wild and windy storms, with just Digby the aged labradoodle for company. Pictured: Max on his first night on March 29, 2020

Because finally — much to his mother Rachel’s relief — he is coming inside and, for the first time since 2020, will sleep in a bed, or try to.

‘It feels time, but I’ll miss it,’ he says. ‘It’s been quite eventful.’

Just a bit.

During Storm Eunice he sat clutching his knees in the dark, counting the gaps between thunderclaps, and he camped through the 2022 summer heatwave, with Covid. ‘That was the worst, I felt awful,’ he says.

Over the years, his tents have variously collapsed, blown away or become waterlogged. ‘I’ve been through 25 — they don’t last very well. We’ve had to put some up in the middle of the night,’ he says.

At night he’s listened to foxes, cars and drunken revellers on the way home from the pub. Each day, he has been woken by a morning chorus of birdsong and dogs barking.

Meanwhile, he has become famous around the world as ‘tent-boy’, featured on news programmes from Australia to South America.

He’s been awarded a British Empire Medal, a Pride of Britain award, an Unsung Hero award by his own hero, Bear Grylls and a Guinness Record for the most money raised by camping as an individual.

Did I mention that Max is 13 years old?

Over the years, his tents have variously collapsed, blown away or become waterlogged. 'I've been through 25 — they don't last very well. We've had to put some up in the middle of the night,' he says. Pictured: Max in 2021

Over the years, his tents have variously collapsed, blown away or become waterlogged. ‘I’ve been through 25 — they don’t last very well. We’ve had to put some up in the middle of the night,’ he says. Pictured: Max in 2021

He was just ten when, on March 29, 2020, in the height of the pandemic, he first trailed his teddy, sleeping bag and Beano Album into the garden, and snuggled down under canvas, with just Digby for company.

It all started when Rick Abbott, their beloved neighbour, died of cancer on Valentine’s Day, 2020.

‘He was 74, but was so sporty — always kayaking, surfing, paddleboarding,’ says Max. ‘He was the only 74-year-old I knew who had a climbing wall in his garage, with overhang.’

Rick had always had a soft spot for Max, too, and, when the end was near, gave him his tent and told him he wanted him to have a proper adventure in it.

‘So I promised him I would,’ says Max. ‘I don’t think he meant camping in the garden, but it was lockdown, so I couldn’t do much else.’

It took a while to wear down his mum, an accountant.

‘She kept saying ‘no, no. NO!’, very firmly. But I didn’t give up. I just kept going on and on about it,’ says Max.

‘And on . . .’ adds Rachel. ‘Eventually, I gave in. It was lockdown, he wasn’t going to be at school. We thought, why not?’

Max also came up with the idea of a JustGiving page, to raise money for the North Devon Hospice whose nurses helped to make Rick’s end- of-life care so much better.

‘Mum said it was mad and no one would give anything,’ he says.

But he did it anyway and the money started pouring in.

He was hoping to raise £100. After a year, he’d raised £500,000.

The current total is enough to fund the hospice’s entire community nursing team to visit patients in their own homes for a year.

Last week he was mentioned in PMQs and applauded by Rishi Sunak for his achievement. But it wasn’t Max’s first Prime Ministerial dealing. He was invited to pitch his tent in the Downing Street garden by Boris Johnson in 2021.

But it wasn't Max's first Prime Ministerial dealing. He was invited to pitch his tent in the Downing Street garden by Boris Johnson in 2021

But it wasn’t Max’s first Prime Ministerial dealing. He was invited to pitch his tent in the Downing Street garden by Boris Johnson in 2021

‘Dilyn the dog stole my teddy! He was so badly behaved. I don’t think they’d ever even brushed him since he was born,’ says Max of the PM’s pet. ‘It took four aides to get my teddy back. And then he drank my hot chocolate!’

Since then, he has camped on the pitch at Twickenham with his dad Mark, a former Marine, and at his local rugby club. He’s even given a TED talk to a packed auditorium in Bath.

‘Everyone else seemed nervous, but when I got going, I wasn’t at all,’ he says.

Now they’ve been invited to attend the Coronation in Westminster Abbey.

It must feel a bit like a dream. The fundraising alone is extraordinary.

But then so is Max. He is chatty, charming, funny, incredibly personable and had a far tougher start in life than most of us.

As a little boy he was badly hypermobile — with abnormally stretchy tendons and ligaments. So he couldn’t even hold a pencil at school and had to use special cutlery.

He was hopeless at sport, was never picked for any teams and was often so exhausted at the end of the day that his mother had to carry him the 400 yards home and his friends asked if he was disabled.

Also, he had to have grommets in his ears — tiny tubes inserted into the eardrum to prevent infection — when he was younger, which meant that when he was learning to speak, he only had 20 per cent hearing and his speech was badly affected.

‘I was bullied. Of course I was,’ says Max. ‘They weren’t nice. They used to call me names.’

But then so is Max. He is chatty, charming, funny, incredibly personable and had a far tougher start in life than most of us

But then so is Max. He is chatty, charming, funny, incredibly personable and had a far tougher start in life than most of us

But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he vowed to fight back. ‘I knew there was no point sulking and crying and feeling sad. I needed to do something for myself,’ he says.

So he swam three mornings a week, did endless physio exercises and joined every after-school sports club available — at one stage he was in 13 clubs. He managed to overcome his hypermobility and is now captain of the school rugby team. Because Max isn’t the sort to give up anything — ‘apart from my maths homework’.

The same with the camping. Which is why his poor mum knew once he’d had the idea, he’d never let up.

As a mum, she also knew what was best for her son. And being outside in a tent, without any screens, away from the relentless WhatsApp chat of teens, with his dog, reading under his fairy lights and listening to nature, was good for him.

‘I’ve always felt better outside. I’m more relaxed and it’s really helped my mental health,’ he says.

Which is all great, but of course there are downsides to having your son sleep in the garden.

‘Not everyone was supportive. I’ve had a lot of passive aggressive comments — ‘Ooh, you’re very brave, I could never let my son do that . . .’ ‘ says Rachel.

Max has had his share of jealous, snidey gripes, too. But over the years, he’s learned to brush it away.

‘Because a lot of people were not very nice to me when I was younger, I’ve got to the point where I don’t care what people think,’ he says.

Meanwhile, his devotion to the cause has been single-minded.

Which meant it scuppered sleepovers with pals — unless they were prepared to camp out. And affected family holidays.

In Madeira last year, he hauled all his bedding outside.

‘I just couldn’t sleep inside — but that was partly because dad snored so badly!’

Even when the family were provided with a £5,000-a-night suite at the Mandarin Oriental to use on their 2021 visit to Downing Street, Max decamped to the balcony.

For Rachel, it also meant three years of not kissing her son goodnight: ‘I was worried if I pulled up the zip it would wake him up.’

For the hairier nights, Rachel and Mark had a safety system. ‘If he was ill, I’d sleep out with him,’ says Rachel. ‘But if there was a named storm, like Storm Eunice, Mark would sleep out with him.’

‘The first six months, I found very difficult. I haven’t slept very well at all,’ she says. ‘Thank goodness for the dog!’

The garden took quite a beating, too.

Not only did the tent wreck the grass, but yellow patches appeared in random places and a single pot of Rachel’s prize flowers mysteriously wilted and died.

For the hairier nights, Rachel (pictured, left) and Mark (pictured, right) had a safety system. 'If he was ill, I'd sleep out with him,' says Rachel. 'But if there was a named storm, like Storm Eunice, Mark would sleep out with him'

For the hairier nights, Rachel (pictured, left) and Mark (pictured, right) had a safety system. ‘If he was ill, I’d sleep out with him,’ says Rachel. ‘But if there was a named storm, like Storm Eunice, Mark would sleep out with him’

‘I couldn’t be bothered to come inside for the loo…’ says Max sheepishly.

But he loved it. And the decision to move back inside kept getting pushed back.

The first year under canvas, marked by a national Max’s Big Camp Out campaign — in which children across the country were encouraged to camp in their back garden in support of his efforts — came and went.

‘We’d assumed that would be it — we really hoped it would be. But he looked so miserable at the idea of stopping that we let him stay out,’ says Rachel.

Weeks, months and, eventually, two more years passed. Birthdays were marked by balloons tied to the tent. Digby the dog, now 12, grew greyer around the chops. And Max grew taller — ten inches in three years — and much, much, stronger.

Today, he might still enjoy The Beano album, but he’s also a strapping young man, with a passion and talent for rugby, a deeper voice, a truly brilliant mum, and a quiet, strong confidence that it is hard to imagine anything shaking.

‘It is time now. Time to move back inside, and on, and focus on my sport,’ he says.

‘But camping has changed me. I’m ready to give anything a go now.’

In the long run, the bendy little boy who was bullied and never picked for sport, plans to become a professional rugby player. I, for one, would put my money on him getting there.

In the short term, he just wants to enjoy himself.

‘I just want to have fun with my friends and my family and help people and do the right thing.’

But right now, we’re back in the little green tent — now rather snug for his 5ft 10in frame — where tonight he will spend his last night under the stars.

There will also be a local festival in Braunton to celebrate his achievement, with bands and stalls and local celebrities, and a community camp out.

And tomorrow, he will take down his tent and pack it away for the last time and move inside and into a brand-new bed, kindly donated by a local bed shop.

So, finally, what would neighbour Rick have made of it all?

‘I think if he’d been alive, he’d have pitched a tent and camped out next to me,’ says Max. ‘It definitely wasn’t the adventure he had in mind, but I hope he’d have been proud.’



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