Chocolate, batteries, drysuits: sponsors try to put a price on adventure

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The Independent Online
For four days he suffered the most agonising solitude. Now the whole world wants to meet Tony Bullimore.

An agent has been instructed to preside over an auction for his astonishing story involving film companies, publishing houses and newspapers.

One Sunday newspaper was reputed to have made a pounds 100,000 offer for an exclusive interview. United States film agents promised Hollywood movies and marketing executives have identified opportunities for endorsement of everything from confectionery to sports equipment and the kind of drysuit that saved him from freezing to death. The loss of the Exide Challenger may turn its skipper into a millionaire.

The Berkshire-based sports management company Masters International was yesterday seeking to secure for Bullimore the first of a series of lucrative deals, for a newspaper exclusive.

Meanwhile, the confectionery firm Cadbury was yesterday trying to confirm that it was one of its chocolate brands that had sustained him while he was stranded in icy waters, 1,400 miles south of Australia. "If it was, we will want to talk to him," a spokesman said.

Exide Batteries, the South Wales-based arm of the US battery giant, was congratulating itself on a last- minute decision to sponsor Bullimore; the boat, seen on worldwide television, was renamed in the week before the round-the-world race began. Phil Jones, deputy managing director, said he was hoping to extend the company's relationship with the yachtsman.

Richard Branson, who himself escaped when his hot-air balloon made an emergency landing at the start of his attempt to go round the world this week, has offered to provide the yachtsman and his wife, Lalel, with free flights on his airline Virgin Atlantic.

The only obstacle in Bullimore's path appears to be the yachtsman himself. Despite his reputation in yachting circles as a wheeler-dealer figure who always has an eye open for money-making opportunities, the garrulous sailor was doing his best to give the story away for nothing.

Having been on the phone to the BBC Radio 4's Today programme within hours of his rescue, he was in talkative mood again yesterday from the HMAS Adelaide, where he is being treated for mild hypothermia. The frigate is expected to reach Australia on Monday.

Bullimore, 56, revealed how he twice nearly left the safety of his capsized boat after wrongly believing he was about to be rescued. "I nearly dived out on a couple of occasions thinking there was a rescue vessel outside, but I was terrified because once I dived out I couldn't get back in," he said.

And he admitted how close he had come to death. "I started asking myself `Am I really preparing my grave?' I really believe I was just on the brink. I got to the point where I was thinking in hours."

Born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, Bullimore helped his father, Bill, on market stalls in Romford, before setting up a wedding photography business at the age of 15. He then volunteered to crew a yacht to South Africa and later sailed to Jamaica where he met his wife. Returning to Bristol, he ran a nightclub which catered for the city's Afro-Caribbean community until it burnt down. He then set up a business in Birmingham selling bankrupt stock.

In the meantime he was acquiring a growing reputation for his sailing, sharing the Yachtsman of the Year title in 1985. He has raced across the Atlantic 27 times. He has almost lost his life three times, and his latest brush with death is thought to have cost the rescue authorities as much as pounds 5m. "I would agree with those questioning the cost," he said yesterday. "There is something a little absurd about the tremendous cost of rescuing people who do foolhardy things." But at the end of the day, it was part of human nature to take on daredevil challenges. "People walk to the South Pole, they go down in the seas, they go up as high as they can, they go sideways, whatever. If all these things were taken away it would be a little bit like the taming of mankind."

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