How 'Stornoway Gazette' beat finest of Fleet Street to a castaway scoop

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The Independent Online

Ray Bowyer, the renegade who dramatically deserted the BBC's Castaway 2000 island last week, was threatened with publicly embarrassing film footage before he fled, he says today.

His claims are in this morning's Stornoway Gazette, on the Isle of Lewis, which declares a "world exclusive" after scooping cheque-book-waving London rivals who fruitlessly pursued Mr Bowyer around the Western Isles last week in a farcical search for an interview.

The paper. - circulation 13,000, price 52p every Thursday - relishes its victory over Fleet Street's finest, declaring: "While reporters came in one door armed with cheques for £5,000 and plane tickets home, Bowyer was smuggled out the other door and taken by Gazette van to the ferry terminal." The ship dropped him back on the mainland.

While in hiding, Mr Bowyer who will be remembered by viewers as the jovial retired builder with the silvery pony tail, described the tabloid battle to secure his story.

He said the original pick-up from Taransay had been "pure James Bond stuff", as the Mirror's speed boat "came out of nowhere".

But he had second thoughts about the deal, said to be worth £10,000, when he reached Stornoway.

"He asked to be let out at the Co-op on Macauley Road to buy razor blades," says the Gazette. "He then headed straight for the newspaper stand, read the day's copy of the Mirror, disliked the way he had been represented and made his escape.

"After trying to hack off his beard in the toilets, he made a break for freedom through the store's warehouse and over the wall ... Bowyer then made for the Gazette office.

"Sporting a fresh cut on his face, the dishevelled and unkempt castaway introduced himself to one of the office staff by saying, 'I'm the one who escaped'."

During his interview, Mr Bowyer says he had been warned that if he left Taransay, unflattering film captured on the group's video camera might be screened.

A drunken spat between Mr Bowyer and another castaway had been taped and the mutineer was allegedly told: "Is this how you want to be portrayed?"

Last night the BBC denied the claim. "Not a lot of what Ray says makes much sense," said a spokeswoman. "We would never have made such a threat because everyone knows that piece of footage will be shown on the programme."

In the interview, Mr Bowyer, who has since returned to his home in Little Hulton, Salford, Greater Manchester, complained of poor conditions on the island.

"For a long time my bed was a cold, hard slab in the school house with rain coming through holes in the roof," he said. While the builders were on the island in January, he said, there was not enough food supplied by Lion TV, the makers of the documentary.

"Lion were sending food, but it all went to the builders as there was only enough for them. We were living on nothing. We had to work all day in bad conditions and our tea consisted of toast and soup. I was 17 stone when I left home, now I'm 14 and a half."

He said every time the castaways complained, they would receive a large consignment of alcohol from Lion and have a party.

As for living off the land, Mr Bowyer said the castaways had so far killed just one sheep. "And nobody could eat it after somebody called it a name," he said, adding that the sheep were in any case unappetising since they had liver fluke from drinking contaminated water.

Mr Bowyer denied reports that he had personal problems with his fellow castaways and said he was worried about the way he would be represented in the series.