(a grain of sand, the film)
Brendon Grimshaw was editor to some of the most important newspapers in Africa. But in 1972, he gave it all up to go and live on Moyenne Island, which he purchased for ten thousand pounds. In the thirty-six-years that he has lived on the island, Brendon and his friend, Rene Lafortune, planted sixteen-thousand trees, built 4,8 kilometres of nature paths, and brought and bred 110 giant land tortoises, creating an island of incredible beauty now worth 34 million Euros. Come with us on this journey and discover why an 82-year-old man fears his island will one day be destroyed by the ever-expanding reach of our insatiable desires...
Surely it’s what many of us dream about while trudging into the office during another April downpour.
Why not escape the rat race and the grey skies to live on a sunny tropical island?
Brendon Grimshaw has done just that.
In 1962, the Yorkshireman bought Moyenne - a small island just half a mile wide - in the Seychelles for the princely sum of £8,000, and he has been living there ever since.
The sprightly 86-year-old wakes to the sound of rustling palm trees and the Indian Ocean lapping against the shore.
He spends his days caring for the island’s tortoises and birds that also call it home.
When he bought Moyenne, it was overgrown with scrub so dense that coconuts could not fall to the ground.
But Brendon worked tirelessly to transform the island into his own little patch of heaven.
Living in this unique wildlife reserve, he has survived tropical storms, sharks, ghosts, a coup d’etat in the Seychelles and a mercenary raid.
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Scattered over a vast area of the Indian Ocean, the 115 islands of the Seychelles are among the most spectacular on the planet.
There are just 85,000 inhabitants, but hundreds of secluded beaches.
I visited the Seychelles while filming my new BBC TV series, to find Somali pirates in the prisons and Dutch Special Forces training local troops to repel more attacks.
But it was a visit to Brendon’s island, and meeting the man himself, that caught my imagination.
Just a hop away from the capital, Victoria, on the island of Mahe, and surrounded by azure and turquoise waters, the 22½ acres of Moyenne stand out from the neighbouring islands, which are owned by billionaires, Arab princes and Russian oligarchs, and include some of the most glorious holiday retreats in the world.
Island: Moyenne was abandoned until Brendon purchased it 50 years ago
Surrounded by protective coral reef, Moyenne looked wild and uninhabited - until I caught a glimpse of a wooden building poking through the trees.
I was warmly greeted by Brendon in his T-shirt and shorts, standing on a picture-perfect beach.
Lithe, wiry and tanned, he still has his Dewsbury accent, which seems wildly out of place in such an exotic setting.
Together we climbed steps hewn out of the rock and past clusters of palm trees to where Brendon’s one-storey wooden house clings to the hillside.
Simon Reeve meets the real life Robinson Crusoe
A whopper was sitting on the steps.
Among the world’s longest living creatures, they have been known to survive for more than 180 years.
Giant tortoises are indigenous to the Seychelles, but have been killed off on most of the other islands.
Brendon has been gradually reintroducing them to his corner of the Indian Ocean, painting them with identifying numbers and giving them names such as Alice, Florita and Four Degrees South (the island’s latitude).
His house is eccentric and well-worn, a bit like its owner, and furnished with African souvenirs and curios that testify to Brendon’s years in the tropics.
Outside I spotted a sign: ‘Please respect the tortoises. They are probably older than you.’
Fluttering above the tortoises were just some of the 2,000 birds that Brendon has encouraged to flock here
Life's a beach: Brendon Grimshaw on Moyenne, the Seychelles island he bought in 1962 for £8,000
As they feasted on rice from the five 50kg bags Brendon puts out each week, they made a magnificent sight.
We set off for a walk around Moyenne, with Brendon bounding along in flip-flops.
He first arrived in the Seychelles on holiday in the late Fifties, restless and seeking adventure after years spent working as a newspaperman in Africa.
‘I started thinking about buying property almost as soon as I arrived, but I couldn’t find the right place,’ he told me.
It wasn’t until the very last day of his holiday that he heard about Moyenne. ‘I knew the moment I set foot on the island that it was the right place for me.’
Brendon had dinner with the owner and a deal was done.
Yorkshire’s Robinson Crusoe had found his paradise.
He hired his own Man Friday, a Seychellois called Rene Lafortune, who helped him transform Moyenne.
Together they planted palm trees, mango and paw-paw.
They saved rainwater and pumped it up the hillside by hand, or rowed back to the main island to collect a barrel of fresh water.
It was backbreaking, exhausting work. ‘My hands were covered in blisters,’ said Brendon.
When he arrived there were no birds on the island, so he brought ten from a neighbouring island - which promptly flew straight back.
He brought a few more, which also disappeared. But then a couple returned.
Brendon started feeding them, and more birds settled on the island.
Slowly the trees grew and fruited, and eventually water, electricity and a phone cable were piped across from Mahe.
‘But we weren’t doing it to make it into a national park or anything like that,’ said Brendon.
‘No, no, no! We were doing it to make it habitable for me.’
It might have been accidental conservation, but while the rest of us have been busy concreting over our front gardens, Brendon was creating a second Eden.
Rene died a few years ago, so now the tortoises and several pet dogs are Brendon’s companions. I asked him if he’s ever been lonely.
‘Yes, only once in my life - when I was living in a bedsit in London. I was miserable then, but never here.’
Paradise: Brendon wakes to the sound of rustling palm trees and the Indian Ocean lapping against the shore
Brendon is not a recluse.
He relishes visitors and company, and regrets not marrying.
‘But how could I ask anyone to live out here?’ he said. ‘We didn’t have running water for years!’
Though his mother always refused to visit Moyenne because she didn’t much like ‘abroad’, Brendon’s sister Sandra moved to Mahe with her husband and opened a cafe.
And when his father Raymond was widowed in 1981, he accepted Brendon’s invitation to come and live on Moyenne.
‘To my surprise, he moved from Seaford in East Sussex to be with me when he was 88,’ said Brendon. ‘We had a wonderful time together, and became the best of friends.’
Raymond died following a fall five years later and is buried on the island next to a grave Brendon has already dug for himself.
Even now, he is not alone. Day-trippers are allowed to visit from Mahe for £10 each.
Brendon has a strict rule that no one is allowed to stay overnight, but some visitors try to linger a little longer.
A Saudi prince once offered him a blank cheque for Moyenne, and other rich visitors have also been so entranced they’ve tried to buy it on the spot. But Brendon certainly isn’t selling.
‘The only reason someone would want to buy this island is to build a big hotel,’ he said.
Yes, of course he wants to keep his hideaway pristine, but perhaps he still has hopes of finding the pirate treasure rumoured to be buried somewhere on the island.
More than 200 years ago, the Seychelles were a hideaway for pirates, including the infamous Oliver Levasseur, known as The Buzzard, who was hanged in Mauritius in July 1730.
He plagued the shipping in the western Indian Ocean, plundering their valuable cargoes.
His missing hoards of treasure, including the fabled Portuguese Fiery Cross of Goa encrusted with diamonds and rubies, were buried on islands in the Seychelles, including Moyenne.
Or at least that’s what the stories say.
One treasure trove is supposed to be worth more than £30 million.
After buying the island, Brendon admits he spent much of his spare time searching for the fortune, poring over old maps, hunting for clues and shifting tons of rock at two excavation sites.
There are graves on the island that are said to be the burial sites of pirates, and Brendon has found some evidence of man-made hiding places.
But if he found gold, he isn’t letting on.
He loves the pirate tales as much as anyone, and seems happy to feed the rumours with a conspiratorial nudge and a wink.
But it’s fair to say Brendon has never been motivated by money.
He could have taken the Saudi prince’s blank cheque many years ago and moved to a luxurious retirement home.
Instead he has worked tirelessly to transform and preserve Moyenne, ensuring that when he finally does leave the island it will be protected and passed to the people of the Seychelles as a protected national park.
‘Brendon is the modern Robinson Crusoe,’ says Joel Morgan, environment minister for the Seychelles. ‘He’s a naturalist, a conservationist and a damned hard worker.’
Moyenne Island National Park boasts a glorious array of wildlife, along with 40 species of palm trees, including the exotic bwa-bannann (known as the wood banana) and 13 coco de mer, or sea coconut.
The island has been Brendon’s life, and as he has struggled and toiled to create a spectacular home, it has repaid him by giving him a tonic that no doctor can prescribe: a real sense of purpose and meaning.
Out in the Indian Ocean, Brendon Grimshaw, Dewsbury-born and Yorkshire proud, is still living the dream.
- FT : Profile: Brendon Grimshaw – a free-spirited nature conservationist