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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Castaway caretakers set for island life
Thorne Island
The imposing Thorne Island will house the McDermott family
An adventurous couple are set to take on the challenge of becoming real life Castaways after being selected to look after a rugged Welsh island.

Christopher and Debbylee McDermott were selected from among dozens of hopefuls to become "castaway caretakers" of Thorne Island, off the Pembrokeshire coast.

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The island's owners, the Von Essen hotel group, have spent the past two years drawing up plans to turn the island's fortress into a five-star hotel.

But the 4m luxury project - which includes a cable car link to the mainland - has been delayed after hitches in grant funding.

The couple will live in the fortress, which was turned into a hotel in the 1930s, until the building work can begin next summer.

The McDermotts will have to learn boat-handling skills and DIY and their living quarters will be "basic but very cosy".

The BBC series Castaway pitted a group of individuals against the Scottish elements for a year and recorded the highs and lows of island life.

Thorne Island is a tiny land mass, the size of two rugby pitches, and is reached by a series of steep steps.

They will start to hear voices in the night, because of the way noises travel on the water

Former island caretaker Frank Penfold

The McDermotts will take over from Frank Penfold, who has been temporarily in charge of the island.

Mr Penfold said the unique experience of island life away from contact with other people was meant for strong characters.

"They will start to hear voices in the night, because of the way noises travel on the water," he said.

"I know there is no-one on the island, but it can be spooky - you do not want too much imagination."

The only company the family will have is the native wildlife - basking sharks, cormorants, pilot whales, seals and seagulls.

Design architect Andrew Onraet interviewed dozens of would-be castaways and selected the McDermotts for their durability.

We had tremendous interest and the chosen couple had to fight it out

Andrew Onraet, project coordinator
"We had tremendous interest and the chosen couple had to fight it out.

"It is not just a romantic idea of going to live on an island.

"The mother is a nurse and a teacher and they are a close-knit and together family."

The couple will take their five-year-old son, Timothy, who will be taught by his schoolteacher mother on the island during the coming year.

Thorne Island was sold by businessman Peter Williamson two years ago for an estimated 250,000.

The island's history began as "Napoleonic" fort in the 1850s to ward off invasion. The fortress complex includes guest rooms, an outdoor Jacuzzi and a giant chess board.

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