A divorced father-of-one who moved from the US to live on one of the UK’s most remote islands has admitted he struggles with loneliness but can’t face relocating back across the pond.
American-born Tommy Hyndman, now 57, moved with his wife Liz and son Henry from New York to live in a £500-a-year cottage on Fair Isle, near the Shetland Islands, in 2006.
But when his marriage fell apart in 2015, he was left alone on the remote land, which has just 55 inhabitants. Around that time he welcomed Ben Fogle for an episode of New Lives in the Wild.
Five years on, Ben Fogle returns to Fair Isle for the Channel 5 show, airing tonight at 9pm, to see how Tommy is getting on.
Still single, he tells Fogle he feels lonely following a string of failed relationships, having hoped he’d move on quickly following his divorce.
Tommy also reveals he’s inherited a house back in the US, and could potentially move home, but struggles with the idea of leaving Fair Isle for good – despite the fact he hasn’t even had a hug since his son left home for university.
American-born Tommy Hyndman, now 57, moved with his wife Liz and son Henry from New York to live in a cottage on Fair Isle, near the Shetland Islands, in 2006. Ben Fogle, who visited Tommy for the first time in 2015, returns to Fair Isle to see how the father-of-one is doing for a new episode of New Lives in the Wild, airing tonight at 9pm
Speaking about his love life, Tommy tells Ben dating on Fair Isle poses certain challenges, adding: ‘I did have a couple of relationships of various success. But I’m still single.
‘One woman moved here with her two children and they were here for six months. It was very nice… Fair isle adds a lot of difficulties to any relationships. It’s all very difficult.’
The latest episode was filmed in the summer, during the coronavirus pandemic, and Tommy admitted living on an island of 55 inhabitants has made the feelings of loneliness worse.
‘It’s funny because when you were here five years ago, you made a big deal about me being single. I didn’t really get it. I didn’t think it’d take long. I thought you were going on about nothing,’ Tommy told Ben.
‘I haven’t had a hug since my boy left for university, that’s the way of the world at the moment.’
Ben says he feels for Tommy, and while he acknowledges that returning to the island is a joyful occasion, he sees Tommy’s life is tinged with sadness.
Tommy has had a number of relationships after his divorce, but admits life on the island can be lonely. He has inherited a house in the US, his homeland, but is struggling to leave Fair Isle
The father-of-one moved to the island with his ex-wife Liz, right, and their son Henry in 2006. The couple divorced in 2015
Ben is happy to see Tommy again, but admits he feels sad for the divorced father-of-one, who finds in difficult to date on Fair Isle
Change could be on the horizon for Tommy, who’s just inherited a house back home in the US, but the father-of-one is finding it difficult to make up his mind about leaving Fair Isle.
‘There’s a lot of variables and life is pretty unsure right now,’ Tommy tells Ben. ‘I could really go on another adventure in life, but I’m not really sure when or when the opportunity will open itself.
‘Inheriting the other house has really made me reassess where and what I want to be and it’s at a time where Henry is gone and I no longer need to be here 100 per cent of the time.
Tommy tells Ben inheriting the house in the US put his life into perspective, but he doesn’t know if he is ready to leave the island
‘The thing about leaving Fair Isle is, if I leave Fair Isle, someone else would move into the house and I don’t think they’ll be dumb enough to let it go.
‘So you better really know that you wanna leave and I don’t know that. To leave and to give it up is a really hard thing. Committing to things at the moment seems very difficult because everything else seems so uncertain.’
Five years ago Tommy shared his quirky lifestyle with Ben for the first time. Ironically, it was originally his ex-wife who wanted to move 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.
She’d heard on American public radio that the National Trust was looking for new tenants for a cottage on the remote Scottish island.
Happy-go-lucky Tommy, who runs a B&B on Fair Isle, admits he has not been hugged since his son left for university
‘My wife was really excited about it and I remember my response was a little unsupportive,’ Tommy said at the time of Ben’s first visit.
Tommy and his family lived in Saratoga Springs in New York State. He ran a successful hat-making company, with his creations sold in department stores across America.
‘We were paying our mortgages, driving our cars, doing our jobs – we were just making money and paying it back out,’ Tommy reflects.
After winning the residency with the proposal of turning the house into a B&B and bringing his hat-making skills to Scotland, in 2006 Tommy and his family sold their cars and furniture and rented out their house to make the move.
For nearly 10 years they lived happily together running the B&B on Fair Isle, but their marriage hit the rocks and they divorced in 2015, with Liz and Henry moving to Shetland, the archipelago of which Fair Isle is the most southerly island.
Tommy said people felt they had to leave their lives behind to live on Fair Isle, but that the island actually offered a lot (pictured)
‘Fair Isle didn’t cause the dissolution,’ Tommy clarified. ‘It was 23 years we were together and that’s a successful relationship.’
As a newly divorced man, Tommy had been optimistic about finding a new partner, but had to admit to Ben the island had ‘plenty of birds but not a lot of women’.
With rent costing him only £500 per year, Tommy managed to get £75 per night per room from guests, but he looked after them well. With one small shop only open every other day and re-stocked just once a week, Tommy relied on his land for a lot of produce.
He had chickens for meat and eggs, went fishing for fresh sea food – including hearty lobsters – and grew his own vegetables.
He also exchanged labour for produce – helping shear some sheep in exchange for some lamb for his freezer.
This all also helped keep costs down, but his priciest outgoing was heating his 300-year-old guesthouse with coal and oil, which cost him £150 per month – more than his heating bill in the US.
In 2015, he told Ben: ‘I’m as much a Fair Islander now than I’ll ever be. I didn’t come here to get away, I came to immerse myself in nature. I’m living my dream; it may be somebody else’s nightmare but it’s my dream.’
Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 5.