Big Brother winner Cameron on being single, Christian and living on an island

26th September 2017

‘Don’t wait for life to start – get life started!’

Back in the early years of Big Brother, when it was more sociological experiment and less circus, Cameron Stout entered the House. It was 2003 – the fourth series – and 32-year-old Cameron from Orkney had been a committed Christian for 20 years. He was open about his faith, and the press predictably homed in on his ‘Bible basher’ beliefs and opinions, and his intention to save sex for marriage.

None of this worked against him. Described by housemate Steph as ‘one of the nicest fellas I’ve ever met’, Cameron won over Channel 4 viewers with his naturally warm, open and positive personality. He went on to win the series with almost two million votes in the final. The photo above shows him at a Big Brother book signing shortly afterwards.

Cameron had vowed that if he scooped the cash prize, he’d buy his church in Orkney a new piano. He kept his promise, and is now seen tinkling those ivories at Sunday worship services. Life has changed a fair bit since the heady years following his triumphant exit from the House, when media appearances and presenting opportunities filled his diary and kept him travelling the country. He’s now back living full-time on the ‘Mainland’ of Orkney (actually the biggest of 70 islands – 19 inhabited – that comprise Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland), and working as a teacher.

‘I’d always had a dream of going into teaching, but for some reason, I hadn’t dared to pursue it,’ says Cameron. ‘I was working in the seafood industry before I went into Big Brother. Afterwards, I had a lot of freelance media opportunities and I enjoyed that for some years. But part of me was thinking, “How long can this nonsense go on?!”

‘Then I learned about a teaching course in Orkney. It was the ideal time to make a change, and the course and tutors were very inspiring. I now commute by ferry each day to neighbouring island Hoy, where I work in a tiny, two-teacher primary school. (In the picture I'm releasing trout into a stream - a project we run every year.) Teaching is challenging at times, but hugely rewarding. The kids make my day, every day – the bureaucracy doesn’t!’

Hectic but happy

Teaching is a notoriously busy and stressful job, but Cameron manages to fit an astonishing number of other activities into his life. As well as being an active member of Kirkwall Baptist Church, he helps to run the weekly church youth club, and takes youngsters on an annual adventure camp to another Orkney island. He’s also a member of the Orkney Street Pastors squad, who patrol busy areas on Saturdays from midnight to 4am, helping to keep the peace among revellers and assisting anyone who gets into difficulty.

Cameron is a member of two choirs, and five years ago he co-founded a third one: a community rock choir called Orkney Rocks! It’s enjoyed by around 130 members, has released its own CD, and has raised enough money to fund 24 secondary education places through a charity in Malawi. (The choir presented him with the 'Gareth Malone get-up' seen on the right!) He also presents a monthly show on BBC Radio Orkney called Moved By Music and, along with a friend, he’s set up Orkney’s first Escape Room – an interactive real-life adventure game.

Cameron admits that part of the reason he has such a full schedule is that, at 46, he’s still single. He certainly doesn’t allow being unmarried to hold him back from enjoying life to the full, and says being single in the church has never been a negative experience.

‘I don’t know how life would be if I was married – maybe it would be calmer,’ he says. ‘Then again, if I had children, maybe not! I’ve always had a hugely busy and full life. I live alone, and I suspect I don’t like being on my own too much – I like being with other people. I’d also run the risk of working too hard, as teachers tend to, if I didn’t socialise and do so many other things outside of the work sphere.

‘Even when friends have coupled up, got married and had kids, we still see a lot of each other. Yes, church summer activities are often geared towards families, but I still spend time with friends in the worship team and the Street Pastors squad, and I really value that. I’ve never felt any pressure within the church to be married – more so from the media, really: “Famous Bible basher still single!” It’s not something I think about too much, although let’s be honest, who wants to grow old alone?’

Community spirit

Many single people, particularly those living in fast-moving big cities, struggle with loneliness and building a social life, especially as friends get married and start families. Cameron believes that living in a relatively small and contained place like Orkney, with its strong sense of community, makes that easier.

‘This is a great place to live,’ he enthuses. ‘I live near my mum, and we’re close. My friends live nearby, and we drop in on each other all the time. One friend who moved to a big city found it hard when he had to book appointments to see friends. Here, if I’m passing, I can just drop in – and I’m delighted when my doorbell rings. During my years of media work, I stayed in different places, but I kept my sanity by getting home to Orkney between jobs.

‘Community feels very significant here,’ he adds. ‘Even when I’m out patrolling with the Street Pastors, it helps to have a history with people. If I see someone who used to go to the youth club, we’ve already got that relationship, and it helps to avoid aggro.’

Faith in the spotlight

Cameron’s kind, easy and calming manner was also notable in the Big Brother House, winning him friends and fans alike. But he admits the experience was a profound one, and not always easy.

‘It’s a cliché to say we depend most on God when we have nothing else to turn to, but it’s true,’ he recalls. ‘With no family and friends around, I felt naked, but the experience was littered with special moments of God’s grace.

‘We were each allowed to take a book into the House. I wanted to take my Bible, but the producers rejected it because it was full of hand-scribbled notes that could have been used to cheat. However, not long before, my pastor had given me a big brown Bible, telling me, “God told me you’re going to need this.” I was petrified – was I about to be called as a missionary?! But I was allowed to take that Bible into the House instead.

‘Before going in, we were warned that the press would twist everything we said, our reputations would be in shreds, and we’d never be wanted back in our home communities. I wasn’t worried about going back to Orkney – I knew that would be fine – but as the end of the series approached, I became very worried that I’d shown the Christian faith in a bad light and let God down. I’m not someone who lets the Bible fall open randomly and takes it as a word from God. However, that day, my Bible opened at Psalm 91, about the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, and God saving us from the snare. I couldn’t believe that in 20 years, I’d never read that Psalm! I really believe God saved it for me for when I needed it most. It was a gift for me, the idiot who applied for Big Brother. God’s grace was lavished on me and carried me through.’

Being a Christian in the media isn’t easy – the press is often keen to dig up dirt and highlight hypocrisies. Rev Richard Coles, although already media-savvy, was exposed to a much greater audience as he tripped the light fantastic on Strictly Come Dancing in 2017. What advice would Cameron give to Christians in the public eye?

‘I feel dreadfully sorry for people who construct a media persona for themselves, and then it all goes wrong,’ he said. ‘It’s a cliché but just be yourself. Stick to your own personality and character. People can see through anything else. Having a public profile gives you a window on what you’re really like – your foibles and bad points are reflected back at you. So do it your way, and make sure you can live with yourself.’

Lessons learned

Cameron’s seemingly endless energy took a severe hit when he came down with a mystery illness two years ago. ‘I found I was sleeping up to 20 hours a day and becoming a shell of myself,’ he recalls. ‘I couldn’t read, play board games or converse properly. I’m a car fanatic and I realised how bad I’d become when I found six months’ worth of unopened car magazines.

‘I was tested for multiple sclerosis, diabetes – everything the doctors could think of. Eventually, they found I was critically low in vitamin B12, which is required for cognitive function, memory, concentration and energy. I have a good, varied diet, and now I have vitamin B12 injections too, but it’s an ongoing struggle to keep my levels up. The doctors can’t explain it; they tell me I’m a “mystery” and that sometimes “weird stuff” happens – not very medical!’

However, even when faced with such a testing situation, Cameron’s faith and positivity shine through. ‘With anything bad I’ve been through in the past, the reasons for it have become apparent later – I can look back and see God’s purpose,’ he says. ‘I don’t yet know what I’ve learned from this experience, but I’m confident I’ll look back one day and see the reason for it. Maybe it will simply be that I’ll have a friend with an illness, who I’ll be able to sit alongside and share how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.’

Cameron’s tips for living life to the full

Cameron is a big believer in enjoying all the good things life has to offer, and he’s never allowed being unmarried to hold him back. Here are his three top tips for making the most of the single life:

1. ‘For me, it’s important to have different experiences – I did Big Brother for the experience. Life is full of wonderful stuff waiting to be enjoyed – music, arts, poetry, walking, sports, adventures... What’s your passion and what would you like to do? Don’t wait for your life to start – get life started!’

2. ‘If you see a gap in church life, talk to someone and see what you can do to fill it. From serving tea to starting a social group, make it happen! Orkney Rocks! started when a friend, Cheryl, posted on Facebook, “I wish we had a rock choir here in Orkney.” I replied, “Let’s do it!” And we did!’

3. ‘Be a “glass half full” person. Yes, circumstances make things harder for some of us, or harder at certain times in our lives, but there are always things we can do to make life better for ourselves and others. There are so many great things available – look for opportunities and grab them!’

Catherine Francis, last edited 15 October 2017 

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