From home schooling to TV mini stardom. It’s been an unusual and unexpected journey for Billy Arthur Walden and he is still only 18 years old.
The teenager gained national fame earlier this year for his joinery, DIY and project management skills, when his work featured on the popular Channel 4 programme, George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
His conversion of a horsebox into a camper van and his refit of a narrowboat had caught the attention of George and his team.
Billy has also taken a stand against bullying and this weekend sees him delivering his first talk on the subject.
His mum Jayne took the decision to home school Billy when he was 11 and it proved a turning point.
He enrolled on a part-time bricklaying, plumbing and joinery courses at Lancaster and Morecambe College while still only 14. The teenager, who loves making and renovating, discovered an outstanding ability for carpentry.
He then focused on joinery for two more years advancing to a level 2 qualification. Billy is now a licentiate of the Institute of Carpenters and at 16 won a first place in the Regional Skillbuild contest.
He said: “I just like building stuff, anything. Even the bricklaying (at college) was good.”
He cites a project to build a big ornamental fireplace as one of his favourite projects but his passion was always for woodwork and joinery. “I figured with joinery I could do a lot more,” he says.
While he continued to study more traditional subjects such as English and maths and geography at home he also found time to work on the horsebox which he had converted into a camper van at the age of 15.
His mum Jayne recalls how the horsebox, a Volkswagen LT was bought for £1,500 on eBay and cost a few more thousand to do up.
She said: “It was a non-runner from Nottingham and it was transported back on a low loader and then Billy rebuilt the engine.”
Asked how he learned to do that mum provides the answer: “YouTube, trial and error and Hayne’s manuals.”
He was still not even old enough to have a driving license when he completed the project.
Jayne knows first hand “the immense amount of work” her son has put in on his projects.
She added: “There’s such a response from the VLT community. When it went out on the George Clarke’s show the first Facebook shows were from the VLT community. The remarkable thing is he did the LT when he was 15 years old! He had actually managed the project from sourcing materials to fitting them in place.”
Recalling his work on the van, which was resprayed white, and on the dilapidated narrow boat rechristened Matilda Jayne, which had been discovered at Glasson Dock, near Lancaster,
Jayne said: “He sourced (materials) from all over, so much stuff went into it.
“New stuff from timber yards locally and old reclaimed stuff. Some we took a chance on eBay - we took a chance on the stained glass windows - it just came through the post and was fine.
The flooring was reclaimed from a school gymnasium in Warrington.”
The boat project was filmed for TV on 10 days, whereas the camper van, already built and furnished, took four months to complete but just one day to film.
Jayne said: “Basically he was the youngest project manager and the first to have two builds on one programme.”The programme itself sparked more media interest. Proud mum Jayne said: “There were a lot of tweets wanting Billy to be a presenter and since then a couple of production companies have approached him.”
Last week, they decided what the next step would be for Billy and he is going to prepare a sparkle (show) reel for his YouTube channel with a local film production company. He said: “I’m just going with the flow.”
He and his mum have also set up an antiques business called Billy Arthur Walden with a stall at GB Antiques at Lancaster selling reclaimed vintage goods from the UK and abroad.
The family, which includes little sister Matilda, are based at Bentham and the children’s grandparents near Lancaster.
Now Jayne has written a short book about the family’s search for a boat and Billy’s determination to convert the boat against the clock for ‘Amazing Spaces ‘ The book is simply titled ‘Matilda Jayne ‘costs £6.99 and is available on Kindle and Amazon.
For Jayne it has been a complete change of career. She explained: “I used to rectify problem horses and raced them and showjumped them.”
But when Billy then discovered yet another passion, this time for car rallying, something had to give - as the horse and rally events were on the same days. She said: “I sold my last horse at the end of January this year.”
She had started riding when she was three and notes with pride she was in the Prince Philip cup team, took part in tetrathlon and raced at Musselburgh and in the David Broome championships. She added: “I’ve bred horses which have shown nationally and then my son decided to be a really good carpenter and wanted to start rallying.”
Billy’s first anti-bullying talk is at the Inspire Gifts and Gallery, Lancaster at 1pm on Saturday March 30. He said: “I don’t think bullying should happen to anybody. It’s just making people aware that it does happen and it can ruin people’s lives - it’s horrible. I’m trying to make it easier to help anybody .”
* The Matilda Jayne will be on show at a charity Team Reece and Cancer Care event at The Canal Turn pub in Carnforth on April 20.
* Billy has also put his talent to use converting and restoring other vehicles including a Beetle, a Reliant Rilato and a Morris Minor. His rally car is a Nissan Micra.