In June, Edward Mills became the youngest person to climb the Old Man of Hoy, a climb which, to date, has raised over £30,000 for Climbers Against Cancer. It's a cause close to Edward's heart: his Mum, Bekki had breast cancer. Bekki watched Edward reach the summit from a ferry, but sadly died before he went to London with his Dad and brother George to meet the Prime Minister and receive a Pride of Britain award on 6 November 2018. Sarah Stirling asked Edward and his Dad a few questions.
Edward climbed the route with Ben West and Cailean Harker. His coach Alex Shaw offered support and took photos.
Tell us a little bit about Nathan. You must be very proud.
Nathan Mills, Edward's Dad: Yes really very proud, and actually quite amazed how far this has got, with the Pride of Britain award and also the ClimbScotland Young Climber of the Year award, too. Edward is a kind and polite boy, a little shy sometimes and quiet when it suits him. He likes nature and being outdoors, swimming in the sea and climbing. He has a ‘let me just have a go’ attitude, passion and enthusiasm for climbing, and has done well in his competitions but still stays humble about it. There is something endearing about that.
Edward came fourth in his category in the BMC Youth Climbing Series this year, second in the Scottish Youth Climbing Championships, and he competed at the Rock Juniors in Arco, too. He is in the Scottish Squad. We travel to train when we can in Inverness, and sometimes over in Orkney with their club – the first ferry back gets us home just in time for school!
Why did Edward decide to climb the Old Man of Hoy?
You can see the Old Man of Hoy from the coast here in Caithness, where we live. We looked it up on Wikipedia one day and read that it was 137m high and that the youngest person to have climbed it was 10-year-old Oliver Buckle from Bristol. That really sparked the idea for Edward.
Edward on the Old Man of Hoy. Photo: Alex Shaw
In what ways is Edward like his Mum?
Bekki was warm and welcoming, clever and funny. But always with humility – I think Edward is growing to be more like her all the time. Like her, he loves nature and the outdoors. This year Bekki wasn’t quite well enough to join us so we climbed Ben Loyal for her, while she sat in a blanket in the car reading her book, waiting for us to get back and tell her all about it. He also has her persistence and commitment to whatever he sets his heart on doing.
What was it like watching Edward climb the Old Man?
I was excited for him that we had managed to arrange everything and that the weather was good. But I was nervous, too. He had set his heart on this. There had been a big build-up, practicing outdoors on the sea cliffs in Caithness, at Latheron and Mid Clyth. We had almost £10,000 pledged by then. What if he wasn’t tall enough to make a particular move, or wasn't able to complete the crux? What if the height was just too much for him? I think the highest he had climbed before was the 25m wall at Ratho. How would I explain it to him, and maintain his enthusiasm for climbing? I was thinking that all the way over, and during the climb.
But Edward was determined and buoyed up by the obvious enthusiasm for the climb held by Ben and Cailean. He was excited and just wanted to get on with it. Watching him was really amazing, I don’t think Bekki or I could actually believe he was doing it, or how our boy could even be capable mentally and physically, especially because neither of us are climbers.
Edward wrote in the summit book: "Hello I'm Edward my age is 8 and I climbed this for my Mum". Photo: Ben West
I was absolutely in awe of his commitment and determination to succeed – even when we could see he was on tiptoes and at full stretch, or just not able to reach the chalk marks of the adult holds, he seemed to be able to compromise and find his own way.
And Bekki being there and part of it made it all the more special. Usually I sent her pictures of what he was doing – climbing outdoors or competitions – so she could feel part of it. When we knew she could be on the ferry when Edward was on the summit of the Old Man – that was really special.
What was it like watching him receive the Pride of Britain award?
I was absolutely beaming, I think you can see from the TV clip! Perhaps he is too young to really appreciate quite how significant receiving an award like this is, and how few people are given the opportunity to be invited into 10 Downing Street and to meet the Prime Minister. Bekki knew about the award, but she passed away before we told Edward.
How did Edward get into climbing, and from your perspective what does he get out of it?
He's always loved climbing things – trees, rocks on beaches. I took both boys to climbing kid's club – Edward was about three when I first took him and he loved it. I learnt to belay them so I could take them myself. The unsung hero in all this is the instructor, Alex Shaw, from Undercover Rock in Bristol, who agreed to coach Edward on a one-to-one basis – he was too young for Rock Mice in Gloucester. Alex was great with Edward. He came to Hoy with us and took the amazing photos that captured the day so well, and maybe promoted the media interest and the public perception that also translated into donations.
What has all the media attention been like?
On a clear day the tip of the Old Man of Hoy can be seen sticking up when driving into Thurso. I can't look at it in quite the same way any more, and perhaps because of the media attention when people hear of the Old Man of Hoy they will think of Edward and what he did for his Mum and Climbers against Cancer. The media has been great really and after the climb it certainly helped with the fundraising. The sum of money raised is incredible and there were lovely messages of support from total strangers. It was lovely that BBC Scotland came up to film Edward and Bekki after the climb so we have some more footage of her with Edward and her talking in happier times. Something nice to keep.
Edward Mills vs the Old Man. Photo: Alex Shaw
Introducing Edward Mills
Congratulations on your achievement and on receiving the award! What was it like climbing the Old Man?
Edward: It was scary, and quite difficult. Harder than anything else I have climbed before. It was exciting to stand on the top. The view was spectacular. One way you could see all out to sea, and the other way back to Hoy and the cliffs where Dad was sitting watching me.
What was it like receiving the award?
I was nervous about all the people there watching me up on stage. It was exciting to be given such a big trophy, and everyone clapping made me feel really happy and proud.
What do you like about climbing?
I like the sport. like the reaching and stretching. I like to be able to lift myself to places that are high and I didn't know I could get to. My favourite thing is my climbing wall in the garage, because there are no other places near here to climb.
SS: I've heard you compete, too. What do you like about competing?
I like the challenges, and solving problems. I like trying to beat other people if a problem is hard. I like bouldering better than routes, because you dont need to tie in and have your harness on.
What would you like to do for a job when you’re a grown up?
I would like to do things with nature like Steve Backshall. I met him at the Pride of Britain awards – he sat next to me on my table.
What’s your next goal?
We are going to be climbing in Thailand in December, and I’m looking forward to competing in the YCS again next year.
L to R George, Edward and Mum Bekki