When Emmaus Greenwich, a homeless shelter that offers its residents meaningful work, shared the story of one of its members, the international press quickly latched on to one bizarre twist in the story.
Now Malcolm Applegate, 62, has become an accidental international spokesman whose bizarre story of marital disharmony has brought attention to a charity little known outisde the United Kingdom.
Applegate was a gardener in Farnborough for 25 “happy years,” he shared on the charity’s website.
“I loved the job and I still love tending to gardens now. It wasn’t until I got married that my life became increasingly unsettled.
“The more work I took on, the angrier my wife got—she didn’t like me being out of the house for long periods of time.
“The controlling behavior started to get out of hand and she demanded that I cut my hours. After a long time trying to stay in the marriage, I decided to leave for good. Without a word to anyone, not even family, I packed up and left … I went missing for 10 years.”
What happened next has fired up a flurry of coverage. Because Applegate didn’t just leave his marriage, he left everything.
“I camped in thick woodland near Kingston, and made that home for five years while maintaining the gardens at a local community center for the elderly.”
The only problem with much of the coverage is its exaggeration of Applegate’s homelessness. While the Daily Mail proclaims “Gardener, 62, got so fed up with his wife’s nagging he went to live in the woods for TEN YEARS,” Applegate said he only lived in the woods for five years.
“I enjoyed my life, but when I heard about Emmaus through a fellow ‘runaway’, I knew that would suit me better. I went to Emmaus Greenwich for an interview and moved in almost immediately.”
It appears outlets are conflating Applegate’s time living in the woods with the decade he went without ever seeing his sister.
Applegate said one of the best things that people at Emmaus encouraged him to do was get in touch with her.
“It had been a decade since I’d last seen her, and in that time she had been to all of the Salvation Army hostels in the South trying to find me; I think she assumed I was dead.
“I wrote her a letter once I was settled in Greenwich and she phoned me up, in floods of tears. We now have a great relationship again.”
Applegate now spends his time working in the shop or driving vans. He’s recently gone on a sponsored walk to raise almost £300 for another charity, Street Souls, which aims to make life better for homeless people in London.
Applegate, who didn’t provide any other details about what happened with his wife, said he’s grateful to have been given a second chance at life.
“I have a lovely room, I am able to work and I can still lead an active social life—I love it here—my life is officially back on track.”