It was hailed as the find of a lifetime but it brought a Morecambe man nothing but grief.
Ken Wilman’s discovery of what was thought to be a £100,000 piece of ambergris – a highly sought-after perfume ingredient – earned him worldwide fame after an exclusive Visitor story went global.
But now Ken rues the day he and his dog Madge ever found the 3kg lump of ‘whale vomit’ on Morecambe beach two years ago.
Ken has told The Visitor: “If I had my time over again, I would kick the rock to one side and walk away.
“I wish I’d never found it.”
It was January 2013 when Ken and his boxer dog Madge were out walking on Morecambe beach and stumbled across what was believed to be ambergris.
A French dealer offered him 50,000 Euros if the 3kg lump turned out to be the rare and precious sperm whale slurry nicknamed ‘floating gold’. Some experts said it could be worth twice as much.
Ken became an overnight sensation after The Visitor broke the story. He and Madge were covered by the BBC, Sky, Channel 4, The Sun, The Mirror, ITV daytime show This Morning, and even media websites in the USA, Canada, Australia and Thailand.
But months later, 52-year-old Ken suffered double heartbreak.
First he was devastated by the sudden death of Madge, aged just six, in October 2013.
Then an expert in America told him the lump of rock was worthless.
The shattering loss of his beloved Madge, and having his dream of riches snatched away from him, drove Ken to the depths of despair.
Speaking to The Visitor this week, he said: “I wouldn’t want it again.
“I’ve got to accept what happened and get on with it.”
It was London-based documentary maker Peregrine Andrews who broke the news to Ken that the stone wasn’t valuable after all.
Peregrine, who befriended Ken after he heard about his find, has produced a Radio 4 programme called ‘Ken, Madge and the Strange Rock’.
After visiting Ken at his home in Morecambe, he sent a chunk of the smelly yellow-grey rock to Christopher Kemp, an American author who wrote a book about ambergris.
Peregrine said: “He emailed me back and said it’s definitely not ambergris, although he didn’t know what it was.
“Then I had a text from Ken telling me Madge had died. He was in complete shock and then I had to tell him it wasn’t real ambergris.
“I went to see him again in August 2014 and he was in a very low state.”
In an effort to help Ken get back on track, Peregrine contacted a dealer in New Zealand who has promised to send him a 2g piece of real ambergris.
Although this won’t be worth very much, Ken is delighted at the gesture.
He said: “When Peregrine told me, I nearly broke down.
“I can’t believe there are nice people in the world, like this lady, who feels sorry for me and wants to send me a piece of ambergris.”
He also now has a new boxer dog, five-month-old Max, and is moving on with his life.
Ken said: “I’ve kept a level head about things and I’m trying to find humour in the situation.”
The documentary will air at 11am on April 1.