Phil Hamilton was once an ordinary taxi driver in a suburb of Belfast – now people press him for selfies, stop his wife in the supermarket and name him a ‘hero’.
All because of a good deed gone viral.
This is the story of how the 43-year-old driver for Taxis 365 embarked upon the longest journey of his life – six countries, 2,522 miles – to help his friend in need.
News of fellow Newtonabbey man Jim Moore, 58, sent shockwaves through County Antrim when he went missing in Benidorm on Friday, 11pm, November 15.
The shock turned to desperation as no news of Jim arrived for 72 hours – until a Spanish nurse contacted a friend via an appeal on the Benidorm community Facebook page.
It turned out Jim had slipped on the stairs to the Acuarium II hotel complex, needing an urgent ambulance to Vila Joiosa hospital where he was placed into an induced coma.
Jim had no documentation on him, meaning the family had no news until the nurse recognised Jim in a missing person’s post on social media.
But the ordeal was not yet over as when Jim came round Spanish doctors ordered he not fly for three months due to cabin pressure on his injuries.
“They were very worrying times – we were absolutely ecstatic when we found out he was in hospital,” Phil told the Olive Press from Northern Ireland.
“Phil has been a great customer of 365 Taxis, and I often have a wee pint with him at our pub.
“So when we found out he can’t fly for three months we said jokingly about sending a taxi to Benidorm.
“I said ‘that’s the way to do it, all we need is a driver’, and then all eyes were suddenly on me.
“How could I turn around and say no?”
And no sooner had he left Belfast for Benidorm, the news broke into national headlines in Britain, Spain and worldwide.
A whopping nine days, 82 driving hours and a taxi metre reading £4,300 later – Jim is now safely home with his family in Newtonabbey.
“365 Taxis agreed to cover all the costs, it was a lovely gesture from our directors,” Phil said.
“The response from the public has been unbelievable.
“Our company’s been inundated with media calling in, people even brought presents into the office and we’ve had messages of support from New Zealand, Australia and America.
“People in Benidorm were making us sandwiches for the journey home, Brittany Ferries gave us all free passage from Santander to Cork, C&C Motorparts in Newtonabbey offered a free service and check over and last night a local Indian restaurant gave us a complementary meal – it’s unbelievable.
“The story has given people hope. We might fight amongst each other, but when one of us in need we all gather round, regardless of race, colour or creed.
“I think the reason it touched the hearts of so many people is that stories like this turn out pretty bad – and this had a happy ending.”
He said the story demonstrated the power of social media, restoring the ‘faith in humanity’ for all involved.
Jim has likewise made a ‘rapid recovery’.
“It’s definitely the longest journey I’ve ever done,” Phil told Benidorm Reviews.
“I can’t wait for a customer to ask me ‘what’s been the biggest trip you’ve done’ and I turn around and say it was Newtonabbey to Benidorm.
“It’s a fantastic anecdote.”