Published: 17:00, 09 August 2019
A punter hurls six oysters and a half-a-pint of beer down his gullet in less than 10 seconds before grinning at the watching crowd.
Sat on the Whitstable Harbour stage - soaked in rain, local beer and mollusc juices - Nev Hatton, 45, knows he has qualified in decent time.
But this is not a stag weekend; this is the annual Whitstable Oyster Eating Competition.
This unique battle is part of the Oyster Festival, where participants attempt to down six oysters and the half-pint in the fastest time.
It attracts people from countries including Japan, America and Australia, who see the £6 entrance fee as the cheapest way to tuck into the local delicacy.
Nev, a contractor for Canterbury City Council, is a Whitstable celebrity. He has won the contest “six-ish” times since first entering in 2002 and has only missed a couple of competitions.
“Sometimes people come up to me and say, ‘you’re the oyster guy’,” he says.
Days after his latest victory, I’m sat in the Hotel Continental with Nev, who is sipping on a stout half-pint.
He has taken time out of his busy work day to talk about his adoration for the competition and how his journey started 17 years ago.
“It was a family day out down the Harbour and everyone egged me on to have a go,” he recalls.
“I went up, ate oysters, drank beer, won the thing - happy days!”
His wife, Tracey - who he has been with for 24 years - and his son are always at the sideline offering support.
When he arrived on the stage at this year’s festival, one person in the crowd shouted: “Watch that guy on the end, he is a machine.”
The audience watched in awe as Nev devoured the oysters and there were whispers about his infamous technique.
“The first thing I always do is make sure I get any loose bits of shell out,” he divulges.
“I went up, ate oysters, drank beer, won the thing - happy days!” Nev Hatton
“I turn the oysters over so they’re definitely not stuck to the shell, because one oyster stuck to the shell means you’ve lost a lot of time.
“I get my face as close to the oysters as possible because the further you are away, the longer it takes. I either kneel on the floor or lean close to the oysters.
“Then I do them one after the other as quickly as possible - then grab the beer and just go for it.”
Nev’s fastest time to complete the challenge is about nine seconds.
He celebrates his victories by going on a “booze cruise” afterwards, consisting of more beer and “about a dozen” oysters.
But how does he prepare for a contest like this?
“In the morning, at about 11 o’clock, we’ll have a few alcoholic drinks,” he tells me.
“The only reason is that if you get up on stage and you are sober with a thousand people looking at you, it gives you nerves.”
Nev is always looking for a hobby - which he admits he “does to death” - but gets bored and finds something new.
He owns more than 30 bicycles and even a penny farthing he occasionally rides around the seaside town.
Asked what his family thinks about his lifestyle, he says: “I think my wife uses the word ‘eccentric’.”
This year was the first time Nev received a trophy for his efforts. Showing me the thumb-sized prize on his phone, he says: “I have eaten oysters bigger than the trophy.”
I decided to partake in the contest a few weeks ago - slicing my lip on the oyster shells and retching in a fish and chip shop hours later.
Nev laughs when he hears this and tells me his motto, which could help me succeed next year: “Preparation and planning prevents poor performance - that is what I always use.”
More by this authorBrad Harper