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Former Army Chef Cooks Up 'Thank You' Forces Feast

Carl Hilton, 51, is celebrating his first Christmas in a new home, having been helped through alcoholism and homelessness.

A former Army chef and recovering alcoholic is celebrating his first Christmas in a new home.

Carl Hilton, who once drank three litres of vodka a day, credits RBLI for helping him turn his life around - having been homeless for 16 years.

As a thank you, he cooked a Christmas lunch for veterans in his new home.

Carl, 51, left the Army in 1987 and found himself living on the streets after his relationship collapsed.

“When I first came out of the army I worked all the way up until 2002, and then my head just exploded… So I turned to the drink, and to say it spiralled out of control was a little bit of an understatement”, he said.

“I was drinking three litres of vodka a day, plus (a case of) cider.”

He moved into emergency accommodation at the Royal British Legion Industrial Village in Aylesford, Kent, six months ago.

He is now sober, having undergone a detox.

A festive meal with all of the trimmings was served by Carl Hilton - former military chef.

“I can open my wardrobe and pick what I want to wear. I don’t have to go through a rucksack and look which is clean and which is dirty", he said.

"The bed doesn’t bother me. I’ll sleep on the floor if I have to. It’s surprising, the little things that you miss.”

Carl lives with a number of other veterans who would be homeless without the assistance of the Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI) charity.

He cooked a Christmas lunch for all the residents to say thank you for the support he has been given. 

“Everyone helps us out, so giving a little bit back isn’t a problem, and I enjoy cooking”, he said.

Carl finds the experience much more relaxing than cooking in a professional kitchen:

“I’m under no pressure here. It’s different from a working kitchen because you can take your time here.

"You’re not demanded like in a kitchen where you’ve got orders and they’ve got to go.”

Carl, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has loved cooking for years and believes it has played an important role in his recovery. He said:

“It takes my mind off things. I’m not thinking about the past all the time. I’m concentrating on the future now.”

RBLI Welfare Officer Maria Gallego, who helped support Carl during his recovery, says he has been “an inspiration” to the other residents:

“He’s come through the process quite quickly because I think he really wanted it, and he’s gone for it and he’s got it.”