Hannah Betts in the Daily Telegraph, …. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/children_shealth/9216735/On-the-road-for-Ian-Bothams-10000-mile-odyssey.html
ir Ian Botham has mouldy toenails. He also has rather beautiful calves; both doubtless the product of his 27-year pounding of almost 10,000 miles of the British landscape in a mission to raise £13 million and counting for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. This week, he is walking 150 miles between Glasgow and London, arriving at his final destination today. And so I find myself in a Manchester bedroom admiring said calves, while Rooster, his trusty physio, places ice cubes between the Botham toes, the scent of man-sweat hanging in the room.
Time was when being in Beefy’s bedroom might have held more racy connotations, reminiscent of the tabloid fantasy in which he broke a bed with Miss Barbados. Rest assured, today not only is his wife of 36 years, Kath, now Lady Botham, in the bath next door, his two-year-old grandson Kieran is playing next to him, his aunt Sarah keeping him entertained, while Botham’s mother-in-law stands chuckling behind me.
For the legendary England all-rounder’s walks are a multi-generational jamboree that goes some way to compensate for the time he used to spend absent on foreign tours (up to five months a trip). Indeed, the only occasion he is at a loss for words is when he discusses what his family means to him. Given such circumstances, I choose not to mention my favourite Beefy anecdote that – such is his manly pulchritude – women, apparently, became aroused on sight. Be that as it may, the now mullet-less Botham is certainly handsome, his beady blue eyes twinkling within tanned and bestubbled features when I comment on his admirable pins.
Now 56, Botham 2012 relishes the tranquil pursuits of golf, shooting and, especially, fishing, rather than the raucousness that saw anyone who was anyone in the Eighties being “Beefied” (crippled with drink while our hero remained unaffected).
He still likes his booze: “There’s not much I don’t like. I’m not very keen on lemonade shandy.” However, these days it tends to be wine (he and fellow cricketer Bob Willis boast their own Botham Merrill Willis label), or a single malt rather than pints and shots. Still, his drinking prowess remains the stuff of legend.
“If you bowl 30 overs in 35 degrees of heat that’s a lot of rehydration to be done. I’ve never had a hangover in my life, touch wood.” I tell him he should be studied for science. He retorts drolly: “That’s not the only part of me that should be studied.” Let us assume he means his bowling arm. The man is nothing if not a wag.
He is also, let us be clear, a bona fide hero: a phenomenon on the field (not least during “Botham’s Ashes” in 1981, when England snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to Australia); a tabloid idol (Falstaff with highlights); a latter-day Hannibal (marching across the Alps with elephants in 1998); an epic pounder of those 10,000 miles; and a chivalrous have-a-go hero (when he rescued a woman from an attacking boyfriend in the early 2000s).
Botham is built on an epic scale: 6ft 2in, 17 stone, arms like hams. As he travels the world as a TV cricket commentator, he is still met with linguistically confused cries of “Iron Bottom! Iron Bottom!”. And, frankly, it probably is.
Does he feel heroic? He goes uncharacteristically quiet: “I just happened to come along at the right time in ’81… We had riots, the miners’ strike, it was a year when the public was crying out for something to happen. Cricket came along and I was the guy there.”
Botham’s generosity of spirit is famous. Not only is he the icon of every man of my generation, he also appears to have signed all their bats. His association with Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research began in the mid-Eighties, when he hobbled with a foot injury through a children’s ward at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton. Four youngsters with the disease were playing Monopoly; two had very little time left. He wrote a cheque immediately and his walks started soon after.
His current quest is raising £25,000 a day in bucket collections and personal and corporate sponsorship. Again, he bats off any notion of heroism. “I’m the type of person who, if I say I’m gonna do something, I do it … I started doing the walks. People were cynical, but it’s the thing I’ve got my teeth into.”
The statistics are compelling. When he started these treks 27 years ago, the survival rate for the most common form of childhood leukaemia was 20 per cent; today it is 92 per cent-plus. Dr Andy Chantry, from Sheffield University – joining Sir Ian on the local leg of the walk – volunteers: “Botham may be a legend on the sporting field, but he is no less a legend in the fundraising arena.”
The Beefster is famously impervious to pain. Early in his career, when someone fast-bowled a ball into his mouth, he spat out teeth and soldiered on. Rooster describes an X-ray of the Botham spine as being “like a map of war-torn Beirut”. Botham retorts: “What’s called a ‘stress fracture’ now was a ‘bit of a stiff back’ when I played. You wanted to play so you didn’t even think about it. It was just aches and pains. I’m very lucky. I have a powerful pain threshold… Rooster thinks I quite enjoy it. Pain’s never been a problem for me. It’s mind over matter.”
A Tory, who both voted for and has met David Cameron, he takes the same robust attitude to societal matters. “I’m a great believer in the idea that, if you go there and do the hard yards, then you should reap the rewards. And equally, I find it strange that people who work get taxed more than people who don’t work, because the people who don’t work are milking the system.”
I suggest that the Prime Minister appoint him as his State of the Nation Tsar, given his unrivalled knowledge of the British Isles. “I’ve walked the east coast, the west coast, the Channel Islands, John O’Groats to Land’s End twice, the south coast, all round Wales… Rooster, are you going to take those gay things out of my toes? I look like Lady B when she has a pedicure.” And off he limps to supper and a double Glenmorangie.
Next morning, in sleeting Sheffield, I await his arrival with 12-year-old local hero Lucas Sutheren, from Barnsley, a leukaemia patient at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Chipper as he and his family remain, it is clear that their experience of the disease has been awful. Still, as indomitable as his hero, Lucas has been raising money to combat the condition and hopes to generate more. To this aim, he’s currently competing in a nationwide rapping competition. It is the third time Lucas has met Botham: the relationship is a genuine one. “Your hair’s grown back. Looks brilliant,” Beefy declares as he and Lucas take to the starting line.
And they’re off. This may be referred to as a “walk”, but at 4.5 miles per hour it’s faster than some marathon runners go. I am straight into a support vehicle as we climb one of Sheffield’s seven hills. From this vantage, I watch Sir Ian, a sturdy, self-effacing Pied Piper, hailed by cheers of “Go on, Beefy!” and with people lobbing notes and coins. I find myself somewhat teary, and it is not merely from the bracing wind.
To join in the Beefy Walk, see beatingbloodcancers.org.uk/beefywalk2012. Donate with JustTextGiving by texting WALK12 £3 to 70070. Vote for Lucas Sutheren’s blood cancer rap at http://rap.findaproperty.com/rap-competition.