An Interview with Sir Ian Botham
Sir Ian Botham Interview
Beefy’s Longest Walk
The former cricketer opens his heart to talk about the most emotion-wrenching charity fundraising walk of them all…
From the gladiatorial battles with opposition batsmen to his relentless charity work for which he was knighted, Sir Ian Botham has encountered his fair share of triumph, controversy and tragedy.
Yet not even a lifetime habit of facing adversity head on prepared the cricket legend known to millions as ‘Beefy’ for a heartbreaking turn of events during his latest fundraising act.
Back in April, with just two legs of his 10-city, 10,000-mile odyssey for Leukaemia and Lymphoma left to finish, he received the devastating news that his mother Marie was critically ill. In a show of dedication to his cause, Botham completed the 2,000 miles by walking the Cambridge and London routes, all the while in constant contact with his family.
Calling off the celebrations – “I had intended to hang around longer to meet and chat to people at the finish but I just couldn’t; I had to go” – he quickly rushed to the 85-year-old’s bedside.
“It was a tough decision that needed to be made, but I felt I had to carry on with the challenge,” Sir Ian admits. “It was the right thing to do. I’d be kept in touch with developments by my sister, Dale, but of course, it made the task extremely difficult. I guess I knew I had to finish the walk for all those who were there to support me, for those there at the finish with their kids, and for those relying on me to succeed. I felt I couldn’t let those people down – I’d finish the walk.
“When I made it to my mum’s beside, those last few hours were special. We managed to spend some valuable time together before she passed away that night at 11:15pm. It was fitting, in a way, the way things worked out. My mum was extremely proud of the huge strides we have made in the fight against leukaemia, and both of my parents sacrificed a lot to help me in the early days of my career. I am eternally grateful that they did – we are a close family so we all enjoyed the success and the rewards it brought.”
Botham’s decision to fulfil his commitment was in keeping with the bloody-mindedness for which is he is famous. His cricket career was a turbulent mix of genius and conflict. The controversy (fights with team mates, drug taking, tabloid exposes) only seemed to enhance his brilliance: considered England’s greatest all-rounder, the 1981 ‘Botham’s Ashes’ – in which he almost single-handedly helped England snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Australia – has gone down in cricket folklore.
Botham has reinvented that gusto for his charity work. He began in 1985, when he famously trekked 900 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End, and has since raised over £13 million, helping in part to improve the survival rate of children with leukaemia from 20% in 1985 to its current rate of 90%.
“At the end of the day, I love challenges,” Botham says. “Cricket was a huge challenge in my life and now leukaemia is an even greater one. Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research has been a constant in my life. From the moment I took a wrong turn at Taunton Hospital in 1977 and ended up surrounded by children bravely battling the disease, I’ve felt a passion and a desire to commit time and energy to this cause.”
Botham is 56 now. So does he envisage a time when the walks get too much and he leaves it to the next generation? “I don’t think I’ll ever do that. Do they get tougher? No, I suppose not. That’s mainly down to the fact that they’re not as long as they used to be. But each one remains – physically and mentally – a challenge.
“We’ve done so many walks now. I think people expect me to succeed in every one. But each is still a huge challenge. It’s not something anyone can go into half-heartedly. But then again training for these walks is virtually impossible. I do not have the time to do a marathon every day.”
Simpler things fill his time these days away from the Sky Sports commentary box. His passions remain fishing, shooting and golf. But raising money for charity is always at the forefront of his thoughts.
“I’m planning something big three years from now, because 2015 will mark 30 years of walking for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. It will also be my 60th birthday. I don’t think anyone ever thought we’d make it as far as we have. Now we just need to keep on going, no matter what the challenge is.”