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Benj Moorehead: Walking with a giant

October 17th, 2008 by Benj Moorehead in Miscellaneous

On Monday morning in Bury St Edmonds the words ‘Botham’ and ‘walk’ are being excitedly bandied about willy-nilly. Three old men are playing grandma’s crackly jazz in the town square, not far from the Beefeater restaurant. A mixture of the very old and the very young are collecting there under a misty but blue sky.

Somewhere in the middle, Nick Knight, never one to put a dull spin on things, is smiling and holding a baby. They are all waiting to salute an English hero on his way for a good stiff walk. Ian Botham, a most English hero indeed, a man who matched skill with an eager defiance of the inevitable. This was an occasion as English as sitting down to a beef Sunday roast in a dim British pub.

And today it has a particular flavour. The credit crunch is biting. The centre of Bury St Edmunds is dotted with banks to remind everyone of the troubles. Just around the corner is the Royal Bank of Scotland, the subject of some worrying headlines this very morning. ‘Beefy’s Great British Walk’, which raises money for Leukaemia Research, is a typically defiant riposte to these troubled times. £100,000 had already been raised in the first three legs of Botham’s walk, which this year allows individuals who have sponsored him to take part.

The man himself, arriving at last behind sunglasses, trumpets this attitude: “You know something, I think that people have had a gutful of what’s going on in this country. They’re coming out and saying ‘let’s do something positive.’ It’s great. The response we’ve had from the public has been 100 per cent positive.

“It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone is fed up with credit crunches and playing Russian roulette with our money. We’ve got all this negativity in the air at the moment. But this has given everyone a buzz.”

Botham may not be able to resolve the money crisis but he has raised over £10m for Leukaemia Research since his first walk in 1985 (this is his 12th), since when the survival rate for children with leukaemia has surged from 20 to 80 per cent.

How does he unwind from his eight-day walk? “I’m going to Africa the next day to see my leopards and lions.” But first the English countryside. “I hate cities,” says Botham. “I’m a country boy.”

Benj Moorehead is editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer

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