A lot has happened since Britain went into lockdown 100 days ago, but one man was labelled “a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus”.
The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, some tragically, but those are the words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson when fundraiser and veteran Captain Tom Moore was awarded a knighthood.
‘Helping the magnificent NHS’
Capt Tom started his momentous fundraising effort back in early April when he pledged to complete the 2.5km (1.6 miles), 100-lap garden challenge at his home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire by his 100th birthday on 30 April.
Fundraising for NHS Charities Together, the then 99-year-old said he was doing it “for the sake of the nurses and the NHS”.
Born in Keighley, Yorkshire, and a veteran of World War Two, Capt Tom was inspired after receiving treatment for skin cancer and a broken hip after a fall in 2018.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
Capt Tom’s efforts soon reached the eyes and ears of a nation shorn of positive news as the death toll of the coronavirus pandemic increased throughout April.
TV appearances followed and by the middle of the month he had teamed up with Michael Ball to release a fundraising cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
“Every penny that we get, they [the NHS] deserve,” he said, as the total exceeded £5m.
By 17 April, it had topped £17m as he completed his 100 laps ahead of schedule, declaring: “I never dreamt I would be involved in such an occasion as this.”
‘The captain of all of us’
Tom-mania was sweeping the nation. Garage murals, patchwork collages, knitted dolls and balloon models were just some of the ways people paid tribute.
Artist Adam Salisbury said Capt Tom’s incredible story had been “the only thing that’s made me feel alive and good about myself” during the lockdown.
And Rick Minns painted his tribute on the mud-covered van he uses as a canvas before declaring: “Captain Tom has become the captain of all of us.”
‘Happy birthday Captain Tom’
On 30 April, Capt Tom celebrated his 100th birthday – and what a day.
With his fundraising efforts passing £32m, he was honoured with an RAF flypast and a birthday greeting from the Queen.
As if that was not enough, Capt Tom become Colonel Tom, while he was flooded with hundreds of thousands of birthday cards and tributes ranging from a commemorative postbox, the Freedom of the City of London and becoming an honorary England cricketer.
‘Arise Sir Tom’
Capt Tom closed his fundraising page soon afterwards, with the final total an astounding £32,794,701.
The money has started to be used to help comfort and care for NHS workers through the turbulent times, such as by creating spaces to relax, snacks for staff and pop-up shops.
His efforts inspired many others, including former nurse Joan Rich who set out to complete 102 laps of her local park before her 102nd birthday.
Tony Hudgell, a five-year-old boy who had to have both legs amputated as a result of neglect by his birth parents, was also captivated by Capt Tom.
His adoptive father Mark said: “Tony saw Capt Tom on the television walking with his walking frame and at that time it was the type of frame Tony was using.
“He looked at it and said ‘I can do that’.”
Using prosthetics, Tony took up a 10km walking challenge to fundraise for the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, which saved his life.
He has raised more than £1m, having been first inspired by someone he “kept wanting to watch on YouTube”.
“Captain Tom is one of his heroes now,” said Mr Hudgell.
After completing his 100 laps, he had a message for the British public in the midst of the pandemic.
“To all those people who are finding it difficult at the moment… the sun will shine on you again, and the clouds will go away.”