Captain Fantastic

It’s fair to say that the last few months have been memorable for most in many ways, but for an incredibly inspirational chap from Keighley they’ve been quite phenomenal. Celebrating a century, knighted by the Queen, a worldwide sensation … oh, and he’s raised £38.9m for NHS charities.

Carolyn Nicoll caught up with the quick-witted and charming centenarian Captain Sir Tom Moore in the stunning (socially distanced) setting of the Coniston Hotel, to present the Welcome to Yorkshire Honorary Personal Membership and the Pride of Yorkshire Award to a very proud Yorkshireman.  

It’s absolutely amazing to be given the first Welcome to Yorkshire Personal Honorary Membership and to have a tree planted in my name. Never did I anticipate, earlier this year, that anything like this would ever happen. I’m delighted. I’ve spent most of my life enjoying the outdoors and I do like trees but I’m not really a gardener. I’m too impatient. Things don’t grow quick enough. I hope you plant me a fast growing tree so that I can visit it with my family. If it’s a slow grower I won’t live long enough to see it will I? I’m not intending to go just yet. I haven’t time. I’ve too many things that need doing, but perhaps a nice fast growing pine would do.

I’ve never not been proud of being a Yorkshireman. Wherever I go I tell people that I come from Keighley in the West Riding of Yorkshire and there’s nowhere better, nowhere like it. My grandfathers were Yorkshiremen on both sides and I’m a true ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ Yorkshireman.

My memories of my childhood in Keighley, going back a long time, when I must have been 3 or 4, are of my mother teaching me to ride a Fairy Cycle (a popular child's bike in the twenties) on the pavement. Since then I’ve ridden pretty much anything with two wheels. I found my first motorcycle in a barn when I was twelve years old and bought it for half a crown. I managed to get it running. I’d been brought up with bikes and my Uncle Billy was a great motorcyclist, riding impressively at places like Park Rash outside Kettlewell. He meant a lot to me and I called my dog Billy after him. I’ve particularly enjoyed roaming the moors with my dogs and on a motorbike over the years.

As a 21 year old I rode motorbikes during the war in Burma, through the dense jungle and taught other soldiers how to ride too. I’ve had a lifelong passion for motorbikes and recently got to travel in a sidecar alongside the fantastic Yorkshire trials rider Dougie Lampkin, who a few years after me (smiles) was born just down the road from my hometown of Keighley in Silsden. 

I love cycling even though I’m a bit old for it now. I enjoy watching the Tour de Yorkshire and I must say I give them full marks for taking on all those hills across the county. They really have to put their best foot forward haven’t they? The cyclists think they’ve got to the top of a hill and then there’s another one. That’s the beauty of Yorkshire, there’s always another one.

My grandfather built the impressive war memorial in the centre of Keighley and the wonderful walls around Cliffe Castle in the town. It’s a pretty old wall and is still there with its lovely big iron gates inviting people in. What a delightful building. I was proud to visit recently and be given the Freeman of Keighley, and they even stopped the traffic for me to get across the road.

Raising £38.9m (with gift aid) for NHS charities … it’s not bad is it? When you think that we started off trying to raise a thousand pounds and it went on and on and on and on. People were so generous, not just in Yorkshire, or in England, but throughout the world,  donating to National Health Service charities. I didn’t believe it possible and never dreamed that through my walk for charity we’d (my family and I) get famous! That wasn’t the reason why we raised all that money, it was for the benefit of the sick and the ill. It grew and it grew and it grew … just like Topsy (she was a fictional girl who grew and grew and grew!) Everything grows like Topsy!

The Captain Tom Foundation is something that is very special and will go a long way. There are so many people in need of help, older people, lonely people, people who have various things to deal with and really are in need. Throughout England and throughout the world. When my late wife, Pamela, was in a home for 5 years with a degenerative brain disease, I’d visit her every day. One day she said “if you didn’t come to see me I would be very lonely” and that struck a hole in my heart, because so many in the same home were lonely and never had anyone visit them, year in and year out. That’s what the foundation is hopefully going to try to get rid of … loneliness.

I’m proud to have two books coming out, my autobiography Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day and a children’s book, One Hundred Steps, with illustrations telling my story of adventure, helping people and never giving up. I love spending time with children, especially my grandchildren.

My personal highlight over the last few months has been meeting the Queen. That was a magic day. I’ve never been so close to Her Majesty. She came to me all smiles, and tapped me with the sword very gently. Really it was a delight for me to speak with her and she chatted to the rest of the family too which is unusual, so we were doubly honoured on that day. The Queen is absolutely marvellous.

I’d like to live as long as Vera Lynn. I saw her when I was in Burma, she went around giving lots of help to people, far away from home and an absolute star in her own right. So yes, I’d like to live as long as Vera Lynn, so that means I’ve got to last another four years. (smiles)

To receive the Pride of Yorkshire Award on Yorkshire Day was very lovely. I really am very pleased with it, such a special award and although I don’t think I’m particularly special … I am special … because I got the award from Welcome to Yorkshire and it is outstanding. Thank you ever so much to the whole of Yorkshire.


Watch the full interview with Captain Sir Tom Moore here:

Captain Sir Tom Moore’s autobiography Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day is published September 17th (Michael Joseph).

Captain Sir Tom Moore’s children’s picture book One Hundred Steps is published October 1st (Puffin).

This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – Sept/Oct 2020. To view the full magazine, click here