Flew back into London to record some Life Stories shows for ITV. Tonight, I interviewed one of my all-time heroes, Ian Botham. He’s swash- buckling, hard- drinking, pugnacious, courageous, inspiring and almost impossibly patriotic — and it was a terrifically entertaining encounter.
But all you really need to know about the great man is what he did when he bowled the final delivery of his record- breaking cricket career. Playing for Durham against, appropriately, the Australians, he walked back to his mark and unzipped his flies. Then, as he confirmed tonight: ‘ I hauled out the meat and two veg, and ran in with the old man dangling in the wind.’ How many professional sportsmen would have the balls, quite literally, to do that?
My main aim with ‘Beefy’ was to try and make him cry, something he’d warned me beforehand would be impossible. ‘I haven’t cried since I was six,’ he scoffed. But he came close, especially when talking about his final, incredibly moving, conversation with his mother, Marie, on her deathbed. ‘She was there for me every step of the way,’ he said, ‘and I’m so glad I was able to get there in time to say thank you.’
He also got suspiciously watery-eyed when I asked him about his motivation for the gruelling charity walks he does to raise funds to fight leukaemia.
Botham has raised more than €14 million for research into the disease, over the course of 12 walks in 25 years. And often ripped his body to pieces in the process. (I did one eightmile leg of a walk with him a few years ago, and the pace he walks — a constant 4.5mph — left me a battered, breathless buffoon.)
When he started, the survival rate for children with leukaemia was 20 per cent; now it’s 90 per cent. ‘A guy appeared during one of the recent walks,’ he said, ‘and told me we’d first met on one of the earliest walks, when he was a young kid with leukaemia in a wheelchair. He was now fully recovered and living a great life, and just wanted to thank me. That made all the pain and blisters worthwhile.’ People often ask me what the criteria are for choosing Life Stories guests. The simple answer is that they need to be a) famous b) have led an interesting life and c) be ready to talk openly and honestly about it, warts and all.
For 25 years Julie Goodyear was the biggest soap star around, playing the tempestuous Coronation Street barmaid Bet Lynch. She’s been married four times — once for ONE HOUR — had several long relationships with women and survived cancer.
All of which made her a perfect guest.
But it’s what happened towards the end of a riveting interview that will spark massive intrigue. I must have asked her a dozen times to say something nice about her fourth husband, Scott Brand, who has shared her life for the past 17 years.
And every single time, she point-blank refused.
It all became fascinatingly strange — especially as poor old Scott was sitting a few feet away, glugging helplessly on a bottle of water.
‘Seriously, you can’t think of one single positive thing to say about him?’ I persisted, incredulously. ‘Nope,’ she retorted. Julie then turned, apparently exasperated, to the rest of the audience, and said, ‘You all understand, right?’ I looked around at the sea of bemused faces, and saw that absolutely nobody understood at all. It was the most awkward moment in Life Stories history.
Justin Rose has become the first Englishman to win the US Open golf championship since Tony Jacklin 43 years ago. This follows Andy Murray winning the US Open tennis last summer, One Direction topping the US pop charts — and Man Of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, romping to the Number One slot this week.
So, rather a good time to be in America. But there’s one person for whom Rose’s glory meant even more than it did to the man himself.
I sent Justin a private Direct Message on Twitter, containing one word: ‘BOOOOOM!!!!’ — my trademark salutation in moments of great t r iumph. ‘ BOOOM!!!!’ he messaged back, then adding: ‘Thanks for the support Piers! My gooner caddy finally feels what it’s like to win a trophy! Lol.’ I’m delighted for Justin, one of the nicest, most deserving guys in sport. But I’m even happier for his caddy — long- suffering
Arsenal fan Mark Fulcher.