If I could go back a year and give my Christmas 2019 self a piece of advice, it would be: “Get plenty of sleep, because you’re going to need it.” What’s happened to our family over the course of 2020 has been the most incredible accident that none of us could ever have expected: it started with one throwaway remark in the garden and has ended with my father, Captain Tom Moore, at the centre of a global movement of hope.
Last year, Dad was getting over a fall he had in our kitchen at the end of 2018. He fractured a hip and was frustrated by the pace of his recovery. Unbeknown to us, he ordered a treadmill, so he could rehabilitate over the winter. One sunny lockdown weekend, he came out with his walker – now familiar to the whole world – and his sun hat on, and my husband Colin said: “Carry on walking, Tom, we’ll give you a pound a lap. Do 100 by your 100th birthday.”
We’d had to cancel his big party, so it seemed a great idea. I said, “Let’s set up a Just Giving page, and if we raise £1,000, fantastic. Maybe we can touch a few people, give them joy.” I put a press release together, and a couple of local radio stations picked it up.
Overnight, the total went up to £2,000. Then Dad was on breakfast TV, and the BBC asked if we could go live on Saturday April 11. The weather was glorious and we thought no one would be watching but they were. After Michael Ball featured us on Radio Two it blew up. We went from £1,000 to £300,000 and then to half a million a week later. Two weeks in, the total was at £12 million, and in the first four weeks we raised £38.9 million from 163 countries.
It was completely unplanned and what the world couldn’t see was that it was just the five of us dealing with it – my daughter Georgia, then 11, eloquently answering the phone; my son Benji, then 16, managing the tech; Colin and I glued to the kitchen table answering emails and keeping our recruitment business Maytrix going too.
We weren’t eating or sleeping. Suddenly, Dad was on the front page of nearly every newspaper in every continent and we had drones overhead, and cameras on 30ft poles and helicopters! Thousands of gifts and 200,000 birthday cards arrived – it was a groundswell of love. Friends from the village helped us open them, all the while making sure everyone was distanced and we were protecting Dad.
Dad could see we were so tired and he said: “Should we make this stop? I’m worried for you.” It was a watershed moment. We said: “No, because what you are doing is having such a positive impact on people around the world. We just have to manage it.”
We’re just an ordinary family, and having to deal with being at the centre of the world’s media attention was extraordinary, which is why we needed some outside help from a PR company.
To understand why Dad’s doing this and the causes he’s passionate about, you have understand our family. When my mother Pamela was in a home with a degenerative brain disorder, Dad visited her every day, and she said to him once: “If you didn’t come, I’d feel so lonely.” When she died in 2006, I didn’t want to leave him alone – I couldn’t bear the thought of it. We conquered loneliness and bereavement by living together.
His central message – tomorrow will be a good day – is not new to us. That’s Dad. He’d always say: “Look on the bright side; it’ll be better in the morning”. I feel his positivity, that you could throw anything at me and I’d be OK.
It’s lucky, because some aspects of this year have been a challenge. All I wanted was to give my dad a voice, to allow him to hear and allow him to be heard, but I started picking up hate on social media. Vile stuff saying I’m a shrew, I’m devious, I’m making him do it, pictures of cows being sick calling me a disgusting cow, saying I’m just milking my father.
I think if I’d been the son people would have slapped me on the back and said: “Good job” but we’re still slightly sceptical and afraid of successful women. It’s ageism too, because anyone can see I couldn’t make Dad do anything he didn’t want to do and nor would I.
For a while it was burdensome. My children were perplexed by the negativity and as a family we were worried it might somehow damage either the amazingly wonderful thing we were doing or the business. Then John Maguire from the BBC came one day after there had been a barrage and I told him I was getting frustrated with the haters and he said: “Don’t let them be bigger in your head.”
It was really good advice. What I learned is that the haters are so minor but they feel huge. I found my inner resilience and said to myself: “I’m not going to care – I’m going to be who I am,” and things got easier after that. We are a strong, united, supportive family, and most people can see we have a wonderful father-daughter relationship, and I’m there to be Dad’s voice.
Dad thinks what’s happened is amazing. He’s full of pride at the legacy he’s creating with the Captain Tom Foundation. And a little bit amused too, like, “What’s all the fuss about?” My mum would have been proud, and perhaps a little bit embarrassed. But she would have loved to put a hat on and go to Windsor Castle. She was very glamorous.
The day when Dad got his knighthood was magical. The Queen had asked for the whole family to go. She spoke to each one of us and said: “I know you’ve all worked very hard. Thank you.” It will be amazing for the children to look back on. What did Dad make of it? He thinks he’s done everything that could ever make a man happy!
There have been other surreal moments too. By the time Dad appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories we all knew Piers quite well, we’d talked to him so much. When David Beckham came, it was amazing to watch him being so respectful to Dad.
Aside from the famous visitors, we try to keep Dad’s routine the same. He gets up, has his porridge with condensed milk, the dog licks the bowl, he doesn’t do interviews after 2pm, and if he’s tired we’ll just lock everything out (but without him noticing, because he’d hate to feel we were looking after him!)
Eight months in, our whole lives have pivoted. We just want to do the right thing with the opportunity we’ve been given. I’ve had a lifetime of joy with Dad, and I don’t want other people to miss out on that.
Ahead of the second lockdown, I went to the supermarket and people were stopping me to talk about their fears. I told them Captain Tom would say that one day into a dark time is one day less that you have to do it. I felt people wanted to hear from him.
Over the kitchen table at home, we created the hashtag #WalkWithTom, to ask people to walk for him, and be part of Captain Tom’s Army of Hope. We teamed up with the Virgin Money London Marathon organisers who are supporting us as we grow the foundation, and helping us formulate our voice and spread the #WalkWithTom message. Now we’re asking people around the world, wherever they are, to walk on New Year’s Day.
Always at the back of my mind, I’m aware we may have limited time so in 2021 we’ll try to knock things off Dad’s bucket list. He’s already met his fellow Yorkshireman Dougie King, the motorcycle champ. Now he wants to go to Barbados, and do a sky dive, and to drive down Route 66 in a Bentley.
The way I see it is, you’re never too old to have a bucket list!
The Captain Tom Foundation has been set up to continue to inspire people and ensure Tom's message of hope becomes an enduring legacy. At the start of the second lockdown #WalkWithTom was launched to get people walking and talking, spreading hope and easing loneliness.