Long before I saw them, I heard them — the throaty rumble of their World War II engines reverberating in my hearing aids as I sat outside on the morning of my 100th birthday.
With a blanket draped over my shoulders to protect me from the April chill and my face tilted to the sky, I spotted the valiant Hurricane first as it wheeled in from the west for my birthday fly-past.
Then came the Spitfire, that gutsy little plane that captured the hearts of the nation and came to represent the British spirit.
As the aircraft came in low directly overhead, their two young pilots from RAF Coningsby’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight kindly dipped their wings at me before heading home.
Raising a clenched fist, I punched the air and cheered along with everyone else, thrilled to bits by this timely reminder of all that helps make this country great.
With my special birthday fly-past over, I turned to the film crews in our garden and said: ‘I can’t believe all this fuss is for me, and only because I went for a little stroll.’
Captain Tom Moore raised millions for the NHS. In this final extract from his memoir Tomorrow Will be A Good Day, the 100-year-old has revealed how his incredible fundraiser got started
In fact, the previous 25 days beggared belief, because everything that had happened sprang from a family joke when I was recovering from a broken hip.
It was Sunday, April 5, 2020, the first really sunny day of the year, and my daughter Hannah and her family, with whom I live in Bedfordshire, decided to have a barbecue.
Lockdown was making life tricky for everyone, and we were all looking forward to a treat. Instead of doing my exercises in my room that day, I decided to take my walker outside for the first time and try a few laps of our 25-metre driveway.
In a typically affectionate way, my family began to tease me. ‘Keep going, Grandad,’ Benjie, 16, called as he flipped the burgers.
Georgia, 11, laid the table and Hannah said casually, ‘Let’s see how many you can manage.’
Her husband Colin added: ‘We’ll give you £1 per lap, so see if you can do 100 by your hundredth birthday.’
I thought they were joking because I hadn’t walked that far since I came out of hospital 18 months earlier, but as I kept walking, step after step, I began to think about what they’d said.
What if I did raise a bit of money and gave it to the nurses and other healthcare workers who’d looked after me and my late wife Pamela over the years?
That £100 would be a nice gesture.
Two years earlier, I’d have managed 1,000 laps or more, but through a silly fall in my kitchen I fractured my hip, broke a rib and punctured a lung, which almost did for me.
Captain Tom’s first laps got underway surrounded by family, including his grandchildren Benjie and Georgia, and his daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore
Before that I’d been fit and well — driving, mowing the lawn and managing much of the gardening myself, even using the chainsaw.
Once I’d finished the first lap that Sunday and earned myself £1, I turned my walker carefully and attempted lap number two. ‘That’s it,’ Hannah encouraged, laughing. ‘You might even make a fiver!’
Secretly, I wondered if I could, but with the family egging me on, I told them there was no way I was going to stop.
Before I knew it, though, they’d decided to take me at my word.
Hannah set up a fundraising page for me with a £1,000 target and contacted the local media to help drum up support for what they called my ‘Walk with Tom’, leaving me to do the rest.
None of us could have imagined in a million years that Hannah’s press release would set an unstoppable ball rolling.
Within 24 hours of my appeal being aired on the radio, it was well on the way to the £1,000 that had seemed like an impossible dream — and I’d only done 11 laps.
People told me that there was something about my little walk that captured the hearts of those still in shock at the coronavirus crisis.
With a rising number of deaths and the prospect of months of lockdown, everyone was desperate for good news.
Before we knew it we were well past the £1,000 target and the donations and the media requests were flooding in.
One thing that was clear to us all was that I was not able to do interviews alone. Because of my hearing difficulties and the distance reporters had to keep from me, I needed a member of my family to sit alongside and ‘translate’ each question.
My daughter Lucy and her family, self-isolating 90 miles away near Reading, were powerless to help and could only offer encouragement from afar.
It would have to be Hannah.
The money just kept rolling in.
Within days it surpassed Hannah’s hopes for £5,000, then £10,000, then soared past £20,000 a n d kept going up. The kindness and generosity of all those donors astounded me because, as well as giving to the charity, they started sending me birthday cards and gifts via the local post office, where poor Bill, our postmaster, was inundated.
‘Meeting the Queen at Windsor Castle was an extraordinary honour and an unforgettable day,’ writes Captain Tom
I couldn’t believe it. Nor could I believe that I was going to be interviewed by my favourite TV presenter Naga Munchetty on BBC Breakfast.
When Naga went on to social media to tell people that I’d be appearing the following morning, Benjie told me that the internet went into overdrive — I think he said ‘viral’ — so the family had to set me up with my own Twitter page.
Now that’s something I never imagined I’d need or want. I even had my own hashtag: #WalkwithTom.
Not that I knew what a hashtag was, but it seemed to be important.
Later that day Hannah told me: ‘You’re not going to believe this, but you have five thousand followers already!’
I frowned. ‘What are they following?’ ‘You!’ she replied, laughing.
‘Why on earth would anyone follow me? And where are they?’
‘Don’t worry,’ Hannah replied, ‘they’re not outside the gate. At least, not yet.’
Naga and all those interviewing me seemed to assume that I was possessed with some sort of 100- year-old wisdom simply because I’d lived so long, which doesn’t necessarily follow to my way of thinking, but I did my best.
When asked if I had any advice for those in lockdown, I said people should remember that: ‘Tomorrow will be a good day. Tomorrow you will maybe find everything will be much better than today, even if today was all right. My today was all right and my tomorrow will certainly be better. That’s the way I’ve always looked at life.’
Before I knew it, I had another hashtag to my name: #TomorrowWillBeAGoodDay.
Random reporters and photographers started turning up uninvited at the gate.
Some even pushed their way on to our land through the front hedge to take photographs of me walking up and down — something I was busily trying to do every day to achieve my target.
Concerned, Hannah put out an appeal to her friends in the village for help and before we knew it Nick Knowles of the TV programme DIY SOS volunteered a team who arrived to erect a fence for us.
The dogs had to be kept in at all times and my daughter and son-in-law had to drop everything to deal with the furore.
After talking to the beleaguered postmaster, Hannah released the address of the Marston Moretaine Post Office for the hundreds of cards and gifts that kept coming every day, so that a team of friends and neighbours who kindly volunteered could sort them there, rather than have sackloads arriving at the house.
Appearing on Radio 2’s Michael Ball show gave my appeal a massive boost, pushing it to a staggering £250,000.
Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘Why stop? Let’s go for £1million!’ Back I went on to both breakfast shows on April 14, whereupon the Just Giving donations webpage crashed because it had too much traffic.
And within hours the £1million target was smashed.
We were told that over 100,000 people had donated from around the world.
The average donation was £15, which — at a time of such uncertainty with shops and businesses closed and people facing the possibility of losing their jobs — was all the more special.
When we reached £2 million, then £3 million and then £4million — all on 14 April — I was stunned.
And to think I thought raising £1,000 would be a stretch.
What I don’t think I was ever able to fully express was how much this experience did for me, right from the earliest days.
It gave me purpose at a time when I’d become a lot less independent than I had been for the preceding 98 years.
It also proved that age is no barrier to anything if you set your mind to it. Urged on by the goodwill of the country, I was determined to continue walking until somebody told me to stop.
The day before I was due to complete my 100th lap on April 16, we broke all previous fundraising efforts and I earned my first entry in the Guinness World Records as the biggest individual fundraiser of all time. In the words of my granddaughter, it was ‘awesome’!
Michael Ball was one of the many who took part in the live celebrations via TV and when he announced from his home that he wanted to sing me a song to mark the occasion, I was touched that he chose You’ll Never Walk Alone, a perfect song for what had happened since I started my walk.
Then he came up with a crazy idea. He asked me to collaborate with him and the NHS Voices Of Care Choir on a rush release of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
I didn’t need much persuading to record a timely and poignant old Rodgers and Hammerstein number, though my 99-year old vocal cords weren’t a patch on theirs.
After all, it had been over 90 years since I’d been a soloist in the Keighley church choir.
As Michael said of my singing: ‘I think some of that was in the key of Q!’
DJ Zoe Ball played it first on her Radio 2 breakfast show early the following morning, April 17, and by the time the song finished she was in tears.
So, apparently, was the nation. It certainly seemed to strike a chord because within two days our 99p song had sold over 80,000 copies and went straight to No 1 in the UK pop charts that Sunday.
The following week, on April 30, I turned 100. I had so many people all wishing me well that day, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who rang in the middle of all the fuss.
I was born when David Lloyd George was the last Liberal Party prime minister of the country.
The thought that, 25 prime ministers later, the present incumbent of No 10 would wish me a happy birthday was astounding.
The message that meant the most was from Prince William who, sitting next to Kate on a video call, told the BBC: ‘He’s been around a long time, knows everything, and it’s wonderful that everyone’s been inspired by his story and his determination. He’s a one-man fundraising machine. God knows what the final total will be but good on him — I hope he keeps going.’
With such an endorsement, how could I not?
I never imagined aged 50 when Lucy was born that I was only halfway through my life.
It was a day of high emotion, and I only wished Lucy and her family, including my two clever grandsons, could have been there to celebrate with us.
I was moved almost to the point of tears when the Yorkshire Regiment sent Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Miller, Commanding Officer of 1st Yorks, to present me with my missing Defence Medal.
It was he who informed me that Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Chief of the General Staff, had awarded me the title of honorary colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.
That was marvellous, as I had always been a proud member of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, but this really was the icing on the cake.
It was indeed a great honour, but ‘Colonel’ wasn’t a title I’d use, unless I was trying to be a bit posh.
Everyone knows I’m Captain Tom and I’m more than happy with that.
I couldn’t imagine that anything could top my 100th birthday and the money we’d raised, but my country wasn’t done with me yet.
A campaign started by the media to award me a knighthood — and scoffed at by me — attracted almost as much attention as my original appeal.
Tomorrow Will be A Good Day, by Captain Tom Moore, is published by Michael Joseph on September 17
A petition for me to be knighted received 580,000 signatures, but still I couldn’t believe it would ever happen, nor did I believe I’d earned it. In these extraordinary times I should have known better.
The day I didn’t believe would happen arrived on the evening of May 18, 2020, when a message from the Prime Minister was delivered.
When Hannah opened the letter and told me the news, I shook my head and cried: ‘No! That can’t be true.’ I simply couldn’t believe it.
How had this happened, when just six weeks earlier no one even knew who I was?
Meeting the Queen at Windsor Castle was an extraordinary honour and an unforgettable day.
But don’t expect me to reveal what Her Majesty said to me.
Piers Morgan wanted to know, and I told him: ‘I have no intention of breaking the traditional rule that these conversations are private!’
As if a knighthood wasn’t enough, when my appeal finally closed, the total amount that had been donated by 1,519,442 generous people was £32,796,436, which — with £6,173,773 in Gift Aid — came to a magnificent £38.9million for NHS Charities Together.
That floored me. I wish my parents and my dear wife Pamela could have seen it.
And I have often thought that, when I die, I shall once more see all the people I’ve loved who have gone ahead.
I’ve never been afraid of talking about dying, and I know I’m going to die so I feel no fear.
It comes to us all.
So, even if tomorrow is my last day, if all those I loved are waiting for me, then that tomorrow will be a good day, too.
- Tomorrow Will be A Good Day, by Captain Tom Moore, is published by Michael Joseph on September 17, £20. ©Captain Tom Moore 2020. To order a copy for £16, go to www. mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0203 308 9193. Free delivery. Offer price valid until September 11, 2020.