Captain Tom

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At the age of 100, Captain Tom Moore has woken up to more tomorrows than most of us (36,506 of them as of today, to be exact). They weren't all good ones, though many of them, he'll tell you, were. But that's not the point. The former war hero and record-breaking NHS fundraiser has lived the kind of life few mortals achieve.

This summer, “this quiet little soul”, as he describes himself in his recent autobiography Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day, became the hero of the coronavirus lockdown after raising £33 million for the NHS by walking circuits of his garden ahead of his 100th birthday. 

“All I did was go for a walk,” he demures in his book. Still, the rest of the nation – which was in dire need of something happy to hold on to as COVID-19 ravaged normality – disagreed. It was the feel-good story everybody craved.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge called him “incredible”. The head of the armed forces said he embodied “the sense of service and duty ingrained” in Britain’s military. He made Piers Morgan cry on national television. The Queen gave him a knighthood.

And what a life Captain Tom has led (he's now an honorary colonel). Even before his late blossoming celebrity, his life story is worth reading as an oral history of the 20th century. He is, may I remind you, six months older than Rupert Bear.

Born on 30 April 1920 to a builder father and a headteacher mother, Captain Tom says he enjoyed an “extremely happy” Yorkshire childhood. Though its end would be fast-tracked by the Second World War when he was conscripted into the army a month long of his 20th birthday, and dispatched to the war effort in India.

It was, he says, the most exciting thing that could have happened to “young Tommy Moore”, despite surviving dengue fever and experiencing firsthand the horrors of battle in Burma.

With the war's end, he returned to England to work in the building trade, rising to managing director of a concrete company.

His personal life was no less of up and down. His first wife, Billie, refused to consummate the marriage and ended up leaving him for a sex therapist. Pamela, his second, was a loving wife beset with mental health difficulties, leaving the lion's share of childcare for their two daughters to him. “This suited me fine,” he writes, “and led to a very special relationship with them from the start.”

On top of all that, he was a competitive motorcycle racer and outdoor adventurer, opting to travel to the Himalayas and Mount Everest in his 90s simply because, in Mallory-like fashion, it was there and he had never been.

The autobiography is, in short, both the story of a man and the story of a century. He doesn't hold back in his views on the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Raj in India, the atomic bomb, the founding of the NHS, Britain's first motorway, the moon landings, the fall of the Berlin Wall and many of the other events that have shaped the last hundred years.

And if there's one lesson to be learned from Captain Tom's extraordinary existence, as implied by the title of his autobiography, it is one of resilience, hard work and the refusal to be crushed by life's bad patches.

“Tomorrow will be a good day," he writes. "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.”

His insatiable curiosity and appetite for life radiates from the pages of this book like a warm, reassuring hug from a granddad who knows best. As he reflects in its final chapter, “If I have learnt one thing from all that has happened it's that it's never too late to start something new and to make a difference, especially if it brings life and light to people around the world.”

Whatever Captain Tom's drinking, we should all be knocking back. His story is the perfect pick-me-up for uncertain times.

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