‘He believed in that fundamental kindness of the human spirit…’

Posted 7th July 2021

Captain Sir Thomas Moore became a prominent, positive part of everyday life during lockdown, offering wisdom and a welcome sense of calm during a period of extraordinary upset.Completely by accident he became a figure of hope on the international stage. Sammy Jones spoke with his daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore to learn more about her father, the man who inspired the world through the dark days of the pandemic.

When Captain Tom decided on those charity laps to raise a few quid for the NHS, it captured imaginations quickly. Perhaps it was the determination of a man a century old stepping out to ‘do his bit’, or maybe it made us question our own attitudes and tenacity.

Whatever it was, people embraced the British spirit of this gentle soul, who shared just as many wise words as he took steps around that garden in Marston Moretaine.

“He had this voice of reason, positivity and hope that was just a reflection of who he was,” Hannah told me, “On top of that, he was someone who had lived for 100 years and had gone through difficult times. He could look people in the eye and say, ‘I promise you, it does get better. We will get through it.’

“He allowed people to believe that, and was able to do that because of the time he’d lived and the fact that he was a veteran. The underlying thing behind that of course, was if he hadn’t lived in a multi-generational family, that voice would never have been heard. He was able to become this beacon of hope because the four of us were right behind him.”

Captain Tom with his beloved 1912 Scott Flying Squirrel, Clutching Trophies he won in trials

It was only after Hannah’s mother Pamela, Tom’s second wife, passed away in 2006 that Tom came to live with them.

“It was a marriage built on love and fun,” Hannah says of her parents’ union, “It was so tragic because he married someone quite a bit younger. He was a dry Yorkshireman and thought, ‘She’ll be around to look after me’, and of course the opposite happened, and he looked after her.”

With Hannah and husband Colin making the move to Bedfordshire to set up their own business, the pressures of work and raising a family – son Benjie was just two and a half then – meant they wouldn’t be able to see Tom as often as they wanted to.

“I said to him, ‘We don’t want to leave you…please come with us.’ He couldn’t quite believe we’d asked him, but he was very independent and didn’t necessarily want to give that up.”

But when they found their perfect property, it was plenty big enough for them all.

“We said, ‘We can all live here together, just move in with us.’ So he did. He was 87 then,” Hannah recalls, “We never looked back and became so close. “We genuinely didn’t fall out because there was just innate respect across the age gaps. 

“Our daughter Georgia was born after my father moved in, and life became much less about things focused on them, because actually there was a person with different and possibly greater needs than theirs. It was a really magical environment to watch the children grow up in.”

And Tom never relinquished that independence.

“My father would come on holiday with us, and then he’d say, ‘I’m going to leave you for a week,’ and fly back by himself. He went off to India a couple of times, and to South Africa!”

They were, says Hannah, “A really close, happy family going through life like everyone else does, with business taking up all our time, children emerging into teenagers, my father getting older, but we were totally approaching life together as a group of five.”

Captain Tom on London’s Piccadilly Circus billboard

And then everything changed with one small step…

“When the world started to watch, we were thrown closer, and because he couldn’t hear, I sat next to him in interviews for no other reason than to be his ears. None of us were thinking about fame or glory, that’s not what drove us… we thought we were going to make a thousand pounds,” she pauses, before laughing at the incredulousness of what followed, “Nothing can prepare you for that.”

Captain Tom and Hannah during a live interview on his 100th birthday. Captain Tom was deaf and Hannah was by his side as his ears during every interview he ever did

As a father, Captain Tom had certainly done his utmost to prepare Hannah, and her elder sister Lucy, for life. He was in his 50s by the time they were born, and embraced his new role as a dad.

“He was incredibly inclusive, and a massive champion of women and girls.

“By the time I was eight-years-old I could change the oil in a car, take out the spark plugs and clean out the carburettor. He used a piece of wood with nails and a hammer and said, ‘Learn to hammer straight and don’t hit your thumb.’

“He didn’t do it because it was trendy or cool, he did it because he believed, ‘Why wouldn’t you do that?’ He thought, ‘I am going to equip them for life’.”

That practical support paid dividends: “It’s probably no accident I have my own business,” Hannah admits, “I’ve often been the only woman in senior executive positions. As I strode into the business world, sometimes it was very challenging, but he has given me fortitude and tenacity and a belief that if you want to do it, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

“He always used to say, ‘Say yes and then work out how you are going to do it.’ He was that person; forge ahead. It was so important to him that you lead with respect, and you lead by taking people with you; it makes for a great and more forceful team. What a powerful message from someone who was so much older.”

Captain Tom had lived a colourful life even before he found fame by accident. But he wasn’t the only one, conceded Hannah: “There are many people who led lives that are just as interesting. His story is really extraordinary, of being thrust into the Burmese Jungle at 20-years-old, but he wasn’t the only one. But he was given that incredible opportunity to share 

the story for other people to see and say, ‘That reminds me of my dad or grandad.’ It was the human touch. He believed in that fundamental kindness of the human spirit, and I think that’s what’s shone through.”

It is undoubtedly part of the reason why the country was able to take him to its collective heart.

The story of the man walking around a Bedfordshire garden to raise a little cash for the NHS, showed the best of the human spirit during the very worst of times.

Within a week of the campaign going live, people had donated half a million pounds. Imagine that. Within three and a half weeks that figure had rocketed to a whopping £38.9m.

Captain Tom’s wedding day to wife Pamela

People from 163 countries donated to his ‘little’ fundraiser. That sort of global success is beyond comprehension. In all, more than 1.6m people reached for the plastic pal and splashed the cash.

Who remembers the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon? At its chilly height, at any one time, 10,000 people were trying to donate through the JustGiving platform. During those three and a half weeks when people were shelling out cash for Tom? More than 90,000 were trying to donate!

Don’t forget, this wasn’t a family that had courted global success, and yet suddenly they were international news. It was a glorious response, but it was testing, tiring and overwhelming too.

“The only feeling I can tell you that was consistent throughout that period was surprise – within a week we were doing 30 interviews a day. It’s really hard to describe our emotions, but there was a point when I felt the tectonic plates underneath my feet shift, and I knew that whatever happened, we couldn’t go back – that even if we said ‘stop,’ we couldn’t go back.

“My father could see how hard we were working and used to say, ‘Hannah, make it stop, you can’t do this.’

“He used to say, ‘I’ve got the easy bit, I’m just talking and you are all ensuring the machine behind it is fuelled,’ and within a few days it was a machine. Looking back, it was only the business skill that my husband and I had, which kept the wheels on.”

It’s not only the amount raised by his charitable endeavours that is hard to take in. The list of subsequent achievements are just as incredible; Two Guinness World Records; a Number One single; a variety of trains, buses and boats named in his honour; public birthday congratulations came from Prince Charles, Harry Kane and Boris Johnson; a Pride of Britain award; named as ‘Inspiration of the Year’ by GQ Magazine; and a guest on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories ITV show.

The family in Barbados December 2020 – It was on Captain Tom’s bucket list to visit Barbados

But there were bigger accolades than those. The time when he was knighted, for instance.

“There is no question that, for him, meeting the Queen was the absolute highlight. It was amazing, and hard to describe. She asked to see all five of us…” Hannah pauses, still trying to take in the magnitude, “I don’t even know that I have the language to describe it really. It was magical. I sit and muse about that…”

And then there was a conversation with the director general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros.

“Keep in mind that my father had been given the Points of Light award by the past four living US Presidents, the United Nations Honours, the UK Points of Light and he has been knighted. “Every single honour or award that it was possible to give someone, he had been given, and that’s not to negate any of them. Each in turn was just as amazing.

“But a conversation I had with my father and Dr Tedros was an extraordinary moment. We ended up having this really dynamic conversation about purpose and ageism and multi-generational living and the importance of empowering women and girls. It was terrific. After my father died, we were approached by the WHO because they were producing a white paper on ageism and launching it on a global webinar. What we didn’t know at that point was that as a consequence of the conversation we had, Dr Tedros changed the way the WHO were looking at ageism and crafted this paper at speed. Benjie and I went on the webinar and represented my father. So there you go, just one of the things that makes me go, ‘Wow’.”

Perhaps that particular nugget will make it into the upcoming biopic. Captain Tom was aware that a movie was planned when he passed away in February.

“He said, ‘Who wants to watch a film about me?’” Hannah laughed, “I think it will be something lovely to watch. It will be a particular take on what happened to us as a family, essentially.

“It’s a British film and probably won’t be huge, but it is going to cement it in a place where people can always go back and look at it and say, ‘Do you remember? Oh my goodness!”

Sadly, where there is good, the bullies like to follow, and the family has been subject to distressing abuse by keyboard cowards.

“In the early days, my husband and I didn’t know what to do, or how to handle it. It shook us a little bit. It’s hard not to be either hurt or outraged by it. But none of that is good. We went on this incredible journey of strength, because we had no-one to ask at the time and couldn’t talk to anyone about it.”

So the family decided to do the only thing they could: “We decided we had to park it somewhere and agreed that we were never going to take that to dad. It would have really upset him,” and initially, most of the trolling was focused on Hannah, “Even Benjie would sometimes come in and say, ‘Look, I’m just going to tell you, don’t look here, because it’s horrible,’” she says.

“The most important thing I can say is we will not give them a voice – we will not,” she says, resolutely.

Hannah, Benjie and Georgia continuing Captain Tom’s legacy with the Captain Tom 100 campaign, inspiring hope where it is needed most, an event everyone could be a part of

Today, the family is focused on continuing the amazing legacy that he left, with The Captain Tom Foundation.

“We are probably the most prominent charity there is, and we are the most infantile too. We are learning and moving at speed,” Hannah promises, “Our intention wasn’t to set up a charity, but we did it because we wanted to secure the incredible gift he left us all. The foundation seemed like the best place. It is centred around the values of my father, and we want it to benefit the many and not the few. We are still trying to work out what that means. We know that we have this incredible convening power.”

The foundation will focus on four charities per year, and Willen Hospice is one of those benefiting in its first year.

“We looked very carefully to ensure that we had a local touch. We never want to forget our local roots. We feel so proud to be centred here and wanted to make sure that local connection stayed.”

While the world felt a sense of loss when Captain Tom passed away in February, the grief is still raw for the family who lost their father and grandfather. The charity helps to keep him in the present and provides a powerful focus.

“It is a personal loss to us, he was one fifth of our household and it feels lonely without him,” she admits, “But everywhere I look I see him, everywhere I go, I hear him. Most of the time that’s wonderful, and occasionally it’s heartbreaking, but that’s ok – it’s part of the grieving process. But his legacy sits here in the family and what an amazing thing to have. That’s incredible, isn’t it?’”

For more information on The Captain Tom Foundation click to captaintom.org