Saturday, 18 September 2010


By Tom Chaplin:

Snaking cables, endless wires, beeping machines, complicated equipment, fine expertise, giant personalities: the radio folk from London have come to town.

For one day only BBC Radio 5 live broadcasted Gabby Logan’s afternoon show live from the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, Freeman Hospital on Thursday 16th September.

The great and the good were there, obviously. Then there were the utterly stupendous, the fabulously committed, the embarrassingly talented, and the unerringly brave. And then there was, er, me. To make up the numbers? Hoover up the sandwiches? (Midday kick off, what do you expect?) To mooch around taking it all in.

I watched as Ruth Plummer… you know Ruth Plummer, Clinical Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine, ushered Alan Shearer into a cubby-hole kitchen to make him a cuppa (white no sugar, for fans of detail).

I witnessed warm small talk between the ever-delightful Lady Elsie Robson and many recognisable faces…. with Gabby Logan about cake (more on that later), with Shearer about his tan (procured via golf she was reliably informed) and with Newcastle United’s Steve Harper about his tan (yes, golf also), and with many fundraisers and others keen to share a word.

I gaffawed as I realised radio people really do tiptoe around, manically making “we’re all doomed” gestures with their hands when a problem arises. Acting like ducks someone suggested, though the lady from the BBC preferred to refer to herself as a swan.

I smiled warmly as Gabby interviewed three patients of the centre: Terry who wasn’t much into reflexology, Claire who detailed the challenges of radiotherapy to the nation with amazing poise and calm, and Ruth – 78 years young, all zip wires and life’s-for-living and still fundraising.

I listened as the infectious enthusiasm of Lee McQueen, Apprentice winner and former employee of “Sir Alan”, enthralled with tales of Scarfell Pike, blisters and fundraising in honour of a mates’ mate who’d lost his battle with pancreatic cancer last summer.

I tasted the offering of Carol, Professor Plummer’s friend of many years, and the Foundation’s official unofficial cake maker. It was, as you’d expect, fine cake.

I heard as Warrant Officer Angela Kelly retold the story of Stevie Campbell – a Sergeant and “excellent soldier” based at Pelton with 3 Rifles who’d lost his life to an IED in Afghanistan, and who’s son was today to receive a shirt and football signed freshly by Alan Shearer. I heard too of her utterly inspiring fundraising on behalf the Foundation that she does with her dog, “Alan Shearer” and tale of Shearer (the dog) being randomly sent No.9 out of a possible 3000+ Race for Life race numbers.

I stood by in awe as a member of nursing staff offered me… ME…. a cup of tea. Thank you, but no I said in voice struggling to hide my surprise. What had I, in the company of all these people, these wonderful, hardy, energetic, inspiring, tough as nails, generous, thoughtful, life saving, brilliant people, done to deserve a cup of tea? Nothing. I’d done absolutely nothing but pick at the cheese savoury and mooch.

Sadly, almost as quickly as it kicked off – as with all good parties – this one was over before anyone had time to notice. The two and half million pound fundraising milestone had been mentioned on air. The radio gear packed up. The snaps had been taken, the cake gone. Gabby was done and ready for the train. Alan had departed. Lady Elsie and her three doting sons Andrew, Mark and Paul were saying warm goodbyes to staff and patients.

And so… snaking cables, endless wires, beeping machines, complicated equipment, fine expertise, giant personalities: gradually the centre begins to return to normality. Patients sit quietly receiving treatment, staff busily go about their work. The hum of activity as a cure is sought. And the unmistakable, unbreakable aura of one man remains. Thanks for a lovely afternoon, Sir Bobby.