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Thousands cheer on Beefy and `our girls' at city finale

Apr 29 2002

Catrin Williams Senior Reporter, The Western Mail


SHE called him the Pied Piper and Catherine Zeta Jones was right.

A glimpse behind her dark tresses caught sight of 2,000 supporters, bustling for the best view of 4.5mph Ian Botham and his celebrity line-up.

Thousands of admirers broke out into spontaneous applause chanting his name. To the fore paparazzi jostled for position, chastised by police and bodyguards.

Hundreds of cameras clicked to capture the day as a triumphant but exhausted Botham walked into Cardiff after nine days on the road, raising a record £800,000 for Wales's first children's hospital.

Alongside him the Swansea-born Hollywood star, dressed in a white zip-up Henri Lloyd jacket, black skin-tight bottoms and trainers, smiled and waved to the crowds.

Together with Charlotte Church, sporting a pink tracksuit, sunglasses and running shoes, they signed autographs on bits of paper, T-shirts, anything brandished by the clamouring fans.

Catherine said, "I was really flabbergasted to find there was not a children's hospital in Wales. There is a lot of work going on here, on people's behalf, and I will do whatever I can to lend my name."

Charlotte, taking a break from GCSE studies, said, "Thank you so much for your support. I know it sounds a cliché but without you there is no way this hospital could be built."

Completing the last two miles in just 30 minutes, there awaited a rapturous welcome at Cardiff Castle.

"Beefy" crossed the finish line first to hug his 24-strong support team, including wife Kathy and daughter Sarah, before spraying them with champagne.

Sarah, 23, who had also walked the entire 231 miles from Machynlleth, said, "It is really emotional when you see the support we are getting."

Inside, with more champagne flowing, Botham's four-year-old Welsh-born grandson James tottered about with a stripe of Noah's Ark Appeal stickers across his shoulders.

Botham will deny he is a hero, even though Zeta Jones confesses to being in awe of the man. He will, however, happily plump for the title of honorary Welshman.

He said, "I am just me. It's nice to give something back. My second grandson was born here in Cardiff, Liam played rugby here in Cardiff, and since I have not been coming here every weekend the profits have dropped. But we will do everything we can tonight to put that right."

At a gala dinner on Saturday night hosted by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff in honour of the charity great, Charlotte Church performed twice in a tight black dress slashed across the thigh with fishnet stockings.

Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Russell Goodway, presenting £250,000 to the cause, said, "Ian has unlocked something in Wales this past week - a determination that if the Government is not going to give us this money we are going to do it for ourselves."

Stanley Thomas, chairman of the appeal, said, "The reality is certainly coming into fruition. Even pensioners have made huge contributions they can ill-afford because they absolutely believe that a children's hospital is a necessity for a country which is the only one in Europe not to have one.

"We are still a million short of the target we need and I am sure the people of Wales will give us the money."


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