The casual observer might have been wondering what England’s finest ever all-round cricketer was doing, standing in a children’s hospital, flanked by a model giraffe.
But then Sir Ian Botham, or ‘Beefy’, is not the conventional former sports star, and for three decades he has made it his business to make a difference to sick children.
Sir Ian’s visit to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children yesterday was the latest in a long line of charitable gestures and initiatives by the hero of Headingley 1981.
Along with Belfast Solicitors Association, Sir Ian’s Beefy Foundation made a donation that has enabled the Paediatrics ICU Ward to purchase a specialist Giraffe Omnibed, an incubator and radiant warmer that create a healing microenvironment for all babies. It will be a huge asset to the hospital.
Sir Ian’s youngest grandson was born at the Royal a year ago and a family connection led to him being asked to help fund the Giraffe Omnibed.
Sir Ian explained: “We have done a lot of work over the years with children with leukaemia and lymphoma which has been very successful and has made massive inroads.
“We were in a position where we were able to expand our charity work and we created the foundation which has five main charities, but we are open to suggestions and if people come and knock on the door and we can help, we will help.
“We supported this immediately, we were delighted to be asked.
“It has been successful and it’s working well and literally when we leave this ward after the photo-shoot, this is getting taken out onto the ward and there will be a day-old baby going in shortly. That’s what it is about, making a difference.”
Sir Ian made it his business to win matches on the cricket field, particularly when it came to Ashes battles against Australia, and the improved chances of beating childhood leukaemia since his fundraising mission started 30 years ago are remarkable.
“You never win a battle totally because there’s always a strain of something that hits you, but to go from a 20% chance of survival from the most common form of leukaemia in children, to a 94% in 30 years is an enormous leap.
“We make the effort but the effort doesn’t make any difference if people don’t support us. All the people who have donated over the years have contributed to what is happening today.”
Momentarily, thoughts turn to the next Ashes battle Down Under in a year’s time.
Sir Ian added: “We will do the same as we’ve done to them for quite a while now, beat them. They are the ones who should be worried, not us. When was the last time they won the Ashes? I’ve forgotten!”