It was 25 years ago today that Roy Castle passed away. Many will remember Roy as a singer, a dancer, a musician, a comedian, an actor. To us here at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, however, he was simply a legend in the truest sense of the word.
Born in Yorkshire in 1932, Roy was already well on his way to stardom by the mid-1950s. By the time the sixties started to swing, Roy had already conquered the Royal Variety Show, sold out live shows nationwide, cut hit records with his jazz heroes, and even battled the deadly Daleks in the first big-screen appearance of ‘Doctor Who’.
His fame rose higher still when he fronted the hit television show ‘Record Breakers’.
Roy was absolutely in his element, displaying his amazing musical talents or dancing up a storm, while taking part in ever more astounding and off-beat stunts. Yet despite his amazing virtuosity, he remained modest and down-to-earth. He loved nothing better than cheering on someone as they achieved their dream of setting a world record – be it for spinning plates or eating spaghetti!
He set many of his own too, including the largest tap dance (501 tap dancers at BBC Television Centre)
He also held the records for the longest time spent wing walking (3 hours 23 minutes, flying from London to Paris) and playing the same tune on 43 different instruments in four minutes.
He still holds the world record for the fastest tap dance; 1,440 taps per minute, or 24 taps per second. To this day, it has never been beaten.
In 1992, Roy was awarded an OBE, in recognition of his wide-ranging talents, and for his services to charity.
That same year, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
The Tour of Hope
Following his diagnosis, founder of the then Lung Cancer Fund, Professor Ray Donnelly, approached Roy with plans to build the world’s first lung cancer research centre. It was a proposal Roy threw himself into and, on 21st July 1994, Roy and his wife, Fiona, set off on his Tour of Hope.
The Tour travelled the length of the country, stopping at a variety of stations. At the time, Roy’s health was deteriorating but it didn’t stop his beaming smile greeting the crowds who came out in their droves to support him and the charity.
Roy knew it was “too late for him” but he also knew it wasn’t too late for “our children and our children’s children”, that with research into the disease, lives could be saved
He wanted to stop the number of people dying from lung cancer. He didn’t want our children and grandchildren to go through what his family were experiencing. To do that, lung cancer needed a huge injection of funds.
Within a matter of days, Roy raised £1 million and set the wheels in motion to reaching the £12million target required to build, equip and run the research centre.
Sadly, Roy never saw the impact he had. He passed away less than two months after the Tour of Hope ended, 2nd September 1994. His loss was felt right across the world, and it is no exaggeration to say that he was one of the most beloved entertainers of the 20th century. But his legacy lives on.
What Roy did in what were to be his final two months of life was simply astonishing. He was an exceptional person and it was exemplified by his Tour of Hope. His selflessness has led to all this and more:
Opened the Roy Castle research centre, the first facility in the world dedicated entirely to lung cancer.
Introduced the first dedicated lung cancer nurse specialist. These nurses are now a standard, and vital, part of a person’s lung cancer team, helping and supporting them through their diagnosis and treatment.
Successfully campaigned for the introduction of a ban on smoking in public places. This took effect across the UK in 2007.
Funded millions of pounds into innovative research projects across the UK.
Provided support for the thousands of people affect by lung cancer every year. Since Roy Castle’s death, around 1.1 million people have been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Campaigned for access to life-lengthening treatments, so those living with late stage lung cancer can have more, quality time with their family.
Funded a ‘lung health check’ pilot scheme in Nottingham that has saved lives and provided key evidence to support the roll-out of further lung health pilot projects across England. Data from our pilot project is also helping to make the case for a national lung cancer screening programme.
Campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the disease and its signs and symptoms – making sure that everyone understands that ‘if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer’.
Challenged the stigma surrounding lung cancer, so that everyone affected can hold their head high.
Dedication, that’s what you need
Dedication, the Record Breakers theme tune, epitomised what Roy Castle was all about, and Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation remains dedicated to supporting everyone affected by this disease.
We will continue to lead the way in innovative research into early detection. We will continue to offer practical and emotional support everyone affected by lung cancer. We will continue to raise awareness and tell the stories of the people who are living with this disease.
We will strive to live up to Roy’s legacy.
We’d love to hear your memories of Roy. Maybe, you saw him on the Tour of Hope. Perhaps, he inspired you to take up the trumpet. Or were you just Record Breakers biggest fan?! Share your memories on social media using the #RememberingRoy.