23rd July 2019

Roy Castle OBE: Tour of Hope 25th Anniversary

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Few stars shone brighter than Roy Castle, the entertainer supreme, and July 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of his famous Tour of Hope.

Roy Castle

He could sing, dance, and play a multitude of instruments; he was a top-of-the-bill comedian and in-demand actor – and a huge family favourite, whose fame grew over decades.

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 zany, 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!

Roy’s watchword was always ‘dedication’, and he proved it too, by setting several world records of his own, including:

• Fastest tap-dance 1,440 taps per minute, or 24 taps per second, set on 14 January 1973 – this record has never been bettered

• Longest wing walk, at 3 hours, 23 minutes

• Playing the same tune on 43 different instruments in four minutes.

Roy married the talented dancer Fiona Dickson in 1963, and they had four children.

The Lung Cancer Fund and Roy

Our charity was founded in 1990 by chest surgeon Professor Ray Donnelly, originally as the Lung Cancer Fund.

roy castle and ray donnelly
Roy Castle and Professor Ray Donnelly

In 1992, Roy was awarded the OBE in recognition of his sublime, wide-ranging talents, and for his services to charity.

That same year, he discovered he had lung cancer.

A life-long non-smoker, Roy believed his illness may have been caused by inhaling the smoke that was such a feature of the clubs, bars and theatres where he’d worked for much of his career. Often in such public venues, the air would be thick with toxic fumes.

Roy was to play a key part in helping us to change that.

Professor Donnelly approached Roy with his plans to build the centre in Liverpool, and he readily agreed to help. Although he knew he had little time left, he threw himself into the task of helping launch a national appeal to build the first research centre anywhere in the world dedicated specifically to lung cancer.

So, on July 21st 1994, with his wife Fiona by his side, Roy set off from Liverpool’s Lime Street station on his ‘Tour of Hope’ aboard a specially-charted train, visiting cities up and down the country. He would rest while on the train, then – despite his weakened state – he would emerge to greet and entertain the thousands of people who flocked to see him.

The Tour of Hope

Within days, Roy’s tour raised a million pounds, and set the wheels in motion to reaching the target of the £12m that would be required to build, equip and run the research centre.

roy castle tour of hope
Roy Castle on his Tour of Hope

Roy’s railway journey ended on July 23rd, and a massively successful gala show – featuring the cream of Britain’s showbiz talent of the era – at the London Palladium concluded the ‘Tour of Hope’.

Sadly for all, Roy died on September 2nd that year. 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.

In the wake of Roy’s truly incredible contribution to our charity, and to mark his dedication (that word again) to our cause, Prof. Donnelly suggested to the board of trustees that the name of our charity should change. Since that time, we have been proudly known as ‘Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’, in honour of a kind, humble, loving and sincere gentlemen.

As Prof. Donnelly says, “Roy was an exceptional person, there’s no doubt about it, and that was exemplified by the Tour of Hope. What he did will never be forgotten.”

Our chief executive, Paula Chadwick, agrees. “He gave us his name, and he said that was all he could do”, she says, “but his name has meant so much to us and we are determined to do him proud.”

We thank Roy and Fiona Castle, and their family, for all they have done for us in the past 25 years. Together with all our incredible supporters, they have made our work possible.

Roy’s Legacy

In the 25 years since the Tour of Hope, and since Roy Castle left us all, we have:

• Opened the Roy Castle research centre, the first facility in the world dedicated entirely to lung cancer. So successful has this been, that the research eventually outgrew the centre, and has moved a short distance to state-of-the-art facilities at the University of Liverpool.

• Funded innovative research projects across the UK and Ireland, contributing to world fund of knowledge about lung cancer and how it develops.

• Introduced the first dedicated lung cancer nurse specialist. These nurses are now a standard part of lung oncology teams, helping lung cancer patients to live better with the disease.

• Campaigned for – and won – the introduction of a ban on smoking in public places. This took effect across the UK in 2007.

• Funded a ‘lung health check’ pilot scheme in Nottingham that has saved lives, detected several cases of lung cancer and other serious chest diseases, 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’.

• Campaigned to overcome the stigma surrounding lung cancer, so that everyone affected knows they can hold their head high.

So, here’s to the next 25 years. We remain dedicated to finding better ways to detect lung cancer earlier, to helping those with lung cancer to live longer, happier and healthier lives, and to being the key resource for all those affected by lung cancer.

Thank you Roy: we will carry on the work you did so much to enable.