The star of 2020 who came from nowhere

Ross McGuinness
·7-min read
99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore, poses for a photo at his home in Marston Moretaine, England, after he achieved his goal of 100 laps of his garden, raising millions of pounds for the NHS with donations to his fundraising challenge from around the world, Thursday April 16, 2020. Moore started walking laps in his garden as a humble fundraising challenge to walk 100 lengths of his garden by his 100th birthday on April 30, and has now raised millions for the National Health Service and become a national rallying point during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  His family thought it would be a stretch to raise 1,000 pounds, but donors have pledged millions of pounds and still counting. (Joe Giddens/PA via AP)
Captain Sir Tom Moore raised more than £30m for NHS charities this year. (PA via AP)

In April, Captain Tom Moore set off with his walking frame and a goal of raising £1,000 for the NHS by completing 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday.

At the close of 2020, £32m and one knighthood later, Captain Sir Thomas Moore ends the year as a national hero.

When the then 99-year-old started to walk laps of his garden at his daughter’s home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, he could not have imagined the impact he would have on the nation.

News of his efforts spread swiftly and the donations began to rocket, providing a rare glimmer of good news in the depths of the first COVID lockdown.

In a year characterised by the new and unexpected, it was Captain Tom’s name that was the most popular new online search term in 2020, according to data from Yahoo Search.

Watch: The Heroes of 2020

The charity walk

On 6 April, Captain Tom began “Tom’s 100th Birthday Walk For The NHS” at the home of his daughter in Bedfordshire.

He planned to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities Together in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic by using his walking frame to complete 100 laps of his garden – each lap measuring 25 metres – before his 100th birthday on 30 April.

British World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore, 99, poses with his walking frame doing a lap of his garden in the village of Marston Moretaine, 50 miles north of London, on April 16, 2020. - A 99-year-old British World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore on April 16 completed 100 laps of his garden in a fundraising challenge for healthcare staff that has "captured the heart of the nation", raising more than £13 million ($16.2 million, 14.9 million euros). "Incredible and now words fail me," Captain Moore said, after finishing the laps of his 25-metre (82-foot) garden with his walking frame. (Photo by Justin TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Captain Tom Moore doing a lap of his garden in the village of Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, on 16 April. (AFP via Getty)

It took four days to raise the initial £1,000 target on his JustGiving page – but the donations didn’t stop there. The target was adjusted to £5,000 and later to £500,000 as his walk began to capture the public’s imagination.

Read more: Captain Tom Moore fund gives £20m to NHS charities

By 16 April, the charity walk had raised £10m. Later that day it passed £15m as Captain Tom completed his 100 laps.

He vowed to keep walking if the donations continued.

A day later the money raised reached £20m as a total of almost one million people donated to his cause, and the Duke of Cambridge dubbed him a “one-man fundraising machine”.

Captain Tom said: “It really is absolutely enormous, isn't it? That sum of money is very difficult to imagine but it's coming in so well.”

By the time of his 100th birthday at the end of April, Captain Tom had raised more than £32m and the JustGiving appeal was closed.

Happy 100th birthday

99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore, with (left to right) grandson Benji, daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore and granddaughter Georgia, at his home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, after he achieved his goal of 100 laps of his garden - raising more than 12 million pounds for the NHS.
Captain Tom Moore, with (left to right) grandson Benji, daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore and granddaughter Georgia after completing 100 laps of his garden. (PA)

Captain Tom’s birthday was marked with an RAF flypast and he was made an honorary colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, Yorkshire, a training centre for soldiers under 18.

He visited the college in August and told junior soldiers: “The world is your oyster.”

Captain Tom received birthday wishes from Prince Charles, footballer Harry Kane, singer Michael Ball and prime minister Boris Johnson.

Birthday cards are seen on display at Bedford School ahead of Captain Tom Moore's 100th birthday on Thursday, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Bedford, Britain, April 28, 2020 REUTERS/Matthew Childs
Thousands of birthday cards for Captain Tom Moore on display at Bedford School on 28 April. (Reuters)
A man cleans a royal mail post box painted blue in support of NHS and to celebrate 100th birthday of army veteran Captain Tom Moore ahead of the Royal Air Force (RAF) flypast over his house, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Marston Moretaine, Britain, April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Paul Childs
A Royal Mail postbox painted blue in support of NHS and to celebrate the 100th birthday Captain Tom Moore in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire. (Retuers)
A happy birthday message is displayed on the big screen in Piccadilly Circus for army veteran Captain Tom Moore on his 100th birthday, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, April 30, 2020.  REUTERS/Toby Melville     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A happy birthday message for Captain Tom Moore is displayed on the big screen in Piccadilly Circus in London. (Reuters)

His birthday was marked by Royal Mail, who stamped all post between 26 April and 1 May with the postmark: “Happy 100th Birthday Captain Thomas Moore NHS fundraising hero 30th April 2020”.

Read more: Captain Tom sends touching letter on his 100th birthday

It seemed the world wanted to wish Captain Tom a happy birthday – he had received 90,000 birthday cards by 23 April.

A Great Western Railway train, recently named ‘Captain Tom Moore’, terminates at Worcester Shrub Hill station in Worcester, Worcestershire, after its first day in service. The GWR Intercity Express Train, that is named in honour of the veteran who has raised more than £32 million for NHS Charities Together, has re-entered service on his 100th birthday.
A Great Western Railway train was named ‘Captain Tom Moore’ to mark his 100th birthday in April. (PA)
Detail of a mural that has been created to pay tribute to NHS fundraiser Captain Tom Moore outside Bradley Scott Windows in Tamworth, Staffordshire.
A mural of Captain Tom Moore in Tamworth, Staffordshire. (PA)
A hand knitted Christmas bauble of Captain Sir Tom Moore hangs on the village Christmas tree in the centre of Allington, Lincolnshire. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)
A hand-knitted Christmas decoration of Captain Tom Moore on the village tree in Allington, Lincolnshire. (PA via Getty)

The total number of cards eventually topped 150,000 – including one from the Queen – and the vast bulk of them were stored at his grandson’s school, Bedford School.

People from all over the world paid tribute to Captain Tom and his image was emblazoned on murals, Christmas decorations and even public transport – the Great Western Railway (GWR) named its intercity express train 800025 after him and it went into service on his 100th birthday.

Watch: Captain Tom makes a birthday speech

Record breaker

According to Guinness World Records, Captain Tom holds the title for the most money raised by an individual performing a charity walk.

He is also the oldest person to reach Number One in the UK music charts.

To mark his 100th lap of his walk, singer Michael Ball sang You’ll Never Walk Alone for Captain Tom live on BBC Breakfast.

The performance was made into a digital single featuring Captain Tom’s words and the NHS Voices of Care Choir.

The single was helped to number one after singer The Weeknd, who had held the top spot with his track, Blinding Lights, tweeted that people should support Captain Tom’s song instead of his own.

Watch: Michael Ball and Captain Tom top the charts

Knighthood

Captain Sir Thomas Moore receives his knighthood from Britain's Queen Elizabeth, during a ceremony at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, Friday, July 17, 2020. Captain Sir Tom raised almost £33 million for health service charities by walking laps of his Bedfordshire garden. (Chris Jackson/Pool Photo via AP)
Captain Sir Tom Moore receives his knighthood from the Queen at Windsor Castle in July. (AP)

By 20 April, more than 800,000 people had signed a petition calling for Captain Tom to be given a knighthood.

A month later, it was announced he would get one, after receiving a special nomination by the prime minister.

Captain Tom became Captain Sir Thomas Moore, and received the knighthood from the Queen outside in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle in July.

Read more: Captain Tom remembers wartime comrades on VE Day

It was the Queen’s first official engagement in person since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, and Captain Tom was the only person honoured at the ceremony.

He said afterwards: “I am absolutely overawed, this is such a high award and to get it from Her Majesty as well – what more can anyone wish for? This has been an absolutely magnificent day for me.

Captain Sir Tom Moore walks down a guard of honour during a visit to the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire as part of his new role as Honorary Colonel of the Northern military training establishment. (Photo by Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)
Captain Sir Tom Moore walks down a guard of honour during a visit to the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, in August. (PA via Getty)

“To meet the Queen was more than anyone could expect, never ever did I imagine I would get so close to the Queen and have such a kind message from her, that was really outstanding, it was truly outstanding.

“When you think that about four months ago I was just Tom Moore, now I’m Sir Tom Moore, no one could ever have believed that, in that time it would happen to me.

“I’ve been really honoured that this should happen and I’m thrilled that it did happen, and thank you everyone who subscribed to the fund – I really appreciate it and thank you all very much.”

Watch: The Queen bestows knighthood on Captain Tom Moore

GQ cover star

ENGLAND - OCTOBER:  In this image released on November 26, Sir Captain Tom Moore, winner of the Inspiration Award poses for the GQ Men of The Year Awards 2020. The GQ Men of The Year Awards will be streamed on youtube on November 26, 2020.  (Photo by Conde Nast/British GQ for Conde Nast via Getty Images)
Captain Sir Tom Moore won the Inspiration Award at the GQ Men of The Year Awards in November. (Getty)

In November, Captain Sir Tom became the oldest cover star for British GQ, as he was named the magazine’s Inspiration of the Year.

Reacting to being on the cover, he told GQ: “Well, that’s something special, isn’t it?

“And maybe next year, I’ll be the oldest again!”

Summing up the approach that earned him a place in the hearts of millions, he said: “Negative thoughts don’t seem to be part of me. I always think of the beneficial things.”

The top 10 search terms that were new for 2020:

1. Captain Tom Moore

2. Disney Plus

3. Rishi Sunak

4. Britbox

5. Normal People

6. Alok Sharma

7. Spitting Image

8. Prof Neil Ferguson

9. iPhone 12

10. Xbox Series X