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ALISON BOSHOFF on Simon Cowell’s recovering from a bicycle crash

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alison boshoff on simon cowells recovering from a bicycle crash

Ten weeks ago, Simon Cowell suffered a horrifying fall. He was testing an electric bike and, after underestimating its power, was thrown off — breaking his back in three places.

He had a six-and-a-half-hour operation to fuse the breaks in his spine, having come just millimetres away from being paralysed.

And now, with Britain’s Got Talent concluding without him, and his 61st birthday quietly celebrated among family, he remains cloistered in his £19 million Malibu mansion.

Simon Cowell, pictured, was badly injured while using a battery-powered bicycle. The music mogul, pictured here with his partner Lauren Silverman, left

Simon Cowell, pictured, was badly injured while using a battery-powered bicycle. The music mogul, pictured here with his partner Lauren Silverman, left

The music mogul, pictured, purchased a £5,000 battery-powered bicycle which he later crashed

The music mogul, pictured, purchased a £5,000 battery-powered bicycle which he later crashed

In his absence from public view, some rumours suggest he is bed-bound, wearing a back brace and on high-strength painkillers.

One report says he requires a full-time nurse and is a long way yet from health. ‘He’s still in a bad way,’ says a London contact.

The process of recovery has been more lengthy and complex than Cowell and his team initially hoped. At the time of his accident there were hopes that he would be able to return to work in front of the cameras at the end of September, first filming the final of America’s Got Talent then flying to the UK for the conclusion of Britain’s Got Talent.

Neither has proved possible, on the advice of his doctors. Instead, the initial ‘euphoria’ that he had come through the fall without serious consequences have given way to an appreciation of just how daunting his recovery is.

One very close contact tells me: ‘It will be a long road before he is back on form again. It is all going to take a lot longer than expected as the breaks weren’t straightforward. He needs lots of physio and lots of time. He is doing very little work, so really following doctor’s orders.’

Another source explains: ‘He is building up his strength but the recovery is taking longer than we hoped. It was a very serious injury and they didn’t fully appreciate that at first.

‘There was initial euphoria that he was all right, when he felt that he had come through it by a miracle. Then came the pain.

‘He had about six weeks of agony. By early September, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to be ready to physically travel at all for work. He was on high-strength painkillers but he isn’t any more. He also doesn’t have a live-in nurse any more.

Sources claim that Mr Cowell, pictured right, suffered serious injuries in the crash

Sources claim that Mr Cowell, pictured right, suffered serious injuries in the crash 

‘Progress has been made since and he had a three-hour meeting via his iPad this week. He could not have managed that six weeks ago. He is building up his strength.’

Cowell is also no longer bed-bound. He sees a physiotherapist daily and is trying to do 10,000 steps a day. He’s also swimming to try to regain strength in his muscles.

During this period of recovery, he has also stayed away from social media. Immediately after the accident he wrote on Twitter: ‘Some good advice… if you buy an electric trail bike, read the manual before you ride it.

‘I have broken part of my back. Thank you to everyone for your kind messages.’

Since then there has been silence — not a word about the finals of BGT or the U.S. version — which is quite uncharacteristic of Cowell, a workaholic by nature.

I’m told he has kept up with affairs in his television empire, but is only now really returning to work, remotely.

Naturally, the Covid pandemic means that working from home has seemed quite normal.

BGT co-judge Amanda Holden said last week that all his friends have been worried about him. ‘He’s doing well. I keep in touch with Lauren [Silverman, Cowell’s girlfriend] every week. His will and determination to get himself better is inspiring. He’s very determined, he’s a fighter. We know that there is no way he will want to be seen failing or not to get better as quickly as he possibly can.’

Ex-girlfriend Sinitta added: ‘It was a serious accident. So for people who love him, like me, it was very, very scary. He’s taken some steps, so he has reassured himself that he’s not paralysed. But he’s got to take his time and get well.’

Another former girlfriend, TV presenter Terri Seymour, went to a small birthday party for him last weekend.

On Sunday she and daughter Coco visited Cowell, Lauren and their son Eric, six, at their Los Angeles home.

A friend admitted that Mr Cowell, pictured, 'no longer feels invincible'

A friend admitted that Mr Cowell, pictured, ‘no longer feels invincible’ 

A sweet video posted on Instagram by Terri shows the two children singing Happy Birthday to Simon while a cake is brought in. He then blows out the candle having carefully taken it off the cake first.

It’s a very rare social engagement as Simon has been seeing almost nobody: he is very Covid cautious. Friends observe that the pandemic is spreading freely in California and he is naturally concerned not to get ill.

In fact, the accident has made him realise he is not invincible. He has even managed to finally shake his addiction to cigarettes and is down to just the occasional one.

A friend said: ‘He definitely no longer feels invincible and this has been a wake up for him about his health and lifestyle. He was nearly paralysed and feels lucky to be recovering at all.’ The fall was of life-changing seriousness. Some in his circle think it might even make him think again about making a commitment of marriage to Lauren. ‘Never say never,’ says one.

Why? Well in addition to the acknowledged phenomenon that trauma makes people reconsider their relationships, he and Lauren have never spent such a prolonged period together.

Before his accident they were enjoying family time with Eric. Simon had insisted on Lauren camping out with them in their garden. Up to that point she had never spent a night under canvas.

Together for seven years, he has never proposed, although she has continued to hope that he might.

He loves her and adores their son, but until now has resisted the idea of losing his freedom (and a chunk of his £385 million fortune should things go wrong.)

Usually, Lauren spends one week with Simon followed by a week in New York where her older son Adam lives. During the pandemic she has been spending more time in LA. Those close to Cowell say she is thoroughly decent, kind, loyal and supportive.

She’s been an important part of his working life. The deal to bring Robbie Williams and wife Ayda Field onto the judging panel of the X Factor in 2018 was facilitated by Lauren, who was friends with Ayda through their children.

Friends claim his next target is a long break in Barbados. He plans to spend the festive season there as usual with Lauren, Eric and their

Friends claim his next target is a long break in Barbados. He plans to spend the festive season there as usual with Lauren, Eric and their 

Her role in his life has never been greater. For some time now, she has been his ‘gatekeeper’ because Cowell doesn’t have a mobile phone. Anyone who wants to contact him urgently does so by either calling his house, or Lauren.

He ditched his phone long before his accident, reasoning that it was better for his mental health to be able to cut off communications for periods of time. The catalyst for this change was when he fell down the stairs at his London home after fainting in October 2017.

He vowed to overhaul the ‘vampire lifestyle’ which saw him making transatlantic phone calls all night until 8am.

He also radically changed his diet and has lost 4st. Cowell barely touches alcohol and follows a largely vegetarian diet. His focus now is to be fully well and ready to be on screen for the return of Britain’s Got Talent in January next year — Covid permitting.

His next target is a long break in Barbados. He plans to spend the festive season there as usual with Lauren, Eric and their dogs.

There will be no jet-skis though. Unsurprisingly, he has lost his appetite for ‘boys toys’. 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Coronavirus: Lt. Gov holds gun and bible in anti-lockdown video

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coronavirus lt gov holds gun and bible in anti lockdown video

The Lieutenant Governor of Idaho has been filmed with a handgun and a bible in the front seat of her car as part of a video in which state lawmakers question the existence of the coronavirus.

Janice McGeachin featured in the video in which those taking part pledged to ignore any restrictions imposed by the state as part of a ‘declaration’ against coronavirus measures.

The film, which was recorded earlier this month by a libertarian group called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, sees various Idaho Republican lawmakers all taking turns to read lines from a declaration which claims to have been ‘ratified by the people of Idaho October 1st, 2020.’

Idaho lawmakers including Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin appeared to question the existence of the coronavirus pandemic

Idaho lawmakers including Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin appeared to question the existence of the coronavirus pandemic

McGeachin sits in her truck and smiles as she holds the bible and takes out a handgun before placing it on top of the book

McGeachin sits in her truck and smiles as she holds the bible and takes out a handgun before placing it on top of the book

McGeachin sits in her truck and smiles as she holds the bible and takes out a handgun before placing it on top of the book.  

‘We recognize that all of us by nature are free and equal and have certain inalienable rights among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing happiness and protecting safety,’ she says.     

Alongside McGeachin, Republican state representatives, Tammy Nichols, Dorothy Moon, Bryan Zollinger, Christy Zito, Chad Christensen, Priscilla Giddings, Tony Wisniewski, Heather Scott, Ron Nate and Karey Hanks and all pictured each reading a line to protest against the COVID rules. 

In the declaration, the Republicans claim ‘the emergency orders are infringing on the rights of Idahoans’ and ‘question whether a pandemic may or may not be occurring.’ 

Dustin Hurst, the group’s vice president, said many viewers were ‘missing the point of the video.’

‘The aim wasn’t to question the pandemic, but rather to reaffirm that our rights exist pandemic or not,’ he said to The Washington Post. ‘Some public officials act as if they can restrict rights without consequence or pushback. That’s just not how this works.’

It demands ‘an end to the emergency orders issued by state and local government officials’ as well as the ‘restoration of our constitutionally protected rights.’ 

McGeachin has been a critic of the Governor of Idaho Brad Little's pandemic orders and has attended several rallies to protest them

McGeachin has been a critic of the Governor of Idaho Brad Little’s pandemic orders and has attended several rallies to protest them

McGeachin has been a critic of the Governor of Idaho Brad Little’s pandemic orders and has attended several rallies to protest them according to Newsweek.  

In contrast to Little’s phased reopening strategy, McGeachin has consistently argued for a looser approach despite the current rise in infections. 

Meanwhile, Idaho is currently experiencing record-breaking numbers of new daily cases in October.

There have been 63,195 infections in the state with 618 deaths. 

The latest figures on October 30th shows an increase of 998 new infections. 

Citing a rise in average daily coronavirus cases, Gov. Brad Little announced he will keep Idaho in Stage 4 of his COVID-19 reopen plan during a press conference at the start of October

Citing a rise in average daily coronavirus cases, Gov. Brad Little announced he will keep Idaho in Stage 4 of his COVID-19 reopen plan during a press conference at the start of October

On Monday, Little announced he would again limit gatherings of 50 or more people.

‘I sincerely hope that some people have passed the point of thinking the pandemic is not real or is not a big deal, or that their personal actions don’t really affect anything,’ Little said during a news conference on Monday.

Little announced that the state would move back to Stage 3 of its coronavirus reopening plan. 

That phase allows businesses to remain open and in-person church services to continue but limits gatherings of 50 people or more. 

McGeachin pushed back on her Facebook page, saying she was ‘disappointed’ in the governor’s decision. 

‘Our state is moving toward more top-down control over our businesses and citizens,’ she wrote. ‘We should be supporting Main Street right now, not adopting the draconian tactics of liberal municipalities that have only proven to make matters worse.’

McGeachin, 57, previously served in the Idaho state legislature for a decade before working on a statewide committee to elect President Trump and serving as a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention. 

Two years ago, she was elected Idaho’s first female lieutenant governor. 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Novice minister MATT WOODCOCK reveals he had beer flowing in the aisles and live camels in Nativity

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novice minister matt woodcock reveals he had beer flowing in the aisles and live camels in nativity

When former journalist Matt Woodcock was appointed minister at Holy Trinity Hull, known as ‘God’s aircraft hangar’ because it’s the largest parish church in Britain, it had a dwindling congregation and was losing £1,000 a week. 

Radical action was needed to turn its fortunes around — but not everyone found his methods easy to accept, as this honest and humorous account of his first 18 months reveals…

As a Church of England minister, there are probably some things I should never admit to.

Like the fact I sometimes don’t particularly like going to church. Or the clothes we wear, the traditional hymns we sing, and the prayers written for us to pray.

Too often the C of E’s ways, rituals and culture feel as alien and uncomfortable to me as accountancy or wearing a monocle. At least I actually believe in God. That often seems to be the only thing I have in common with my clergy colleagues.

Novice minister Matt Woodcock is pictured above. A couple of hours before the curtain went up on our Live Nativity, I stood outside the church in pouring rain, thinking ¿B****r, what have I done?¿

Novice minister Matt Woodcock is pictured above. A couple of hours before the curtain went up on our Live Nativity, I stood outside the church in pouring rain, thinking ‘B****r, what have I done?’

I’d do things differently, I thought. I’d be an agent of change. I’d do Jesus with bells on.

That was the theory anyway. After leaving theological college, I was given the chance to put my dreams into action in the centre of Hull at Holy Trinity Church (recently renamed Hull Minster).

It wasn’t easy to persuade my wife Anna to move to Hull. She’d put up with my two years’ training at vicar school. 

Then there was our infertility and multiple rounds of IVF. And, suddenly, more fertility than we’d ever dreamt of — our twin girls Esther and Heidi.

Year 1: Tuesday, July 5

My first day as a fully licensed, fully frocked, fully clueless ordained Church of England ‘pioneer’ minister.

My new boss, the Rev Dr Neal Barnes, greeted me at the church door with a beaming smile. 

My other colleague, the Rev Irene Wilson, is an unpaid priest in her 60s. Three reverends with nothing in common except our Christianity. It could be disastrous.

Thursday, July 7

I was introduced to one of Holy Trinity’s welcomers today — volunteers who stand at the church door and greet people. 

He was a spindly, elderly chap called Selwyn, straight out of the pages of David Copperfield. The conversation went like this:

Me: ‘Hi Selwyn. I’m Reverend Matt Woodcock. Pleasure to meet you!’

Selwyn: ‘I know who you are Mr Woodcock! I’m an atheist — you won’t convert me!’

Selwyn is one of our key Welcomers. He makes a point of telling visitors that the very notion of God is entirely ridiculous. We have a long way to go.

Our church council just keep saying ¿yes¿ to me. In one meeting tonight, they approved the church beer festival, the possibility of rock bands playing in the nave and the launch of a new service in a pub ¿ on the grounds that I need to go where the people are, rather than naively think they¿ll just come to us

Our church council just keep saying ‘yes’ to me. In one meeting tonight, they approved the church beer festival, the possibility of rock bands playing in the nave and the launch of a new service in a pub — on the grounds that I need to go where the people are, rather than naively think they’ll just come to us

Saturday, July 9

My dog collar is a magnet for interaction and conversation. As I strode round the Old Town’s indoor market, people were keen to give me their thoughts on dire rugby league referees, the afterlife and ‘the f*****g council’.

I noticed a battered sign on a building down the north side of church: St Paul’s Boxing Academy. I could hear pumping dance music and bags being pummelled, so I swallowed down my fear and walked in.

Kids were sparring in a ring watched by their parents. Huge tattooed men in red and blue vests were dotted around the place in various states of pugilistic exertion. No one noticed me at first.

I’m cringing now, but eventually I shouted out: ‘Hello everyone! I’m one of the vicars from the church next door. How are you all?’

The gym was suddenly transformed into a Wild West saloon. The music cut out. Everyone seemed to stop and stare fiercely.

Mercifully, a voice finally sliced through the silent tension. It was one of the coaches, Paul. ‘I’m so glad you’ve come in, Reverend! I’ve been wanting to speak to someone from the church. We need somewhere to park and wondered if you could help?’

Tension lifted. The music came back on. People went back to hitting things.

Monday, July 18

Anna and I had a row in the kitchen. The constant stress of Esther’s wailing is causing big tensions between us. Anna said I was useless. I said she could be doing a better job. We didn’t mean it.

Monday, August 1

Keeping my promise to do circuit training at the boxing club tonight, I chatted to a fierce-looking guy between agonising planks and sit-ups. He had several gold teeth and an array of alarming scars. One of the coaches shouted over: ‘Don’t listen to his confession, Rev — you’ll be here all night!’

As a Church of England minister, there are probably some things I should never admit to. Like the fact I sometimes don¿t particularly like going to church

As a Church of England minister, there are probably some things I should never admit to. Like the fact I sometimes don’t particularly like going to church

Thursday, September 8

I excitedly pitched an idea to Mark, the organist, about the forthcoming harvest service. The church will be packed with kids from the local boys’ secondary school, all bored to within an inch of their young lives. I want to get a couple of them up at the front to play an icebreaker game — ‘Name That Tune’ on the organ. 

‘Please can you learn the Match of the Day theme and that new Lady Gaga song?’ I asked hopefully. Mark’s eyes rolled into his forehead.

Tuesday, October 4

I’ve had another idea for the bored schoolboys. I’ll be preaching about Zacchaeus, the crook who climbed up a tree to get a better view of Jesus. 

His life was transformed when Jesus called him down. I think I could act that bit out — transform our tall pulpit into a tree and climb down it. I’ll try to persuade the organist to play the Mission Impossible theme tune.

Sunday, October 9

A 700-strong congregation packed Holy Trinity for the harvest service — including hundreds of fidgety schoolboys. The organist launched into Mission Impossible. I swung a leg over the side of the pulpit and tried to lever myself down.

For a few horrible seconds, I got stuck, dangling and stranded over the Lord Mayor’s head. The congregation thought it was part of the act and were going nuts. I thought I was going to die…

I excitedly pitched an idea to Mark, the organist, about the forthcoming harvest service. The church will be packed with kids from the local boys¿ secondary school, all bored to within an inch of their young lives. I want to get a couple of them up at the front to play an icebreaker game ¿ ¿Name That Tune¿ on the organ. ¿Please can you learn the Match of the Day theme and that new Lady Gaga song?¿ I asked hopefully. Mark¿s eyes rolled into his forehead

I excitedly pitched an idea to Mark, the organist, about the forthcoming harvest service. The church will be packed with kids from the local boys’ secondary school, all bored to within an inch of their young lives. I want to get a couple of them up at the front to play an icebreaker game — ‘Name That Tune’ on the organ. ‘Please can you learn the Match of the Day theme and that new Lady Gaga song?’ I asked hopefully. Mark’s eyes rolled into his forehead

Tuesday, November 29

Our church council just keep saying ‘yes’ to me. In one meeting tonight, they approved the church beer festival, the possibility of rock bands playing in the nave and the launch of a new service in a pub — on the grounds that I need to go where the people are, rather than naively think they’ll just come to us.

Thursday, December 22

One of the lads I trained with has emailed me a round-robin family Christmas newsletter. I hate these things. They never fail to make me feel bad, and Christians send the worst ones.

Toby’s daughter already seems to be fluent in two languages and can play the viola. She spends her lunchtimes ministering to her friends in the playground and praying for healing. She’s four.

Anna had to physically restrain me from sending back our own version. Something like: The twins are driving us insane, our poor excuse for a marriage is barely functioning beyond wine and nappies and life is horrible. Merry Christmas! The Woodcocks x

Year 2: Saturday, March 17

One of our elderly church welcomers lambasted me for making a homeless bloke a cup of tea this morning. ‘You’ll only encourage them, Matt,’ she said. Unbelievable.

Friday, April 13

I’m hopelessly addicted to Game Of Thrones. It’s full of sex, power games and mindless violence. Not unlike the Old Testament, then. I can’t sleep for worrying about the beer festival. It could end in disaster: drunken, bearded men throwing up in the choir aisle after too many pints of Trinity Ale. Have I gone too far?

Friday, April 20

People were queueing to get into the beer festival. Queueing to get into our church! My head is swimming with the numbers of people I spoke to about church, God and real ale.

Wednesday, April 25

What would have been my first wedding has been cancelled. Turns out the groom has run off with another woman.

Thursday, April 26

Note to self: always read people’s funeral tributes before the service. A close friend of the deceased (Marion, a lady in her 80s) was supposed to read out a tribute. But when it came to her moment, she was too overcome with emotion. I stepped in — and quickly wished I hadn’t.

‘Marion liked to help me with my Ann Summers deliveries,’ I read. ‘She couldn’t wait to get her hands on the latest battery-operated merchandise.’

There was a collective gasp, followed by the most awkward of silences. Except for the sound of Marion’s friend. She’d stopped crying and was laughing her head off.

Wednesday, May 16

I met with Archbishop Sentamu so he could assess whether I was fit to be ordained a priest after my rookie deacon year. To be fair, I talked his face off for half an hour. He looked weary and bamboozled by the end, stifling episcopal yawns. I think he was prepared to make me a bishop if only I’d shut up a bit.

Friday, July 13

Anna had some choice words for me tonight — I probably deserved them. She was up to her neck in babies, nappies and mess, so it wasn’t the best moment for me to ask what time tea would be ready.

Thursday, August 23

Conducted my first wedding today. When I asked, ‘Does anyone know any legal impediment why this couple may not be married?’ the air was filled with a tense silence. Then the bride blurted out: ‘At least I know he’s not gay, then!’

At the end, I boomed: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the bride and groom, Mr and Mrs Sampson!’ Awkward pause, a few nervous coughs, a frantic look down at my notes … ‘Sorry Mr and Mrs Roehampton!’

Wednesday, August 29

Jokingly, I told Neal and Irene that it could be a game-changer if we walked real camels through the city centre as part of a live Nativity. Thousands would come. They both laughed as if I’d lost my mind.

Tuesday, September 4

One of my baptism mums has found me some camels at an East Midlands farm! They specialise in providing animals to TV and film crews.

Monday, September 10

The farm has quoted me just over £3,000 for three huge camels and their handlers (who’ll dress as Wise Men), a donkey and three sheep.

Friday, September 14

An animal rights group called Animal Defenders International have got the hump (sorry) about us using camels. ‘Strange sights, sounds, touches or odours, and changes in temperature can cause stress in camels,’ their email said.

Thursday, September 20

Hallelujah! Hull City Council has agreed to stump up most of the cash for the Live Nativity! They had a few concerns about walking camels down a busy shopping street but think it can be done without killing anyone.

Sunday, September 23

A retired priest has emailed me after seeing an article about the camels in the Church Times. He encouraged me to read the Gospels and discover that camels aren’t mentioned.

One of our elderly church welcomers lambasted me for making a homeless bloke a cup of tea this morning. ¿You¿ll only encourage them, Matt,¿ she said. Unbelievable

One of our elderly church welcomers lambasted me for making a homeless bloke a cup of tea this morning. ‘You’ll only encourage them, Matt,’ she said. Unbelievable

Sunday, October 21

Today I asked the congregation to shout out the top five reasons why they thought people stay awake at night. ‘Sex!’ someone shouted, with annoyingly brilliant timing. 

The word echoed around the 700-year-old walls. I’ve unwittingly created a stag-do culture in the house of God.

Thursday, October 25

We have a real baby Jesus for the Live Nativity! He’s a two-week-old called Sidney. His welder dad, Gareth, and barmaid mum, Lyndsey, are dead keen on being Mary and Joseph.

Sunday, December 2

I had a really difficult conversation with Anna tonight. She spoke some truths about our marriage that were hard to hear. Hard, because I knew she was right.

‘I’ve had enough, Woody,’ she said between tears and blowing her nose. ‘We see so little of you that I may as well be a single parent. You give that church everything and we’re left with the dregs. I won’t go on like this.’

I’ve been so oblivious to Anna’s feelings. So selfish with my time. I’m filled with dread that she’ll leave me. I don’t know what I’d do. My life wouldn’t make sense without her.

Thursday, December 4

Things are better between us. Every day — no matter how busy or preoccupied I am — I’m trying to be more present with her and the girls.

Thursday, December 20

It was the Live Nativity dress rehearsal tonight. The sight of boxing coach Paul dressed as a shepherd, grim-faced and holding a toy sheep, will make me smile for a long time. He gave me murderous looks.

Friday, December 21

Gareth has had the crazy idea of kneeling down in front of hundreds of people while dressed as Joseph and proposing to his girlfriend (dressed as Mary) in their stable.

‘That’s fine, Gareth, but are you sure she’ll say ‘yes’?’ I asked.

‘Well, we’ve been getting on just lately.’

Saturday, December 22

A couple of hours before the curtain went up on our Live Nativity, I stood outside the church in pouring rain, thinking ‘B****r, what have I done?’

My shepherd’s costume was already soaked, and the sodden streets were empty. But I knew I’d walk those ****ing camels through Hull city centre if it ****ing killed me.

I arrived at City Hall — aka Nazareth — just as a massive articulated lorry was turning in. It took my breath away when three huge, glorious camels trotted out, followed by the sheep and a donkey.

I herded the Live Nativity cast into City Hall. Our wise men were hungover. The shepherds — coaches from the boxing club —were bickering. Outside, Queen Victoria Square was full. 

The people looked drenched but expectant, and Neal — in headdress, hessian robe and fingerless gloves — stepped out onto the balcony to begin the narration.

The Angel Gabriel — his gold costume flapping all over his face — sang the first song, Ave Maria. Mary and Joseph acted out all the Nazareth scenes and then we set off to Bethlehem. The boxing coaches led us out, their sheep on leads.

Carving a path through the crowds was precarious — everyone wanted selfies with the camels. The Christmas story was alive and incarnate on the streets.

The procession stopped outside The Bonny Boat pub. Joseph banged on the door. Mary, next to him in a pregnancy suit, going for Oscar glory, was hamming up the contractions. Colin, the landlord, came out at the top window, looking like a grumpy Yasser Arafat.

‘We’d like a room for the night, please — my wife’s about to have a baby!’ Joseph shouted.

‘There’s no room at the inn. Now be on your way!’ Colin shouted back.

Then it was landlord Lee’s turn to appear at the top window of another pub. Looking sick with nerves, he told Mary and Joseph he had a stable round the back.

So we processed into the church car park along with a massive crowd. The second Holy Family — Gareth and Lyndsey and baby Sidney — were already huddled in a makeshift stable. Our choir led us in some traditional carols, and I invited the crowd into church for a cake, a hot drink and a service led by Irene.

‘That leaves just one more thing,’ I said. ‘Joseph has something to ask Mary.’

I passed the mic to Gareth. His hands were violently shaking, like those of an alcoholic in search of his next dram.

He got down on one knee next to the manger, pulled a ring out of his smock and said: ‘This bit’s not in the Bible but could be added in … Lyndsey, I love yer. Will you marry me, please?’

She said yes and burst into tears as he put the ring on her finger. Then this rough-faced, granite-hard welder from East Hull publicly cried his eyes out. The crowd went nuts.

Sunday, December 23

Our candlelit service was packed out tonight. Afterwards I went home and watched It’s A Wonderful Life with Anna. 

We wept in each other’s arms. The power of human kindness and generosity never fails to move us.

Sunday, December 30

Gareth and Lyndsey have asked me to marry them next Christmas. They want a Nativity-themed wedding — with live animals…

Adapted by Corinna Honan from Being Reverend by Matt Woodcock, published by Church House Publishing, £9.99. © Matt Woodcock 2020. 

To order a copy for £8.49, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Offer valid until November 11, 2020.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Nobby Stiles: 1966 England World Cup hero who had to sell his shirt

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nobby stiles 1966 england world cup hero who had to sell his shirt

With his receding hair, short height, poor eyesight and missing front teeth, the England footballer Nobby Stiles made an unlikely national hero.

But during the triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign, he became the country’s mascot, embodying the quintessentially British qualities of terrier-like determination and instinctive humour. 

As the victorious campaign unfolded, he managed to combine the patriotic heart of Winston Churchill with the comedic touch of Norman Wisdom.

The admiration he inspired was highlighted in the build-up to one of England’s crucial matches, when the crowd on its way into Wembley Stadium unfurled a huge banner which read, ‘Nobby for Prime Minister’.

During the triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign, he became the country's mascot, embodying the quintessentially British qualities of terrier-like determination and instinctive humour

During the triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign, he became the country’s mascot, embodying the quintessentially British qualities of terrier-like determination and instinctive humour

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Stiles is the seventh member of the England team that started the 1966 cup final to die, after captain Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Ray Wilson, Gordon Banks, Martin Peters and Jack Charlton. And his name will live on with the best of them

Stiles is the seventh member of the England team that started the 1966 cup final to die, after captain Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Ray Wilson, Gordon Banks, Martin Peters and Jack Charlton. And his name will live on with the best of them

When the win over West Germany was achieved in the World Cup Final, he perfectly captured Britain’s mood of ecstasy in his celebratory jig with the Jules Rimet Trophy in one hand and his false teeth in the other — his performance made all the more memorable by the broad, semi-toothless smile on his exhausted face.

And so football fans around the world were united in grief yesterday at the news that Stiles has died aged 78 after a long battle with prostate cancer and advanced dementia.

Stiles is the seventh member of the England team that started the 1966 cup final to die, after captain Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Ray Wilson, Gordon Banks, Martin Peters and Jack Charlton.

Family man: Nobby, wearing his ‘Eric Morecambe’ specs, plays with his lads

Family man: Nobby, wearing his ‘Eric Morecambe’ specs, plays with his lads

And his name will live on with the best of them. For all the affection and laughter he provoked, there was nothing risible about his footballing talent.

Along with Sir Bobby Charlton, he is the only Englishman to have gained a winner’s medal in both the World Cup and the European club competition.

Far more creative than he was ever given credit for, he was a superbly gifted player, ferocious in his tackling and clinical in passing. He was also a magnificent, instinctive reader of the game, a quality he added to his passionate competitive spirit.

His Manchester United teammate Paddy Crerand once watched with amazement as Stiles put his fist into a dressing room wall because of his exasperated fury at only gaining a draw.

His brilliance was all the more remarkable because initially he suffered from extremely bad vision, so much so that his youthful appearances at United were often played as if he were in a fog.

Eventually, unable to conceal the problem any longer, he was sent to an eye specialist.

The result was that Stiles had to wear thick contact lenses when playing, while off the field he donned black-framed spectacles of the type that Eric Morecambe used, thereby adding to his comic image. The lenses dramatically improved his standards, so much so that by the age of just 24, he was the midfield lynchpin of Manchester United and England.

After the 1966 victory, the England manager Sir Alf Ramsey said that ‘there were five world-class players’ in his team, ‘and Nobby Stiles was one of them’.

Sir Alf’s faith in Nobby was illustrated during an explosive controversy in the 1966 campaign following an England group match against France. Stiles had caused a huge international outcry with a brutal, scything tackle on the French player Jacques Simon.

England 1966 hero Nobby Stiles (pictured with his World Cup winners medal during a photocall at the Premier Inn Hotel in Old Trafford, Manchester) died aged 78 on Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease

England 1966 hero Nobby Stiles (pictured with his World Cup winners medal during a photocall at the Premier Inn Hotel in Old Trafford, Manchester) died aged 78 on Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease 

Stiles' family, which included wife Kay (right of Nobby), asked for privacy after announcing his death on Friday. Pictured left to right: Nobby's granddaughter Megan, son Peter, himself, his daughter-in-law Mary, son John, wife Kay, son Robert and Granddaughter Catlin

Stiles’ family, which included wife Kay (right of Nobby), asked for privacy after announcing his death on Friday. Pictured left to right: Nobby’s granddaughter Megan, son Peter, himself, his daughter-in-law Mary, son John, wife Kay, son Robert and Granddaughter Catlin

Tributes have flooded in to the man who was the 'heart and soul' of the England team that won the World Cup against West Germany (pictured). Pictured left to right: Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore, Ray Wilson and George Cohen

Tributes have flooded in to the man who was the ‘heart and soul’ of the England team that won the World Cup against West Germany (pictured). Pictured left to right: Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore, Ray Wilson and George Cohen

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There are now just four living members of the side remaining after Stiles passed away

In response, there were moves within the English FA to have Stiles dropped for the next game as a disciplinary measure. Sir Alf quickly put an end to that. 

‘If he goes, so will I. You will be looking for a new manager,’ he told the FA committee.

Yet football never showed the same loyalty to Stiles that Sir Alf had. Despite his epic achievements in the sport, he never enjoyed many rewards as a star, nor security in retirement.

As a United player, he started on the weekly minimum wage of just £20. Even when England won the World Cup, the modest £22,000 bonus was shared between the whole squad, leaving just £1,000 to each member, most of which disappeared in tax.

At the depth of his financial troubles in 1989, he had the humiliating experience of inserting his bank card into a cash machine to get some money for petrol, only to be told that he had ‘insufficient funds’.

In 2010, after he had suffered a stroke which drastically reduced his sole source of income as an after-dinner speaker, he was forced to sell his European Cup winner’s medal and his England shirt.

Looking at the vast earnings of modern players compared to his own, he once said: ‘I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel the odd surge of resentment’.

When it came to sporting riches, he was born in the wrong era.

Stiles was also part of the Manchester United side which became the first English club to win the European Cup

Stiles was also part of the Manchester United side which became the first English club to win the European Cup

Stiles (left) won the World Cup with Jack Charlton and Sir Bobby Charlton after they beat West Germany in 1966

Stiles (left) won the World Cup with Jack Charlton and Sir Bobby Charlton after they beat West Germany in 1966

He is the seventh member of the England team that started the final to pass away, following the likes of captain Bobby Moore

He is the seventh member of the England team that started the final to pass away, following the likes of captain Bobby Moore

Like so much else in his life, his arrival in the world was unorthodox, for he was born in the cellar of his family’s terraced Manchester home during a heavy Luftwaffe air raid in May 1942, the neighbours providing the midwifery.

His was a modest, respectable upbringing. His father was an undertaker who ran his own company. ‘Our house was filled with candles and other paraphernalia of the funeral business,’ recalled Nobby. His mother was a machinist in a factory.

One of the dominant themes of his family was its devotion to the Catholic faith, something Nobby retained for the rest of his life.

‘I always loved the ritual of the church. It is something that goes to you very deeply,’ he said. Throughout the World Cup campaign, when England were based at the Hendon Hall Hotel in North-West London, he attended mass every single morning.

For all his religious fidelity, he was a boisterous, sometimes wayward, child. ‘He’s a tough, little bugger,’ said his father soon after he was born, words that proved prophetic. 

At the age of just one, he was hit on the head by a tram as he toddled out of a bakery and survived, though he was left with a permanent scar on his forehead.

He also lost his front teeth in a juvenile fight, requiring him to wear a set of false ones for the rest of his life. Nor was he above some minor criminal activity.

Stiles left United in 1971, going on to play for Middlesbrough and Preston in his career. He earned 28 England caps and made 392 appearances for Manchester United

Stiles left United in 1971, going on to play for Middlesbrough and Preston in his career. He earned 28 England caps and made 392 appearances for Manchester United

Nobby Stiles sits in the stands at Wembley, as QXL launch the 'end of an era' auctions on May 17, 2000

Nobby Stiles sits in the stands at Wembley, as QXL launch the ‘end of an era’ auctions on May 17, 2000

The 'toothless tiger' went on to win the First Division title in 1965 before winning the World Cup with England the following year and European Cup with United in 1968

The ‘toothless tiger’ went on to win the First Division title in 1965 before winning the World Cup with England the following year and European Cup with United in 1968

He was made an MBE in 2000, joining fellow 1966 finalists Alan Ball, Roger Hunt, Ray Wilson and George Cohen, and a road was named after him in Collyhurst in May 2016. Pictured: Nobby (right) sits with Manchester United and England teammate Sir Bobby Charlton

He was made an MBE in 2000, joining fellow 1966 finalists Alan Ball, Roger Hunt, Ray Wilson and George Cohen, and a road was named after him in Collyhurst in May 2016. Pictured: Nobby (right) sits with Manchester United and England teammate Sir Bobby Charlton

In his autobiography he confessed he occasionally stole lead from the roofs of old buildings, more for adventure than money.

He was good at all sports, including cricket and boxing, but his football skills were obvious from an early age. His first games were played with his mates in a local cemetery on flattened gravestones.

‘We never thought we were violating anyone’s memory. We were just enjoying being young,’ he recalled. He was utterly fearless, once executing an athletic overhead kick on a cobbled street without any thought to the consequences.

While he was still a schoolboy at St Patrick’s in the Manchester district of Collyhurst, his precocious ability brought him to the attention of Manchester United and he was signed as an apprentice. In October 1960, at the age of just 18, he made his league debut against Bolton, the first of more than 300 appearances for the club over the next decade.

One of his closest team-mates in those early years was the cerebral Irishman Johnny Giles. In a close-knit world, he soon fell in love with Johnny’s blonde sister Kay. ‘My legs turned to jelly,’ he said of his first sight of her.

He was just 19 at the time and had little experience of women, having enjoyed just two brief relationships, one with the splendidly named Doreen Bracegirdle.

Nevertheless, he embarked on a deep romance with Kay that soon led to their engagement and subsequent marriage in 1961.

All too predictably Stiles — who was more Inspector Clouseau than Casanova — was late for the wedding ceremony in Dublin, his car having suffered a flat tyre. But, bolstered by Kay’s tolerance and Nobby’s essential decency, it turned out to be a highly successful union, producing three children.

Even their money troubles did not threaten their relationship. ‘Don’t you know I would be happy to live in a tent if it was the only way I could be with you,’ she once told him. With Kay at his side, his professional career began to flourish. Under the legendary United manager Sir Matt Busby, he built a formidable partnership with Bobby Charlton that turned the side into league champions in 1965.

The same year Stiles made his England debut, keeping up his link with Charlton at international level. The two were ever-present in the World Cup campaign as England surged to glory.

Their joint finest performance was in the semi-final against Portugal, when Stiles nullified the threat of the dangerous striker Eusebio, while Charlton scored both of England’s goals.

In the final against West Germany Stiles almost ran himself into the turf with his heroic ball-chasing and his tenacity was crucial in England’s triumph.

Pictured left to right: England players Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters

Pictured left to right: England players Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters

Pictured: Stiles (centre) attempts to tackle West Germany's Siegfried Held as the late Jack Charlton (right) watches on

Pictured: Stiles (centre) attempts to tackle West Germany’s Siegfried Held as the late Jack Charlton (right) watches on

Nobby Stiles signs an autograph for a fan on his team's arrival at Heathrow airport following the 1970 World Cup tournament in Mexico

Nobby Stiles signs an autograph for a fan on his team’s arrival at Heathrow airport following the 1970 World Cup tournament in Mexico

Stiles (pictured in 1980) later managed Preston between 1977 and 1981, before coaching Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps and then West Brom between 1985 and 1986

Stiles (pictured in 1980) later managed Preston between 1977 and 1981, before coaching Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps and then West Brom between 1985 and 1986

Yet his extravagant delight in victory, though it touched the nation’s hearts, was not to the taste of every England team-mate. Defender George Cohen later said a Stiles kiss was ‘like being snogged by a piece of cold liver’.

The little man seemed to bring a note of comedy to most situations. On one occasion, during an official England banquet at a top London hotel, he mistook the edge of the tablecloth for his napkin and, with a crash of glasses and cutlery, tried to shove it into his collar.

At another luxury hotel, when he was meant to be attending a football function, he wandered into the wrong reception, took his seat at one of the tables, and was then surprised to be asked if he was a friend of the bride or groom.

Similarly he once exasperated Charlton, a keen photographer, at the end of an overseas trip when he managed accidentally to smash a bottle of duty free in some luggage which contained Charlton’s camera and undeveloped films. All the photos were ruined.

On the field Charlton and Stiles continued their magnificent alliance, powering Manchester United to victory in the European Cup in 1968. But by the end of the decade, the years of fierce competitiveness had taken their toll on Stiles.

As he entered the twilight of his career, he moved to Middlesbrough in 1971, a ‘desperate eking out of my last physical resources’ to use his description. He then dropped down the league to Preston North End, now managed by his old friend Bobby Charlton. But, after his retirement from playing in 1975, later moves into coaching and management did not bring him either success or riches.

By 1989 he had reached rock-bottom. He was working as a reserve team coach at West Brom, when travelling home on the M6 he was gripped by a suicidal impulse. 

‘I thought about putting my foot flat on the accelerator, closing my eyes and ending my life.

‘I couldn’t see any future. A pattern had become familiar, of hope then disappointment, hard, sharp disappointment.’

Thankfully, he carried on driving. Days later, fortune smiled on him when Alex Ferguson rang to offer him a job as youth team coach at his beloved Old Trafford.

Stiles was back in his element. His charisma and experience enabled him to bring the best out of an exciting new generation of young United players, including David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes.

But then the old, familiar pattern set in once more. In 1993 he was sacked after his promotion to a desk job for which he was totally unsuited.

His achievements were finally recognised by the award of an MBE in 2000, but the last years were difficult as his health declined drastically. 

Having suffered a heart attack in 2002, he later contracted prostate cancer. He also had to endure Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, ultimately leaving him incapable of speech and unable to recognise his own family.

Once more, football never came to his aid, despite its fabulous new wealth. The game even gave a muted response to requests from his family for research to be conducted into the link between Alzheimer’s and football, following growing medical evidence that sustained heading of heavy leather balls may have inflicted long-term brain damage on past players.

Stiles deserved better. He helped to give our country the greatest moment in our sporting history. His heroism should have brought him a greater reward beyond just the glow of national affection.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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