Liz Nicholls chats to broadcaster and campaigner Jonathan Dimbleby, and his charity Dimbleby Cancer Care
Q: Good morning! Have I caught you in the middle of your exercise routine?
“Are you joking?! My mornings, on school days, are spent encouraging my offspring with times tables and spelling. Then I have porridge, work on my book and have a light lunch. But I try every day, even on a gloomy one like today, to walk for at least an hour and a half. Because I live in Bristol, which is so hilly, I know it does me good. When we moved here 18 months ago, I’d be out of breath when I got to Clifton but now I can walk it in half the time without noticing. I hate gyms – they make me feel like a hamster. The human body is made to walk and, in my case, to play tennis. It used to be made for riding horses and a whole range of other activities. But basically, I walk and play tennis… and fail.”
Q: Your charity was founded in memory of your dad Richard. Do you think of him often?
“Yes, I’m 21 years older than he was when he died. My father remains part of my life, as does my late mother; I’m blessed by having wonderful parents. You do regret that they can’t see your children grow up, how they turn out. But we learn to live in life with our sorrows and regrets as well as our joys. We manage pain as we manage delight.”
Q: Dimbleby Cancer Care helps with some of the non-clinical aspects of life with cancer doesn’t it?
“We know we make a difference – we support the work done within the NHS, including at our cancer centre at Guy’s and Thomas’s [in south London] and fund a benefits advice service. It’s difficult to exaggerate how support for people living with cancer, and their carers, can transform lives which is where our cancer care map comes in. Acute anxiety exacerbates living with cancer hugely. We offer complementary therapies, advice, support; a counsel of comfort and hope.”
Q. What’s your greatest journalistic moment?
“I think when I ‘exposed’ a terrible famine in Ethiopia and started an appeal which raised, in today’s money, something in the order of £70m. I’ve been locked up in police cells, come under fire, all the things that happen to a front-line reporter. But I think my most memorable interview was with Gorbachev. I thought; ‘here’s an extraordinary man who can change the world’. And he did.”
Q. What’s your favourite book?
“It changes all the time. I’m working on a second world war book so I try to read a novel or a biography to get away from that of an evening. My ‘desert island book’ would be Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.”
Q. Do you listen to much music?
“Yes – I go to a lot of concerts and listen to Radio 3 and am sometimes profoundly irritated by the presentation. But it makes our green and pleasant land a million times greener and pleasanter.”
Q. Do you enjoy the Walk50?
“This is our fourth and I usually walk the 50km because I’m so competitive but there are 25km and 12.5km options. Walking along the river at night, watching dawn break is beautiful; a real feelgood factor. We live in hard times, but it’s an unadulterated delight.”