Captain Tom Moore might be the unlikeliest pop-chart topper since, oh, the Singing Nun back in 1963. But even before he hit No. 1 in the U.K., last week, Moore was probably familiar to you. The 99-year-old widower had Zimmer-framed his way into our hearts earlier this month by walking back and forth in his garden in Bedfordshire, England, 100 times to raise money for his country’s chronically needy National Health Service, which has been tested more than usual of late. Through pledges, Moore had hoped to raise £1,000, or around $1,250, by his 100th birthday, on April 30; by the time he was done walking, donations had reached $15 million. That figure has since climbed to around $34 million. Even on his concluding laps, the World War II veteran was moving at a steady clip and clearly could have kept going.
By then, Moore—still pre–pop stardom—had become “Captain Tom” to one and all. “He’s a one-man fundraising machine,” said Prince William, “and God knows what the final total will be. But good on him, and I hope it keeps going.” For his part, William’s brother, Harry, found him “utterly amazing. It’s not just what he’s done but it’s the reaction that people have had as well. Just wonderfully British.” Moore gave few interviews, but the handful he did grant revealed a modest, charming optimist. On Good Morning Britain, he thanked the health workers on the front lines and assured everyone that, “without doubt, things will get better.... Please remember that tomorrow is a good day.”
“He’s a one-man fundraising machine,” said Prince William.
There quickly followed his charity recording of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein Carousel chestnut covered by countless performers from Mahalia Jackson to Gerry and the Pacemakers to Jerry Lewis, whose maudlin annual Labor Day telethon rendition still haunts a generation of Americans. Captain Tom’s version, a duet with the singer and actor Michael Ball, was a hit within hours of its release and eventually reached No. 1 on iTunes, bumping aside Dame Vera Lynn’s own charity re-recording of “We’ll Meet Again,” a duet with the mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins. But Dame Vera is 103, so—time to make way for youth.
Where to now for Captain Tom? Well, he should feel pleased to have inspired others to walk for the N.H.S., including a 99-year-old woman (more than $12,000 raised) and a 6-year-old boy with spina bifida who didn’t start walking at all until 18 months ago (roughly $136,000 raised).
But mainly there’s that business of turning 100 next Thursday. (At this writing, he’s reportedly received some 65,000 birthday cards.) There’s also a grassroots, petition-driven campaign to have Moore knighted. When the notion was first raised to him during a live interview, he could only chuckle self-deprecatingly. But, really, why not? He’s done a fine thing, and, besides, pretty much everyone else has been—there are nearly as many K.B.E.’s out there as, well, recordings of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Sir Captain Tom, anyone?
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail