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.
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.
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
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.
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”.
It seemed the world wanted to wish Captain Tom – he had received 90,000 birthday cards by 23 April.
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
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
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.
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.
“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
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
5. Normal People
6. Alok Sharma
7. Spitting Image
8. Prof Neil Ferguson
9. iPhone 12
10. Xbox Series X