MY WEEK: The next cliff dive won’t be a flop, even if I am 75


The grandad airlifted to hospital after a stunt went wrong still wants adventure

18 July 2010
The Sunday Times

OUCH, MY CROWN JEWELS You don’t expect to end up in hospital for doing a swallow dive, do you? Even from 30ft. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m a 75-year-old idiot.

It happened last weekend when I went camping with my family in Dorset. Sixty-two of us, actually: I have seven children and 19 grandchildren and I’d extended the invitation to my brothers, sisters and their families. Can you imagine the melee? On Sunday morning we all went to mass and crowded out the locals. They didn’t seem to mind too much. Then, in the afternoon, three of my children and I decided to go diving from the famous cliff at Durdle Door.

We swam out to the arch and, as the swell lifted me onto the cliff face, I made a grab for the rock. The water dropped beneath me and left me hanging there, so I scrambled up to a ledge 30ft above the sea. One chap was tombstoning — hurling himself into the water any old how — but I decided to do a swallow dive.

I launched myself off, dropping vertically through the air, arms out on either side. At the last moment I swung my arms towards my ears and punched the water.

I’m not an Olympic diver, I have to say. The angle of entry was too oblique and I felt this tremendous bang that travelled from my head to my legs. The crown jewels got a bit of a smack, too.

When I rose to the surface, I was badly winded and bruised and my two sons grabbed me under each armpit and gave me a bit of a tow to the shore.

A HIT WITH THE NURSES Back on dry land the shock set in and I started to shake uncontrollably. My sons swathed me in towels and gave me Coca-Cola and chocolate; then one of them dialled 999.

When a medic arrived by car, he gave me a few puffs of oxygen and called a chopper.

The rescue team winched me up and flew me to Dorchester hospital, where I was trundled on to a trolley and prodded and poked. When the doctor asked how I was feeling, I told him I was absolutely fine but needed to pee. He said I’d have to hang on for a bit.

The nurses made a big fuss of me. One of them moved me onto a load of mattresses, saying: “It may be a bit uncomfortable. You’ll be like the princess and the pea.” I said: “Don’t mention the pee, or we’ll be in real trouble.”

After a few hours, I was so bored that I started to hop about on the floor. I was being a bloody nuisance, so they sent me home.

I’M A DOMESTIC GOD For 39 years, I was in the army — ending up as a major — stationed in Germany, Britain and the Far East. I left in 1992, just after serving in the first Gulf war.

Over the years, my wife Molly and I were constantly being separated and then reunited. That’s how it is with army life — and it’s a lifestyle that tends to produce a lot of children. Can’t imagine why.

Poor Molly is in hospital at the moment — she’s conked her ankle — so she missed my spectacular dive. She’s usually very active: on Tuesdays we often go to the gym together. I visited her almost every day last week and I’m hoping to bring her home tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve been doing all the cooking and turning into a bit of a domestic god. I even baked some bread on Friday.

I LOVE BUNGEE-JUMPING I’ve got lots of friends here in Gillingham, Dorset, but they’re all a bit old. Well, in their sixties and seventies. I know I’m 75, but I don’t consider myself old. I’m very fit, so I ignore my age.

A few months ago I cycled 2,000 miles from Land’s End to John o’ Groats and back in 31 days to raise money for Help for Heroes, a charity that supports wounded soldiers. So far I’ve raised £16,000.

I’ve also been bungee-jumping in Tenerife. My son Andrew arranged it. “My father is in his late fifties and wants to go bungee-jumping,” he told the organiser. I was 64 at the time.

An enormous rubber rope was strapped to my ankles. I didn’t have time to be frightened but, as I fell off the edge of this steel structure, I saw what looked like a tiny saucer of blue water below me. I heard the wind building up and suddenly I was pronged upwards and then started tumbling like a rag doll. It was brilliant. Everyone should have a go.

I’ll probably go back to Durdle Door but first I need to learn to swallow dive. When I’ve got that right — and when nobody’s looking — I’ll try again.