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Jonathan Dimbleby talks about his life in Devon

PUBLISHED: 11:49 27 May 2016

Jonathan Dimbleby: 'My fear of course is that everyone will come and live here and then everyone will know the secret'

Jonathan Dimbleby: 'My fear of course is that everyone will come and live here and then everyone will know the secret'

Matt Austin Images 2013

He’s part of a television dynasty which has dominated our screens for decades and yet at home in Devon Jonathan Dimbleby is broadcasting news and views of a different kind, as Alexis Bowater discovers

Photography by Matt Austin

Jonathan Dimbleby: 'I’m a G.O.M. (grumpy old man)'Jonathan Dimbleby: 'I’m a G.O.M. (grumpy old man)'

Speeders in South Devon beware: your days are numbered, for one of this country’s titans of journalism is on your case and you’d be wise to hit the brakes pronto.

This is the man whose 1973 documentary on famine in Ethiopia brought down an Emperor; to whom, historically, our future king admitted adultery; who is the master chairman of Any Questions.

Jonathan Dimbleby’s astonishing track record of broadcasting and campaigning success is unblemished so if he’s taking up another cause then it’s probably best to jump on board.

It’s while he’s training for his new cancer charity fundraiser, or taking his little children to primary school, that it really bites: “If I had one rule it would be that automatically every lane had a 25 mile an hour limits and every single corner would have a hidden CCTV camera.

“There are too many dangerous drivers who do not realise how fast they are going and they are a threat to life and limb.”

And typically he actually does something about it and quizzes no doubt astonished drivers on their errant behaviour. “Sometimes I stop them in the lane - I’m a G.O.M. (grumpy old man) about it. I say, very politely, do you realise you were going well over 30 miles an hour and there are children in this village and there are dogs and people love their cats?”

This treading of the lanes, fields and byways of South Devon, at an average of 3.91 miles an hour (so far), will culminate in a 50-kilometre walk through the night this month (June) to raise money for his family charity Dimbleby Cancer Care.

It was set up in the wake of his father’s premature death from cancer at 52. Richard Dimbleby was one of the most loved journalists and broadcasters this country had ever known.

In the days before the internet, multi-channel news and citizen journalism, he was England’s leading news commentator and such was the impact of his death he was given a memorial service at Westminster Abbey televised by the BBC.

Furthermore, Jonathan’s own well-documented first hand experience of caring for a loved one with terminal breast cancer gives him profound depths of empathy for those going through the same thing. I have had personal experiences of the effect of cancer upon people and like everyone I feel very strongly about it,” he tells me. Everyone thinks until it happens that it is not going to happen to me and then it does - because the statistics are, I am afraid, more powerful than our will.

“To be diagnosed with cancer, however much you know about the prospects for your own case, is an alarming and sometimes very frightening diagnosis.

“The services that we are using are pioneering. We specialise in delivering care to individuals and families who are ‘living with cancer’ as well as in some cases of course of being in need of palliative care because they are going to die of their cancer,” he explains.

The charity’s aim is to make sure that people already broken by their diagnosis are not broken all over again by the system.

“The demand has grown in two ways,” he says. “First that the medial profession has come to realise what patients need over and above clinical treatment: surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy. That they need other kinds of support which they now regard as vital: psychological support services, complementary therapies, group therapy, information services.

“The problem is that demand far outstrips supply and that is the second point: we now have a growing number of people who are living much longer with cancer - quite often recovering - and a growing number who are getting cancers of one kind or another.

“The statistics are quite remarkable really that half the population, two thirds of the population - they vary - who are alive in 2020 will expect to get cancer in the course of their lifetimes. These services that we provide are absolutely pioneering.”

Jonathan is chair of this family charity and hopes to raise £50,000 by walking those 50k. He’ll be surrounded by other members of his broadcasting royal family (how many mums have to buy two televisions in order to watch two of their sons on opposite channels host election coverage?) brother David will fire the starting gun, nephew Henry, of Leon Restaurant fame, will sponsor.

And after it all, it’s back to the green lanes of Devon - and taking on those speeders. He’s been coming to this county for more than half a century, has lived here for ten years and wouldn’t want to be rooted anywhere else. “Whenever I go to London, whenever I go away filming, I long to be here,” he says. “My fear of course is that everyone will come and live here and then everyone will know the secret.”

To sponsor Jonathan on his 50 kilometre walk please visit: dimblebycancercare.org/50-50-50

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