ROLE MODEL: Cayle Royce is planning to row 8,000 miles across the Pacific
ALAN FRAME has been to lunch again … but this time with a real hero
Over the years I have eaten an awful lot of lunches (but fortunately not a lot of awful lunches) and have met some fascinating people. All journalists do, it’s what makes the job so interesting whether our interviewees are good, bad or ugly. Or worse still, boring.
So for several decades it has been a roll call of prime ministers (Thatcher intimidating and rather unpleasant; Major delightful but unimpressive and Heath insufferably boring), various royals and assorted others including the Beatles, Stones and Joan Baez as memorable.
Two I got to know well and whom I admired for their sheer courage were Gerry Fitt, later Lord Fitt, whose brave leadership of the Socialist and Democratic Labour Party in Northern Ireland made him a target of both sides and whose home was bombed; and Donald Woods, the great anti-apartheid campaigner portrayed by Kevin Kline in Attenborough’s Cry Freedom. Outstanding men for standing up for what they passionately believed, no matter the consequences.
But yesterday I met (inevitably over lunch) possibly the most inspiring of them all. His name is Lance Corporal Cayle Royce MBE and he has no legs and only half his left hand courtesy of the Taliban. Royce was 26 when in 2012 he stepped on an IED while on patrol in Afghanistan. He was in a coma for 48 days and was not expected to survive. But with the remarkable skill of surgeons and his own sheer bloody determination, Royce not only survives but is a role model to us all and shames people like me who, thanks to a cold, left for our lunch yesterday complaining how lousy I felt. Then, hearing Cayle’s story, I realised how pathetic, wimpy and whingeing I must sound.
You see, since his recovery Cayle Royce has rowed the Atlantic twice, has flown over Africa and the US in a sort of microlight contraption and is now preparing to row the 8,000 miles from San Francisco to Cairns. Two hours on, two hours off over 24 hours. The threat of 50 foot waves and 1,000 foot long oil tankers ploughing through the oceans at 20 knots. Salt sores, sun stroke and great weight loss. All of which would be unthinkable to most fit blokes but to a modest chap who simply does not understand the meaning of defeat, it would be unthinkable not to give it a go.
Royce has two prosthetic legs, no fingers or thumb on his left hand; his heart and lungs were damaged and he has had painful reconstructive surgery to the back of his head. It has been a long road to recovery but there is nobody more deserving of a second life than this remarkable man. And cheered on by his pal Prince Harry.
“I was very fit before the explosion with a long run the morning and evening and time in the gym during the day,” said Royce. "Played rugby and cricket and I see absolutely no reason why that should stop now. When I was recovering some of the other patients were resigned to a life in a wheelchair and as a result were depressed. Half the battle in getting better is believing in yourself.”
So the Pacific it is with three others, all missing bits they had when they left for Afghanistan. These are true heroes, almost superhuman in their refusal to lie down. What a shame British bureaucrats hadn’t realised this simple fact when Cayle, born in South African but with English heritage, applied for British citizenship two years ago. The application came back marked No, with no explanation.
The next application was last year and was refused again. Now it looks as if Cayle will get his wish early next month. But why does this country think this is a good idea? Recently there was the highly predictable outcry when the fools In charge of these important issues initially told a 92-year-old grandmother, also from South Africa with little eyesight and a heart problem, to go back to her home country. She had been here being cared for by her daughter. This old lady has now been allowed to stay as I am sure will Cayle. But isn’t it pathetic that some sad little jobsworth could even think about refusing these two UK citizenship? The lunatics really are taking over the Home Office asylum.