“The pram I use is my daughter Karen’s old pram,” reveals John Burkhill.
“Bought in the 1960s when she was born, and I’m still using it to this day. When I push it, I feel that Karen and my wife, June, are with me. Karen would be very happy to know that I have used her old pram to raise money for charities across the country.
“I will never, ever part with it, not even for a million quid - it is so much a part of me.”
Together, John and his now legendary pram have covered countless miles up and down the country and, particularly, around his home city of Sheffield.
Chances are you’ve seen him in action. Sheffield’s famous ‘Mad Man With The Pram’ has become a familiar sight on the streets of the Steel City, in his trademark green wig and wearing his giant foam hand, collecting money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
You’ve probably read about him, but chances are you might never heard his incredible, inspiring story told all in his own words before – until now.
John’s long-awaited autobiography will go on sale next week, full of moving memories, pictures from his personal archive and a fair old dose of Yorkshire humour.
Published by RMC Media and funded by the people of Sheffield via a crowd funding campaign, ‘Distance No Object: Sheffield’s Man with the Pram’ is the fascinating tale of a unique life.
“It’s absolutely incredible to hold this book in my hands,” smiles the 77-year-old, of Handsworth. “I really hope people enjoy reading it. It’s something I’ve thought about doing for a long, long time and I’ve loved writing it.
“Many people think I’m completely barmy, but some know a little about why I do what I do.
“There are things in this book I’ve never really talked about publicly before.
“This is my way of telling everyone where it all began, the challenges I’ve faced and why I love the people of Sheffield so very much.”
From his early days in Sheffield, his antics as a teenager, his fundraising races and walks across the country, to the celebrities – and royals – he’s rubbed shoulders with along the way, it really is quite a story. Even in his late 70s, John spends almost every day walking around Sheffield collecting money for the cause closest to his heart – a charity he’s already raised £350,000 for, and one he’s vowed he won’t stop fundraising for until he reaches £1 million.
It’s an amazing level of dedication – and one inspired by a terrible personal tragedy.
John’s daughter Karen went into hospital for a routine operation in the early 1990s, but complications meant she ended up on life support, and died soon after.
Within a year, his wife June had died from cancer.
For John, the loss was a devastating double blow – but the tragedy spurred him on to devote his life to helping others in need.
A keen sportsman since childhood, John developed a passion for race walking in the 1960s, often raising considerable sums for charity in the process. After the loss of his wife and daughter, John dedicated every spare moment to these fundraising walks.
Having raised thousands of pounds for various causes over the years, on his retirement at the turn of the Millennium John decided to focus on one charity in particular, Macmillan.
His awe-inspiring achievements have won him personal recognition too.
In 2012, he was voted by the people of Sheffield to be a torchbearer when the Olympic torch relay passed through the city. A year later, he was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list.
Rob Turner, senior fundraiser for Macmillan, said: “John is incredible, and when he came to me 12 months ago and told me he had written a book – and said ‘let’s get it published’ – I knew we would face challenges getting it printed and into shops. But the thing I’ve learned from knowing John over the years is that nothing is impossible.
“RMC Media wrote up and designed the book for free, then the people of Sheffield donated via a crowd funding site to pay for the printing costs.
“We have had some great support from local printers and retailers who’ve all donated items for free and agreed to stock the book without taking any percentage which means every copy of every book sold will help John get closer to that magic million for Macmillan.”
The book costs £9.99 – with every penny donated towards John’s personal goal of raising £1 million for Macmillan.
n ‘Distance No Object: Sheffield’s Man with the Pram’ is available from Amazon priced £9.99, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find a local stockist. John will be signing copies of his book in The Star’s front-counter shop on Monday between 1pm and 2pm, if you would like to call in, say hello and buy a copy.