John Burkhill: Sheffield's 'superhero' completes Star Walk again as he edges closer to magic million

Sheffield’s ‘man with the pram’, John Burkhill, completed part of the former Star Walk around Sheffield this week as he edges closer to his £1m fundraising target for Macmillan.

Wednesday, 8th June 2022, 6:54 am

Described as Sheffield’s very own ‘superhero’ by the chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, Lynda Thomas, John walked from Sheffield city centre to Hillsborough and back on Tuesday as he edges ever closer to his “magic million” fundraising goal for the cancer charity.

The 83-year-old from Handsworth pushes his daughter’s pram around the city’s streets collecting donations for Macmillan, a charity that means an incredible amount to him after losing his daughter, Karen, suddenly in 1991, followed by his wife, June, to cancer a year later.

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John Burkhill nears Hillsborough Park finish as he completes Star Walk.

Known as ‘the man with the pram’, John wears his well-known green wig and giant foam hand as he collects for the charity, and he now has the magic million in sight with over £830,000 raised by the man himself so far.

On Tuesday, John completed part of the Star Walk around Sheffield on its 100th anniversary since it began in 1922. It was something he always participated in and adored before it came to a halt in 2000.

“I used to be a race walker and the Sheffield Star Walk was very special to me,” said John. “My love of walking comes from the Star Walk which, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to win it, but it was too fast for me. I put all my energy into what I can do, and hopefully we will get around ok today.

“It started me off on this fundraising … it’s a very famous race it is and when they packed it in, in 2000, there was 74 races done from 1922.

Sheffield's own John Burkhill completes Star Walk.

“It is a fair walk this one and I walk the old route. It was a speed walk and you always had to have one foot on the ground at all times – it was very very hard to do.

“There used to be thousands and thousands watching the race on Star Walk day. People were lined all the way and you really had to be there to see it. I can’t put it into words, it was a very hard route with some big hills but it was really special.

“All these roads were closed off for thousands watching and it was truly unbelievable. I was 67 when I first entered it and a bloke called John Warhurst won it, a great friend of mine, and he went on to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.”

On all his journeys, John takes his mascots with him in his pram, and John says the mascots make him feel like both his daughter and wife are still with him, letting them guide him wherever he goes.

John Burkhill took his first walk around Sheffield today with the help of staff from Virgin Money on Fargate. Picture: Chris Etchells

“This pram is my daughter’s pram from 1961, and I feel when I’m pushing it that they’re both with me. He (the mascot) rides the pram and I just follow him,” said John.

It is now 15 years since John began fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support – he raises money in several ways, including donations from walking the streets, doing marathons and competing in races.

“Fridays and Saturdays are usually very busy for me, and Sunday you’ll probably find me in a race somewhere all over the country.

People from Sheffield stop for photos with John as he completes Star Walk.

“I’m very lucky at 83 to be able to do what I do, I realise that.”

Walking the streets of Sheffield in his famous green and pushing his pram, John has made plenty of friends and is constantly greeted by Sheffield residents asking for photos and having a chat. Buses, trams and cars going by on the roads all acknowledge John with their horns and a quick wave.

“You get to know so many people. It is unbelievable the amount of people. Everybody likes to stop for a chat.

“I’ve got a really good family and they all want me to keep going.”

John dedicates a lot of his success and inspiration to Jane and Mike Tomlinson.

Jane Tomlinson was an amateur English athlete who John calls ‘the greatest charity collector’ in the UK after she raised over £1.85 million for charities of her choice through a series of athletic challenges, despite her suffering from terminal cancer herself.

John Burkhill on the Star Walk in Sheffield city centre.

John is very grateful to the people of Sheffield and people he has met all over the UK for the donations, support and messages which has brought him to the point where the magic million figure is now in sight.

“The people of Sheffield, both sets of supporters, Wednesday and United, doesn’t matter who you support because they do support me and they do support no matter what I do. They’re all 1,000 per cent behind what I do and so is everyone I have met this morning (on the Star Walk).

“I’m sure we will get to the one million all right.”

John is incredibly determined to hit that magic million mark for Macmillan Cancer Support and says that even when he does hit the figure, he won’t stop there.

“I’ll definitely keep going, a lot of people out there need help, and I don't just mean Macmillan, I mean all charities,” he said.

“I’ll get there (to one million), I know we will, the people of Sheffield will make sure we do.

“I never ask anybody to donate, if they want to donate they can donate and if they don’t, well they don’t. Everyone knows this mad man from Sheffield with a pram.

“I look at things this way – if you make ten pence in the bucket, it is ten pence more than Macmillan had the day before.”

John Burkhill is trying to raise £1 million for Macmillan Cancer Support
People from all over Sheffield stop to have a chat and take photos with John Burkhill as he completes Star Walk.