Freedom of the City for Sheffield’s beloved son John Burkhill

Sheffield’s beloved Man with a Pram John Burkhill wiped away tears as councillors awarded him the Freedom of the City with a standing ovation.

Thursday, 4th April 2019, 10:11 pm

John, aged 80, received the highest honour the city can bestow for his tireless work raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for Macmillan nurses.

He’s one of Sheffield’s most famous sights as he walks the length of the city wearing a green curly wig, a large green foam hand and pushing collecting buckets in a pram.

John, from Richmond, started fundraising after losing his daughter Karen in 1991, quickly followed by his wife June a year later. His pram is the original one he pushed Karen in as a baby and dates back to 1961.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

John Burkhill at Sheffield Town Hall

“It’s absolutely unbelievable,” he said before a meeting of full council. “Julie Dore rang me up and told me and it was fantastic, a great surprise. I’ve known all the Lord Mayors and they think I’m round the bend, in the nicest possible way.

“Sheffield is the only city in England to have a mad man with a pram and I’m proud to be that man.”

John says his ambition has always been to raise £1m – just from loose change in buckets. He said: “I’ve raised a lot more with other fundraising but I always wanted to reach £1m in change and I’m about £800,000 of the way there.

“I walk 18 to 20 miles a day – I was six foot six when I started! I’m doing the Lincoln 10k on Sunday then next week it’s the Sheffield 10k. My ambition was to do 1,000 races and Sunday will be number 1,011.”

John has two or three wigs and gets through quite a lot of foam hands. “I lost one wig in a storm, I think it blew away to Skegness. My foam hands wear out as I do a lot of high fives so I’ll give one that’s wearing out to a small child and get another one.”

Despite John having a British Empire Medal and Freedom of the City, he remains grounded. “I had dinner with the Queen, she is a lovely lass. I’ll end up in the Tower one of these days for saying that! She’s right down to earth and very clever.”

What does the honour mean to him? He jokes: “Well I can drive sheep down the middle of the road. And as I have Freedom of the City, maybe I can get things for free so if you want any shopping doing, let me know.”

There will be an official ceremony for John at a later date.