Column One: Family pleads for end to get-well card deluge
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Monday 13 October 1997
Such is the deluge of good wishes that Craig Shergold's family home has been designated a postal district in its own right with its own postcode. It is the only way the Post Office can cope with the 500 letters that still arrive each day for him.
At the last count he had received 140 million cards from 170 countries around the world. He achieved his dream of a place in the Guinness Book of Records and the greetings card industry was so grateful for the business that it bought him a full-size pool table as a Christmas present.
Now the family and the Post Office are begging for it to stop. Craig has become the victim of a series of chain letters that have inundated the family with company business cards and compliment slips. Some used his real name while others were addressed to Craig John, Craig Shepherd, John Gary and Gary Richards but all gave the correct address in Carshalton, Surrey.
Even if the family's appeal is successful in stemming the flow from the United Kingdom, it is unlikely to curb it entirely. In the past three months thousands of postcards have arrived from Poland. Earlier this year, thousands were arriving from China, their senders unaware that the seven- year-old cancer victim is now a robust, healthy 18-year-old who wishes to be left in peace.
A spokeswoman for the Royal Mail said: "This is an unfortunate hoax. It started as a genuine appeal but got out of hand. The family and the Royal Mail want it to stop but we have a duty to deliver items as addressed."
The idea for the record bid was suggested to Craig (above) by a nurse at the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital in London where he was being treated. He later underwent brain surgery in the United States. As news of his plight spread, letters began arriving from all over the world with signatories including Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. At its height 300 sacks of mail a week were being delivered and there were separate collection points in America and Australia.
A decade later, a team of volunteers, including the local scout troop, is required to help the family deal with the post. Stan White, a neighbour, said: "All the letters have to be opened because some contain cheques. The stamps are sold and the letters sent for recycling which has raised pounds 63,000 for charity. Craig gets a lot of fluffy toys, cars and sweets which are sent to hospitals and charities."
The Guinness Book of Records, which warned the Shergold family of the possible consequences of the appeal, has since deleted the category in the hope of halting spread of the phenomenon. In the past the family faced the daunting task of sorting genuine letters from the avalanche of cards. Their telephone was cut off on one occasion because they never found the bill or the red reminder that followed it.
They have since moved house which makes it easier to sort their correspondence. But the get-well messages keep on coming.
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