I owe it all to my father – Hawking marks milestone of 70th birthday

Illness kept him from his party, but the physicist still gave a moving talk about his life. Steve Connor reports

He was there in spirit, but sadly not in person. Stephen Hawking missed his own 70th birthday party yesterday at Cambridge University on doctor's advice – he was recovering at home from an infection that had put him in hospital for a few days last week.

The world's most famous living scientist, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21 and given just two years to live, nevertheless used a pre-recorded speech to deliver his birthday lecture.

The packed auditorium included the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, Professor Saul Perlmutter, the Nobel Prize winner in physics last year, the businessman Sir Richard Branson and the model and former Cambridge arts student Lily Cole.

In a highly personal talk, Hawking spoke movingly of the role his father played in picking him up from the devastating diagnosis when he was just beginning his PhD at Cambridge University – and how his doctor dropped him as a hopeless case and then never saw him again.

"My mother realised something was wrong and took me to the doctor," Hawking said. "I spent weeks in Bart's Hospital [in London] and had many tests. They never actually told me what was wrong, but I guessed enough to know it was pretty bad, so I didn't want to ask.

"In fact, the doctor who diagnosed me washed his hands of me, and I never saw him again. He felt that there was nothing that could be done. In effect, my father became my doctor and it was to him that I turned for advice."

His father, a researcher in tropical diseases at the Medical Research Council in Mill Hill, initially opposed Hawking's early interest in mathematics and wanted his son to pursue instead a career in medicine.

The title of Hawking's talk, "A Brief History of Mine", was a deliberate play on the title of his first popular science book, A Brief History of Time, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1988.

His friend and fellow cosmologist Kip Thorne joked yesterday during his own talk on the golden age of black holes that he measures the sales of his own popular science books in "milli-Hawkings".

Hawking said he decided to write a popular science book to pay for his rising care costs and the fees of his children's schools, although the main reason was because he enjoyed it, he said.

"I never expected A Brief History of Time to do as well as it did. Not everyone may have finished it or understood everything they read. But they at least got the idea that we live in a universe governed by rational laws that we can discover and understand," he said.

His talk yesterday began with his birth on 8 January 1942 in Oxford, took in his early childhood in London, when he had a passionate interest in model trains (he even dreamt of electric trains), and ended with his current interests in the existence of many different universes, encapsulated in a revolutionary idea known as M-theory.

"M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. These multiple universes can arise naturally from physical law," he said.

"Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states at later times, that is, at times like the present, long after creation.

"Most of these states will be quite unlike the universe we observe and quite unsuitable for the existence of any form of life.

"Only a very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Thus our presence selects out from this vast array only those universes that are compatible with our existence.

"Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, this makes us in a sense lords of creation," Hawking concluded.

Hawking symposium: the Party guests

The model and actress Lily Cole, last year awarded a double first from Cambridge

 

Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society and astronomer to the Queen

 

Professor Saul Perlmutter, the American astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize in physics last year for the co-discovery of dark energy

 

Justin Rattner, Intel vice-president, who directs its research into microprocessors and communications

 

Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur and CEO of the Virgin Group

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power