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

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone