Brian Viner: My most memorable encounters with sporting legends

Since January 1999, Brian Viner's encounters with sporting legends have been essential reading in the pages of The Independent. Ten years on, we celebrate Britain's longest-running weekly sports interview by recalling some memorable encounters
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Often, I am asked to name the "best" person I have interviewed. There is no "best", although Sir Bobby Robson, Sir Tom Finney, Shane Warne, Gary Player, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Cliff Morgan and Virginia Wade stand out as interviewees notably generous both of spirit and with their time. I do particularly enjoy my encounters with the old-timers, not least because of a sense that they won't be around all that much longer. For example, I felt especially privileged to listen to the reminiscences of Bill Perry, who scored the winning goal for Blackpool against Bolton Wanderers in the famous 1953 FA Cup Final, and of Max Faulkner, the golfing dandy who won the 1951 Open Championship. Both of those splendid men have since died.

What follows are extracts from the 400 or so sports interviews I have conducted since January 1999. My brief was to choose either fascinating people, or people with fascinating stories; my regret is the 796,500 or so words I had to leave out.

George Foreman

23 November 2002

I ask Foreman where he thinks [the British former champion] Lennox Lewis figures in the top five greatest heavyweights in boxing history. And where, for that matter, he places himself? He obliges by making it sound like the first time he has ever heard such a devastatingly original question.

"You've got to rate John L Sullivan, the first heavyweight champion of the world, and you cannot leave out the great Joe Louis, champion for a decade or more. Rocky Marciano never lost a fight, and Jack Dempsey, just the words Jack Dempsey mean strength. Muhammad Ali is a greater man than he ever was a boxer, but the bravest man I ever got in the ring with. Now you could stick Lennox Lewis in there anywhere you want. He is one of the best fighters of all time. He had a plan to beat Tyson, and he executed it perfectly. You could put him at one, at two, at three, and you would get no arguments from me."

"What I had was brute strength. And when I came back in '87, I just used boxing for the publicity. So there is no way you can rate a man like that, like me, as one of the best of all time. When I turned professional, Dick Sadler [his coach] showed me how to get out there as quick as I could and knock guys out, because I didn't have any experience. When I fought Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title in 1973, all but maybe three of my 37 fights were knock-outs. And then I knocked him out, too.

"I'd be in trouble sometimes: the fight would look like it was going the other way, then I'd hit the guy and he'd be on the canvas. Brute strength, that's all it was. Did you hear the story about the greatest archer in the world? He was travelling the countryside, and saw a bulls-eye, and perfectly in the middle of it was an arrow. He measured it, he had never seen anything that direct. He was the greatest of all time, but he'd never seen that kind of marksmanship. Finally he met the guy, and said: 'Tell me, how did you get to be that accurate?' The guy said: 'It's easy, I shoot the arrow first, then I paint the bullseye.' "

Foreman lets rip a huge chuckle. I laugh. Even his taciturn corner man smiles. "My career is like that," he continues. "I got those knock-outs, now I go back and tell how they happened. The truth is, I don't know how they happened."

Bobby Robson

11 August 1999

There is an episode during my interview with Bobby Robson which does not really translate to print, more's the pity. We are talking tactics, and Robson is getting increasingly animated. Suddenly he leaps to his feet, pulls a handful of coins from his pocket and slaps them on the table. There ensues a masterclass in footballing strategy, delivered as a game of shove ha'penny.

I have asked Robson whether, if he were still England manager, he would favour a flat back-four over a sweeper system. "We've got to have adaptability in our defenders," he says. "I like a flat back-four and we're familiar with it. But if you're playing world football, against players who twist and turn you, it's not always the solution."

He directs my attention towards an elaborate configuration of 10p pieces. "I got caught," he continues. "And afterwards I said that I would never be caught again. In the [1988] European Championships, we had Mark Wright and Tony Adams in the centre, and we played the Dutch. I thought we could handle it, but Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit killed Wright and Adams. Killed them. They were the best strikers in the world at that time, and they were through us before we could blink. We lost 3-1." Robson looks reproachfully at the 10p pieces representing Wright and Adams. He slides a 50p between them.

"Two years later, in the 1990 World Cup, I took Butcher, Walker, little Parker, but I also took Mark Wright specifically so that if we met Holland again – and we did – I could play him as a sweeper. We drew 0-0 and we should have won. So on a certain day, in a certain match, you must have flexibility. And when you have the ball, attack for God's sake." Three coins whizz across the table towards me. "I like wingers. I used them at Barcelona, at PSV [Eindhoven], and with England I had the beauty of Waddle, Barnes, Trevor Steven, Morley. I don't think we have the same class of winger now." I mention Steve McManaman. Robson throws his hands up in despair. "He's a flatterer. And his final ball is pathetic. Pathetic. He fools the public but he doesn't fool me."

John McEnroe

20 June 2005

So how would he change things if he were made Grand Panjandrum of Tennis? Which is not such a bad idea, however it might appal those disinclined to forgive him his expletive-drenched tirades at line judges, umpires, referees and himself.

"It's a tough question. I would move the service line in a couple of inches, making it more difficult to generate that type of pace. And, people call me a dinosaur, but I think it would be really interesting to see how Federer would play with a wood racket. I'm sure he would play just fine. These rackets nowadays were meant for the average Joe who goes out there once a while and thinks, 'Hey, I gotta little bit of power'. But at the highest level, such advances have been made since I played Borg ... players are taller, stronger, work harder off the court, eat better. So why give them a racket, in addition to all that, that gives them 30 to 50 per cent more power than we had? It doesn't make sense.

"Take a look at baseball. As kids and all through college, they use graphite or aluminium bats. But when they get to major league level they go back to wood. The New York Yankees hit with wooden bats. Why? Because it's harder.

"I would also leave the let-cord on a serve, they should just play it. It would be exciting. I'd love to see Nadal diving to get a return of serve on match point, but the players are against it because it would add an element of luck. These are the things we ought to be trying. Also, when you throw the ball up to serve, that should be it. If you catch it, that should be a fault. I was practising with Peter Fleming and his throw was all over the place. It can be used as gamesmanship, too. If you're tired from a point, you catch your throw: 'Ooh sorry'."

But if inaccurate tosses counted as faults, I protest, then Virginia Wade, one of the clumsiest of tossers, would never have won Wimbledon. "That's true," says McEnroe. "Although Betty Stove, who she beat, wasn't all that good either."

This is typical McEnroe, telling it how it is, or how it was. It is why he has become such a popular commentator, although it makes me laugh when people marvel that the youthful super-brat has turned into a genial middle-aged charmer. In fact, he is the same short-fused guy he ever was; it is just that his fuse gets lit less frequently. Rather bravely, I share this theory with him.

"Well," he says equably, "I think most commentators, not just in tennis, take themselves way too seriously. I took myself too seriously for 15 years as a player, so I don't need to do it now. And I felt sure there would be positive response here to my kind of commentary because of the way they did it in the old days."

Here McEnroe does an irreverent, and not inaccurate, impression of a plummy Dan Maskell.

"When I was young I felt like I was going to break down barriers," he continues. "Here was this upper-class, cissy sport, and I believed 100 per cent that I was going to change it. I played every match as if it were my last. I wanted to be accepted like a baseball player or a footballer, and the irony is that in those sports, guys get pictured screaming at the umpire, and they're not saying, 'Hey, how you doing?' But they are never criticised for it. When you look at the horrible things that happen in other sports, me yelling at those umpires was not all that bad. But I remember a poll in a Miami paper to find the worst people of all time. Charles Manson was one, Attila the Hun was two, I was three and Jack the Ripper was four. It was funny in a way, except that was me they were talking about.

"Usually, the first thing that came into my mind was to say something funny, to defuse a situation with a joke. But I was also brought up to play best when I kept up a level of intensity. I could scream, then go back and hit an ace. If I said something funny, I would lose it a little bit. Connors was different. He'd swear under his breath to himself, then put his arm round someone in the crowd and say, 'It's tough out here, isn't it?' And he'd have people eating out of his hand. It used to drive me crazy."

Martin Pipe

4 April 2001

Carol Pipe is a racing nut too, although she teases her husband for his obsessiveness. He will insist on keeping racing on all five screens in the evening, apparently, even when she wants to settle down in front of Sleepless in Seattle. And he finds holidays a bit of a trial. They have just returned from the super-dooper Hotel Mamounia in Marrakech. How long were they there? "A week," he says. "Three days," she says. "Well, it seemed like a week," he says. "Luckily I looked around the hotel one evening and, I couldn't believe it, there was Henry Cecil. So I was able to talk horses with him."

Pipe – who has trained more than 3,000 winners since he started in 1975, and has had more winners over jumps than anyone else every year since 1982 – remains engagingly in awe of certain other trainers, habitually attaching "the great" before any mention of Vincent O'Brien, for instance. "Fred Winter, Michael Dickinson, the great Vincent O'Brien, geniuses, all of them. They knew how to get horses fit and well, but how to do it sweetly, that's the thing. I'd like to see how they do it. I'd love to work for Henry Cecil for a couple of weeks. I've never worked in another trainer's yard."

Imagine Marco Pierre White saying he would like to work in Jamie Oliver's kitchen, or Sir Alex Ferguson saying he would like to learn from a Gerard Houllier training session. Unthinkable. But with Pipe the arrogance of supremacy is tempered by a thirst for knowledge that remains as voracious now as it was 20 years ago. It is said that he is a little chippy about his background, for he is still looked upon by some in racing circles as an outsider, having not grown up in a horsey environment. Betting shops – his father owned 45 of them in the West Country – do not count.

"Books, I've learnt everything from books," he tells me. "Books about other trainers, all the veterinary books, getting to know the inside workings of a horse." He shows me his current bedtime reading, a formidable text called Equine Locomotion. "I wish I was a vet," he says, examining the anatomical diagrams and shaking his head in wonder. "Fantastic."

No vet could possibly match his ability to spot a prospective winner, however. How does he do it? "Well, look at people pushing wheelbarrows. You can tell those whose hearts aren't in it, and you can tell the triers. It's the same with horses. I don't always get it right but it's lovely when I do."

David Jones

20 March 2002

Jones, now the manager of Cardiff City, was managing Wolverhampton Wanderers when we met. This was the first detailed interview he had given about his trial for sexually abusing youngsters at a children's home he had worked at in Liverpool.

"We were coming back off holiday. My brother-in-law, who worked on the railways, had been hit by a train he didn't hear coming. We were on our way from Heathrow to Southampton [the club he was managing when the allegations surfaced] to get gear for the funeral, and I phoned my secretary, Daphne, to see if there'd been any calls. She said a DC Curran had been on the line from Liverpool. I already knew there was an investigation [into alleged sexual abuse at the school] going on. I had signed a document saying I'd never seen or heard anything.

"Anyway, I went to the police station, the big one, in Wavertree Road, with my wife. I thought I'd only be there 10 minutes. And then they told me I'd been accused. My exact words were: 'Is this some kind of joke?' I expected Jeremy Beadle to jump out. I told them they were making a big mistake, but from there it just snowballed. The CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] lady thought she could earn herself a few stripes. And the police paraded me around the station as if I was a trophy. The desk sergeant was brilliant. I think he just felt embarrassed. But the others, I wouldn't pee on them if they were on fire. I'll never forgive them, or the CPS, because they took my children's innocence away. My youngster, Georgia, is only seven now, and knows nothing about it. But my son, and my two older girls, even I don't know half the things they had to endure. I would rather have been up for murder. And the police knew that I hadn't done anything. They knew. That's what hurts me most. If they and the CPS were in football, they'd be Sunday league.

"They killed my father, too. I honestly believe that. He went ill when the news broke. He was on holiday and he saw it on Sky News. They promised me they'd keep it quiet, so I could at least tell my family, but when I walked out the door the press were all there. One of the police must have made himself 50 quid. I couldn't even tell my son, who was working in a sports shop. He heard it on the radio."

Jones was formally questioned on 15 June 1999. That November he was charged. "Then, in January, once I'd actually been charged, Rupert Lowe [the Southampton chairman] said he didn't think I could run the football club. I was go-karting with the players when he rang me. He said, 'I need to see you, I want to put something to you.' He said it wasn't bad news, that he was giving me 12 months to fight the case, and Glenn Hoddle would be coming in. I said, if that was the good news I didn't want to hear the bad. I think he genuinely thought he was doing me a favour. But football was my sanity."

Later, Jones resolved never to speak to a club about a managerial position if it had a manager still in place, which I take as an implicit criticism of Hoddle, as much as of Lowe, who is "still a friend".

At the time, he must have felt as if he was being assailed from all sides. His accusers were in jail, trying to cash in the price of a decent man's reputation. And although those who knew him had no doubt about his innocence – "My mate Les Sealey, God bless him, I miss him, I wish I could have taped his phone call because he effed and jeffed, he was livid" – some of those who didn't know him weren't sure.

Meanwhile, amid the trauma, there were moments of pure comedy. Jones was persuaded to see Ray Wyre, a distinguished sexual-crime consultant who had worked extensively with the police. Wyre invited him to reveal his fantasies. "I started going on about managing England, and living in a massive big mansion on the French Riviera. He stopped me after 10 minutes. It turned out he was after my sexual fantasies. If he'd asked for them, I would have told him, but he just said fantasies." Wyre knew Jones was no paedophile, and joined the defence team. "He's since become a very good friend," Jones says. "In fact we've turned him into a Wolves fan."

With the police and the CPS refusing to drop the case, Jones was stuck on gardening leave. He was asked to scout for several Premiership clubs, but couldn't because he was still on the Southampton payroll. "That August [2000] was the first time in my football life, as player, coach, manager, league and non-League, that I hadn't kicked off the season. And the first day of the season was my birthday, 17 August. My wife took me paintballing that day, and I shot everybody. I even shot my own team. My friend's wife ran up behind me and I turned round and shot her. She said, 'But I'm in your team.' And I shot her again. I must have gone through about 3,000 of those paint bullets. I was like a man possessed."

By now, Jones and I are laughing uproariously. The trauma continued, however. And on 1 December 2000, at Liverpool Crown Court, the case began. It was due to last three weeks. But on 5 December Jones was cleared. The case, said the judge, should never have been brought. "If the football world hadn't believed me, it would have killed me. I would never have come back. But everyone was fantastic. After I'd been charged, I walked out with Southampton against Derby County, and that was quite scary. I didn't know what reaction I would get. But I got a standing ovation. That will live with me for the rest of my life.

"And at Old Trafford, with 60,000 Mancunians there, again it was unbelievable. There was only one club where I got a torrid time, and when the time comes I'll say who. Of course, there are still the doubters. That's human nature. And I don't mind talking about it because it's part of my life, and it will all rear its head again if we achieve what we're going to here. But I don't get involved in support groups. They've tried to use me as their shining light and I don't want to be their shining light. I don't know them, and I'd hate to help somebody who was guilty."

He pauses. "But there is one phrase I will never, ever use again. And that's: 'No smoke without fire'."

Shane Warne

3 August 2002

Aptly enough, the spin-meister has been doing a turn. I meet Shane Warne in the lobby of the Grosvenor House Hotel, on London's Park Lane, where he and his former Australian team-mate Merv Hughes have been relating anecdotes to corporate luncheon guests, doubtless for a fat fee. Accordingly, Warne is suited and booted, wearing a tie, looking jolly smart and, if I may say so, rather un-Australian. When we get upstairs to his suite, however, he turns back into the boy from Ferntree Gully. Off comes the jacket, tie, shoes, socks, and he unbuttons the shirt almost to the belly button. "That's better, mate," he says.

Warne is in Britain for a few double-acts with Merv, and to promote the paperback of his autobiography, entitled simply My Autobiography. He is also in talks with Hampshire about renewing his contract. "I enjoyed my Hampshire experience," he says. "I would love to do it again down the track. The standard of county cricket surprised me a bit, to be honest with you. I thought it would be a lot easier. Saying that, it's difficult to get up every day for a game of county cricket. In Victoria we play 10 first-class games a year, and 10 one-dayers. You guys play a minimum of 45 games a year. That's a little bit too much."

During his season with Hampshire, Warne took 70 championship wickets at a cost per wicket of 23.14 runs, and 38 one-day wickets at a remarkable 16.64. His Test record for Australia stands at 450 wickets at 26.52, with 278 wickets at 25.67 in one-day internationals. Wisden declared him one of its five cricketers of the 20th century, along with Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards. He is, surely, the greatest leg-spinner cricket has ever known. Moreover, he has single-wristedly made leg-spinning not just fashionable again, but downright glamorous.

I produce a cricket ball from my briefcase – every briefcase should have one – and invite him to show me the various grips and techniques he employs. "Two fingers down, two fingers up, the thumb just rests, doesn't do anything," he says. "This is the leg-break, the over-spinner, the wrong 'un, the flipper comes out underneath, the backspinner, the zooter, the slider. And there are two or three variations of each, big spinning ones, little spinning ones..."

Even with 450 Test wickets under his belt (which has been known to need loosening a notch or two, although today he is looking impressively svelte), he is still learning his trade, he adds. He enthusiastically swaps secrets with fellow-spinners.

"Mushtaq Ahmed wanted to know how I bowl my flipper, and he's got two wrong 'uns; I wanted to know how he bowls his other wrong 'un. Saqlain Mushtaq wanted to know how I bowl my flipper too, and he bowls one that goes the other way. He bowls it with an off-spinner's action, and it goes like a leg-break. I've been practising that one. But I haven't mastered either of them. Mushtaq's been bowling my flipper pretty well, though. He knocked over a few of our blokes in Australia. The boys weren't too happy."

Cliff Morgan

23 January 2003

"Kirkpatrick... to Bryan Williams... This is great stuff... Phil Bennett covering... chased by Alistair Scown... Brilliant... Oh, that's brilliant... John Williams... Pullin... John Dawes, great dummy... David, Tom David, the half- way line... Brilliant, by Quinnell... This is Gareth Edwards... A dramatic start... WHAT A SCORE!"

When you read those words, they don't really add up to much. When you hear them, however, they still make the spine stiffen and the mind swim with unforgettable images. They were uttered 30 years ago on Monday, at his beloved Cardiff Arms Park, by Cliff Morgan. But when I phone the great man to ask whether I can use the forthcoming anniversary of that epic Barbarians v All Blacks match as an excuse to interview him, he is quick to disassociate himself. "It was nothing to do with me," he says.

He adds that he is old (72) and crumbly and has nothing of interest to say any more. But after some gentle pleading, he agrees to meet me. And as it turns out, as I have anticipated, he has nothing to say that is not enthralling.

We meet in the lobby of the Landmark Hotel in London. One legacy of his glittering career as one of rugby union's finest fly-halves is a pair of dodgy knees. He walks slowly, in apparent discomfort, downstairs to the bar, sinks into an armchair, fixes me with sympathetic brown eyes that have plainly seen it all, and tells me to fire away. "That match, in 1973..." I begin.

"I have always regarded that match as one of the great privileges of my life," he says, the wonderful Rhondda voice, unlike the Rhondda knees, undiminished by age. I apologise for asking a trite question, but it really has to be asked. Where does the Edwards try figure in the pantheon of great tries he has seen, and indeed scored? "Well, I suppose it has been watched more than any other try in history," he muses. "I have seen other fabulous tries, but this was a great team try, Bennett starting it off in his own 25, with adventure. A famous Welsh writer, Alun Richards, once said that there were two sorts of fly-half in Wales, the chapel fly-half and the church fly-half. Barry John was a church fly-half, laid-back, plenty of time, melodic movement. Bennett, I think like me, was a chapel fly-half, a bit more wild, non-conformist ... Willie John McBride, one of the most unbelievable men you'll ever meet in your life, says that Bennett for him was the best. When something wanted to be done, he could do it."

And what of Edwards, the scorer? "The greatest rugby player ever born, in any position, anywhere in the world. Gareth for me represents it all. He was built like a middleweight boxer, he was a great gymnast, and Bill Samuel, who got him into Millfield School from the tiny village of Gwaen-cae-Gurwen, told me that he could have won the pole vault in the Olympic Games. He still holds the record today in the schools 100-metres hurdles, you know. He beat Alan Pascoe, who went on to run for Great Britain. He had all the gifts, including the one thing I always thought about Pele, the most extraordinary vision. He could look forward yet see over both shoulders. And he played with a sense of fun, as they all did in the great Welsh side of that era, JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, John Dawes, Barry John, names that still hit you."

That sense of fun, I venture, has been greatly diluted by professionalism. I don't expect Morgan to disagree, and he does not. "I never believed that rugby union was meant to be professional. Rugby league was professional, and I love rugby league, but rugby union was about relaxation after the day's work, an opportunity to meet fellows, have a beer.

"And it's a sadness for me, now that it is professional, that they don't seem to know how to make it work. It's not an important game like soccer is. How can they have paid players when there isn't the money coming through the gates? Welsh rugby seems to have no idea. The National Stadium still owes millions and millions, and they hire a New Zealand coach for 250 grand a year, a nice enough fellow I'm sure, but the Welsh mentality is very different from the New Zealand. In New Zealand every boy wanted to be a back-row forward like Ian Kirkpatrick, but every Welsh boy wanted to be an outside-half.

"Not to have appointed a Welsh coach, I think was a disservice to the nation. And I'm not being nationalistic, I'm being sensible. We play rugby instinctively. You couldn't coach Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies: you could only make them feel part of a system. So I have no great optimism until such time as they get rid of all these masses of committees, and have someone who stands there and says, 'Shut up, listen to me'. The game needs a big, big person in charge."

Would he fancy the job. "Not me," he says, brown eyes twinkling. "I'm a Welsh dwarf."

Sir Roger Bannister

1 May 2004

How's this for serendipity? Near Oxford station I ask a policeman how long it will take me to walk to a particular road in the city. The road is where Sir Roger Bannister lives. "It's about a mile from here," says the policeman. "It'll take you about 20 minutes, depending on how fast you are." I can't resist telling him who it is I'm going to see. "Ah," he says. "Then you ought to do it in four minutes."

As I make my way there, I wonder whether to recount this exchange to Bannister. I decide against. It will be 50 years on Thursday since he became the first man in history to run a mile in less than four minutes, and in half a century he's probably heard more than enough four-minute-mile-related levity, not least the apocryphal story that his wife Moyra, knowing little about athletics, thought when she met him that his unique achievement was running four miles in a minute.

As it turns out, it is Moyra, Lady Bannister, who welcomes me to their handsome North Oxford flat. There has been a slight misunderstanding, and Sir Roger has just gone to meet someone else at Iffley Road, the track where, on 6 May 1954 – a Thursday, as it will be this year – he metamorphosed from athlete to legend.

The happy consequence of this misunderstanding is that I get to spend 45 minutes in the effervescent company of Lady Bannister, who would have a fascinating life-story even had she never met the first four-minute miler. Her father was a great Swedish economist who rose to become president of the International Monetary Fund; on the wall there is a framed letter from President John F Kennedy, expressing condolences on her father's death.

Her maternal uncle was Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Nye, who became Churchill's assistant chief of staff during the Second World War. "But I don't want to sound boasty-toasty," she says.

Eventually, Bannister returns. "How much did I miss you by," he asks, shaking my hand. "Three minutes," says his wife. "Ah," he says, with twinkling eyes. "A lot can happen in three minutes. Almost as much as can happen in four."

Professor Sid Watkins

11 July 2001

Professor Watkins, a leading neurosurgeon, is the former head of the Formula 1 on-track medical team. He talked to me about the death of his great friend, Ayrton Senna (pictured below with Watkins).

On the eve of that ill-fated San Marino Grand Prix, following Roland Ratzenberger's death in practice on the Imola circuit, Watkins tried to persuade Senna to pull out of the race. "Ratzenberger's death was a big shock to Ayrton. He'd started in 1984, so he hadn't seen anybody dying, and he was fond of Ratzenberger; they were quite good pals. It wasn't especially rational of me, but I thought that if he was upset he shouldn't race. I said to him, 'You've been world champion three times, everyone knows you're the quickest driver. Why not pull out? Maybe you should think about quitting altogether. If you quit, I'll quit, and we'll go fishing together.' He thought about it. He was always very careful when responding to a difficult question. He thought quietly for a minute or two, and then he said: 'No, there's no way I cannot race.' "

Watkins' concern for his friend did not diminish once the race started. "When he went past me he was driving so fast, in fact Schumacher backed off because he said Senna's car looked nervous, one of those funny terms the drivers use. A few other cars went past and the next thing was, the red flags were out. We weren't told who it was but I was sure it was Senna.

"When we got there he looked very calm and peaceful, not injured in the sense that you would be disturbed by looking at him. He was breathing but he was deeply unconscious, and it was apparent from his pupils that there would be a fatal outcome. If they are completely dilated and don't respond then it means there is considerable damage at the level of the higher brain stem. Then, he sort of sighed. It was a very gentle sigh, of relief almost, and although I am totally agnostic I had a strong sense that his soul departed at that moment. But he was alive in the helicopter, and alive when he got to the hospital. He died at about 6.30 that evening. I couldn't bear to go to the funeral."