Melanie McDonagh

Would Captain Tom want his own statue?

Would Captain Tom want his own statue?
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Captain Sir Tom Moore was a lovely man and an inspiration to centenarians everywhere. Actually, forget centenarians; if the rest of us could be so chipper and nicely turned out at half his age, we’d be doing well. I was oddly moved to hear of his death, though not, I fear, to the point of turning out at my window to applaud. But then I gave the communal pot banging a miss for the NHS during lockdown too, so that’s nothing new.

I’m not convinced Boris Johnson is right, though, when he says Captain Tom deserves a statue. After all, he was a modest man, Sir Tom; I’m not sure he wouldn’t be embarrassed himself by the idea.

In fact, we’re rather too keen on erecting statues as a means of registering approval of figures in the public eye, most of them pretty hideous – did you see the awful one of Margaret Thatcher for her home town of Grantham which managed even to get her hair wrong? Though I suppose, putting them up is less damaging than pulling down the ones we disapprove of.

But in the case of Captain Tom’s statue the idea is particularly bad. He was the man of the moment during the pandemic, which makes it especially poignant that he died with Covid – it’s not everyone who could cheer the nation by walking round and round his garden. 

The pandemic is, thank God, a transitory moment, though, and statues tend to outlast not only those they commemorate but the very memory of what made them notable. It should be a rule to wait at least twenty years before erecting a public monument, so that we have some idea whether the fame is lasting or passing. And however bad the pandemic is, it isn’t a war; Captain Tom would know this better than anyone.

Given he did raise £33 million, wouldn’t it be better to name a couple of NHS wards after him? (The example to avoid here is that of the memorial to Diana; she’d have been much better remembered by funding a chain of children’s playgrounds.) 

Personally, I wouldn’t mind a nice postage stamp, with the late captain waving with one hand, clutching his frame with another. But a statue? No. Give it a few decades and see how his reputation beds down.