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Shereen: An interview with John Hartson

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Shereen Nanjiani Shereen Nanjiani | 12:30 UK time, Monday, 22 August 2011

I've just spent a hugely enjoyable week at the Edinburgh Book Festival recording some fascinating interviews for the show. You'll hear them over the coming weeks.
The first, broadcast this week, was not with a writer but a footballer.

When I met the former Celtic player, John Hartson inside the Authors' Tent, he proudly showed me his badge: "John Hartson, Author". He told me he was keeping it.
I'm sure you're familiar with John's story. Two years ago he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He'd found lumps seven years earlier but left it so late to see a doctor that the cancer had spread to his lungs and his brain. His book "Please Don't Go" recounts the harrowing journey from near death to the picture of health he is today. And it is harrowing. But uplifting too.

He admits he still can't bring himself to read the book himself. It's too painful. But he believes it's important to tell his story so that other men don't go through what he went through. I'd never met John before but knew of his reputation in his playing days as "Big Bad John". He is a changed man and spoke very movingly of how the support of his family and his determination to stay alive to see his kids grow up helped him get through it. There were times, he said, when he was "on the slab, gone" and he thought he'd never see his children again.

He says he now realises that the fame and money he had as a footballer count for nothing if you don't have your health. John is clear of cancer now but still has to go for regular check ups. In the meantime he's living life to the full, making the most of every moment he has with his family, and enjoying the simpler things in life. He told me he's just returned from a caravan holiday with the kids. Now when did you last hear of a footballer going caravanning?

As he told me his story, from his happy childhood, to his football successes, to conquering his addiction to gambling, to his battle with cancer, it was clear how important the support of a strong and loving family has been to him.
I don't mind admitting I had tears in my eyes by the end. "Sorry I made you cry" he said. And then he was off laughing and joking again, ready to do his Book event.

Listen to Shereen, Sunday 0900 on BBC Radio Scotland and available to listen again on iPlayer.


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