Welsh Christmas birthdays

Friday 20 December 2013, 12:53

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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When you look at the lives of famous Welshmen it is amazing to see how many of them were born during the Christmas period. Indeed, so many great actors, sportsmen and politicians entered the world around Christmas time that it's tempting to think some propitious guiding star was looking down on Wales at those particular moments in time.

The list of Welsh Christmas births can seem endless. However, one or two of the famous people born in the final few weeks of December are worth looking at in a little detail.

Sir Geoffrey Howe, the long-serving and distinguished politician, was born in Port Talbot on 20 December 1926. He was educated at an independent school in Bryntirion before moving on to Winchester and the British Army. Howe became chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary and leader of the house under Margaret Thatcher and was her longest serving cabinet minister.

When he resigned on 1 November 1990, the move was an important political gesture. To many commentators and observers, Howe's resignation marked the beginning of the end for Thatcher. She was forced from office just three weeks later.

The darts star Ceri Morgan was born in Treorchy on 22 December 1947, just a few days before Christmas day. He made his World Championship debut in 1979, reaching the second round. He never managed to win the World Championship, appearing in the quarter finals in 1980 being his best effort, but he did claim the British Masters title that same year.

His prize in those long gone days of great acclaim but low money? A car worth £5,000 from tournament sponsors Austin Morris.

The most famous Welsh Christmas birth has to be the preacher Christmas Evans, who entered the world on Christmas day 1766 – hence his name. Born in Llandysul he was, first, a farm labourer but underwent a spiritual conversion after which he became a confirmed Baptist.

Christmas Evans - who had only one eye, supposedly having lost the other in a brawl when he was young - became an ordained minister in 1789. He then moved to the Llyn Peninsula and quickly became a central figure in the revivalist movement that was then sweeping through non-conformist ranks.

Evans moved to Ynys Mon in 1791 but made regular preaching tours around Wales before dying in 1838 during a tour to the Swansea area.

The footballer John Charles was born in Cwmbwrla, Swansea, on 27 December 1931. Arguably the greatest footballer ever born in Wales, he was dubbed ‘King John’ and loved by the Italian fans after he transferred to Juventus. Never booked on the soccer field, he was also known as ‘The Gentle Giant’.

John Charles had a long and distinguished playing career, winning 38 caps for Wales, when international matches were not half as frequent as they are now, and scoring 15 goals. He had the ability to play at either centre half or centre forward, at the highest level, and had he not been injured during the 1958 World Cup (the only time Wales have ever progressed so far) it is possible that the team might even have made it to the semi-finals.

After his playing career ended, Charles spent time as a manager and as a pub landlord. He died in 2004, greatly loved by the football fans of Wales and Italy, a true genius at the sport.

Another great sportsman with Christmas connections was the rugby winger and athlete Ken Jones. Born in Blaenavon on 30 December 1921, Ken Jones captained Newport and Wales. He was also captain of the Great Britain athletics team, reaching the semi-final of the 100 metres in the 1948 Olympics and claiming a silver medal with the British relay team.

Between 1947 and 1957 he appeared 44 times for Wales at rugby, a feat that was then a Welsh record, and scored the winning try against the 1953 All Blacks – the last time Wales managed to defeat the New Zealanders. He was gifted with a blistering turn of speed but was also a very capable defensive winger. He appeared in two Welsh Grand Slam sides and was chosen for the 1950 British Lions tour. He died in 2006.

The actor Anthony Hopkins was born in Margam, on the eastern fringe of Port Talbot, on 31 December 1937. The son of a baker, he was not particularly interested in school and was, therefore, sent away to Cowbridge Grammar School for his education.

He was encouraged to go into acting by another Port Talbot man, Richard Burton, and trained at the Welsh College of Music and Drama and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In a majestical film career he has managed to win an Oscar, three Baftas and two Emmy awards – and there are undoubtedly more to come.

Widely regarded as one of the most gifted actors of his generation, Hopkins will always be remembered for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in the film The Silence of the Lambs. He was knighted in 1993.

Whether the time of year of the births of these undoubtedly gifted individuals was mere chance, or the result of some greater force operating remains a matter of conjecture. What is certain is that they all graced their chosen fields of enterprise with skill and charm. They were, and are, all truly great Welshmen.

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