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Ray Gravell 1951 - 2007
Ray Gravell first played rugby for Llanelli in 1970 and made his first appearance for Wales against France in 1975, going on to win 23 caps. After his retirement from rugby, he took up a successful career in broadcasting. Sadly Ray died on holiday in Spain in November 2007 after helping Simon with his first three challenges.
1st November 2007
We are very sad to hear of the death of Ray, who brought inspiration to us all during filming for The Big Welsh Challenge. Our thoughts are with his wife Mari and his daughters Manon and Gwenan.
Filming with Ray was always a joy. He was such a huge personality and always had time for everybody. Simon has made no secret of the fact that he has struggled to find time to do as much Welsh as he had hoped, but Ray was always there with encouragement and support.
"It's a terrible shock. I have known him for more than twenty years," said Simon. "He was such a big giver. He loved his family. If he was speaking to you for two minutes, a minute of that time would be spent talking about his family.
"He made everybody feel important. Whether he met you once or a hundred times he would always treat you the same and clasp your hands in his big paws.
"He did his best to try to teach me Welsh but it's been difficult because I've been busy and he was ill but I'll do my best to stick with it. He was such a proud, proud Welshman and loved life and where he lived. There wasn't a day when he didn't pack something in. He was a great ambassador for Wales."
In an interview with Jamie and Louise on BBC Radio Wales, Simon described Ray as "a beacon of sunshine" said he was determined now to continue with his Welsh and to succeed in mastering the language for Ray's memory.
10th September 2007
After helping Simon prepare for the third challenge, which involves solving a mystery
I'm thrilled because the last time I saw Simon I was in a wheelchair. Now I've got my prosthetic leg and I'm walking around. It's good to see him. His company makes me realise that life is to be enjoyed and appreciated. I feel very comfortable with him.
To be fair to him he hasn't had time to practise his Welsh because he's so busy and people want bits and bobs of him everywhere. If he could fit in a bit more work he'd be phenomenal, but he hasn't really got any time for himself. He's a determined man and he will get down to it. This task is a difficult one though - it's the toughest yet - but I know he'll cope.
24th May 2007
After filming with Simon for the second challenge - calling the steps for a Welsh folk dance
I've just had a superb morning filming with Simon for the second challenge. The last time we were filming I was in a bit of pain - and hadn't been well for months. Since then because of the diabetes, I've lost my right leg below the knee. I feel happier now and people say I look better and there's no pain any more. But it's an experience I wouldn't want to go through again. It's given me a different perspective. I'm taking one day at a time. Today is a great day, tomorrow will be even better.
When the Big Welsh Challenge team phoned about filming for the second challenge, I'd thought I wouldn't be needed because of my leg. But they said, "We'll come to you" - that gave me a heck of a boost.
Simon is always someone I look up to because of what he's been through. I admire the way he's coped with adversity - to overcome what he's gone through takes guts and determination. He's an inspiration to me and many others.
RAY'S FIRST THOUGHTS ON THE BIG WELSH CHALLENGE
On Simon's first challenge (to sing Sosban Fach in front of an audience):
I thought it was a marvellous challenge. I've sung the song all over the world and there's obviously the Scarlets' connection. Simon took to it well. I was absolutely amazed. The challenge surprised him because he was uncertain about not just the language but the singing as well. But he's very determined, very resolute, and eventually I would think in a couple of years' time he will become a very fluent Welsh speaker.
As Simon practises singing, Ray conducts from the pitch
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