Saints, heroes, selfless crusaders; Michael Hogan salutes history’s loveliest men
The world needs heroes, now more than ever. Not just comic-book ones with capes, tight-fitting costumes and CGI superpowers but real-life men made of flesh, blood, muscle and stubble. Totally together guys who care, share and make the world a better place. Men we could be more like if only we weren’t too damned selfish. So bow down and bathe in the celestial 15 greatest goodies…
(Images: Rex, PA)
15. David Beckham
Like a tattooed Messiah with an adventurous barber, Becks – despite fame and riches – has rescued broken-down drivers and paid secret visits to sick children in hospital.
Nicest moment: Giving his Paris St Germain salary to a local children’s charity. We’ll ignore it being investigated by those cynics at the French tax office...
14. David Attenborough
Basically, the nation’s spiritual grandpa, the real-life Doctor Doolittle not only talks to the animals (in soothing tones) but pretty much invented the Beeb. Aged 80, still works tirelessly for charities.
Nicest moment: Named Greatest Living Briton, Dave modestly shrugged it off: “You needn’t bother with all that, I’ve just been very lucky.”
13. Chris Hoy
Thighs of an elephant, heart of a lion, belly full of Bran Flakes. Britain’s most successful Olympian won six cycling golds and is a byword for understated, unshowy, modest excellence.
Nicest moment: Asked in Beijing: “Everyone’s been offering an opinion on Chris Hoy, but what does Chris Hoy think of Chris Hoy?” He replied: “Chris Hoy thinks the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse.”
12. Dave Grohl
He’s been in four ace bands – Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures – and is renowned as The Nicest Man In Rock™, often pausing gigs to stop fights. He even looks a bit like Jesus.
Nicest moment: He recognised a Foos fan with cerebral palsy years after meeting her and invited her to a video shoot.
11. Winston Churchill
Churchill was a quotable, charismatic military man. He was multi-talented – he painted prolifically, won the Nobel Prize For Literature and was a keen bricklayer. All this with depression and a fondness for a drink.
Nicest moment: When The Times said he should step down, Churchill replied: “Mr Editor, I don’t leave until the pub closes.”
An icon who still casts a shadow over US politics, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a Second World War torpedo boat commander, winning medals for bravery before becoming the second youngest president ever. He ushered in a new era of optimism until he was shot dead in Dallas three years later. He came third in a poll to find The Century’s Most Admired People. And, yes, he is the only man to make both our good and bad lists.
Nicest moment: Becoming the first president to call on all Americans to denounce racism as morally wrong.
9. Mo Farah
Known for his London 2012 double gold medallist’s grin and the ‘Mobot’, Farah’s story is inspirational: born in Somalia, moved to Hounslow, discovered an outlet in sport and found a way to beat the Kenyan pace-setters.
Nicest moment: When a US reporter asked Farah if he’d run before, he defended her, tweeting: “To everyone being nasty, please stop! She made a mistake like we all do.”
8. Leo Messi
The world’s best footballer is the opposite to his closest rival, Cristiano Ronaldo. Where Ronaldo pouts and poses, Messi is like that kid at the park apologetically nutmegging people. Born in Argentina, he had growth hormone deficiency and went to Barcelona because they promised to pay his medical bills.
Nicest moment: Secretly paying £500k towards refurbishing the children’s hospital in his home town.
7. Paul McCartney
Most successful musician ever. Multi-instrumental genius. Vegetarian who looks like an old lady. You know him. You might not know that Macca has done more charity work than he’s had meat-free dinners.
Nicest moment: Writing morale-boosting letters to George Michael when he was in prison and saving Mark Ronson from drowning.
6. Will Smith
From The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air to Hollywood action hero. He donates more than $1m to charity a year, has a foundation for inner-city kids and can halt a big-screen alien invasion with sheer charisma.
Nicest moment: Last month on The Graham Norton Show Smith brought DJ Jazzy Jeff and Alfonso “Carlton Banks” Ribeiro for a YouTube-melting reunion.
5. Michael Palin
The Monty Python team have all fallen out with each other – except for continent-hopping Palin. How could you? When Terry Jones presented his Bafta Fellowship last month, their 50-year bromance was eye-dampening. He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very nice boy.
Nicest moment: When some took offence at his stutter in A Fish Called Wanda, Palin promptly opened a centre for stammering children.
4. Martin Luther King Jr
He had a dream. Baptist preacher-turned-civil rights leader King was one of the greatest orators ever and, inspired by Gandhi, advocated non-violent protest – even in the face of extreme provocation. He was harassed by the FBI, attacked by white supremacists and arrested 30 times but never wavered. When he was assassinated, riots kicked off across the US and 750 cities now have a street named after him.
Nicest moment: In 1966, King selflessly moved his family into a crumbling Chicago slum for six months to highlight the problems with housing for African- Americans.
3. Desmond Tutu
You name it, the South African bishop has fought against it: apartheid, torture, poverty, pollution, corruption, Aids, tuberculosis, sexism, homophobia… And he could (probably) disarm a despot with a well-timed eyebrow raise. The Nobel laureate is now 81 and semi-retired.
Nicest moment: He’s often called “Bishop Mandela”, but laughs it off, saying: “I don’t mind, they’re getting two for the price of one.”
The Yoda of good deeds, wearing a sheet, specs and a beatific smile, Mahatma Gandhi led India to independence and inspired non-violent movements.
Nicest moment: From silently shaming aggressors into public apologies to fasting until wrongfully arrested prisoners were released, Gandhi devoted his life to selflessness.
1. John Noakes
Blue Peter’s longest serving presenter is the chirpy daredevil who grew into the ultimate kind-eyed older man. Noakesy belted down the Cresta Run in a bobsleigh, jumped out of planes and climbed Nelson’s column with a pigeon-poo scraper. He was inseparable from border collie Shep and cried on live TV when the dog died.
Nicest moment: Five years ago, he appeared on a Blue Peter-themed edition of The Weakest Link. Anne Robinson asked about Shep and Noakes welled up again. Come here for a cuddle, you lovely man.