Grand National hero Bob Champion, who conquered cancer to win the toughest race of them all, is appealing to Journal readers for help.
A fire destroyed thousands of photographs, news clippings, and documents detailing his life and his greatest racing triumph, which he had planned to use in a new autobiography.
Sixty-nine-year-old Bob, who lives in Newmarket, was at the Liverpool International Horse Show at the Echo Arena on New Year’s Eve when his car was caught up in a fire which swept through the adjoining multi-storey car park.
The blaze resulted in 1,600 vehicles being destroyed including Bob’s car where he had left all his photographs and documents in readiness for a visit to his publisher’s offices.
“I was in the arena with the Shetland Pony Grand National and you could just hear a series of explosions and that went on until around 3am.
“Just when it looked like it had died down there was another bang,” said Bob.
“The fire crews did a terrific job but they couldn’t get in there and now what’s left will just be demolished.
“My car just went up with the rest of them. It was a while before it dawned on me that all my photographs were still in the boot.
“I feel as if I have lost the majority of my life in that fire. I had spent a long time sorting out all my photographs from over the years and it wasn’t just racing ones.
“There were pictures of my family growing up.”
Bob’s archive included pictures of him as a boy growing up in Yorkshire right through to that afternoon at Aintree in 1981 when riding Aldaniti, a horse that had been nursed back from three career-threatening injuries, won the hearts of the nation and the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Their victory earned them the BBC Sports Personality team award and their story was made into a feature film, Champions, with the late John Hurt playing Bob.
“I travelled all over the world promoting the film and photographs from those trips to Japan, China, Australia and South Africa were all in the car,” said Bob.
There were also photographs of Bob’s extensive work for his Bob Champion Cancer Charity Trust which was set up in 1982, the year he received an MBE from the Queen, and has raised almost £15 million for research.
“There was a lot of sentimental value there and I don’t have digital copies of any of them,” said Bob.
“There were a lot of clippings in scrapbooks which I had been using to get ideas for the new books and about things I had forgotten.
“Someone sent me a photograph of me on Aldaniti at the Horse of the Year Show, with Sea Pigeon, which I couldn’t remember.
“They covered my whole life and the book will be empty without them.
“The ironic thing is they had survived around five house moves only to go up in flames in a car park.”
Anyone who has photographs of Bob can contact the Journal newsdesk on 01638 564104.
Read more in this week's Newmarket Journal. Out now.