Stephen Hawking gives inspiring talk in Martlesham, Suffolk

Stephen Hawking gives inspiring talk at Headway Suffolk’s Neuro Conference at BT Adastral Park after overcoming illness.

Stephen Hawkins in Suffolk

Professor Stephen Hawking has survived a debilitating neurological disease for more than 50 years and overcome life-threatening pneumonia to become the most famous and celebrated scientist living today.

So he wasn’t going to let a bout of morning illness prevent him from giving an inspirational talk in Suffolk yesterday.

The theoretical physicist and cosmologist was the headline guest speaker for brain injury charity Headway Suffolk’s Neuro Conference at BT Adastral Park in Martlesham.

But the media was told upon arrival that he was ill and had been forced to cancel. This might have given the event its own black hole, although a live video talk was suggested.

However, rumours soon spread that there was an “outside chance” of him turning up after all. Rumours festered into unconfirmed fact before Headway Suffolk chief executive Helen Fairweather announced the u-turn on stage, causing a ripple of excitement among the 500 spectators.

Stephen Hawkins in Suffolk

Stephen Hawkins in Suffolk

Stephen Hawkins in Suffolk

And soon enough, professor Hawking, who was nicknamed Einstein by classmates and was born 300 years to the day after Galileo’s death, appeared on stage.

“I would like to thank Headway Suffolk and Mrs Fairweather for inviting me to talk about my journey with motor neurone disease,” the 74-year-old said.

“As some of you may have seen from the film, in which Eddie Redmayne played a particularly more handsome version of me in my third year at Oxford, I noticed that I seemed to be getting clumsier.

“I fell over once or twice and couldn’t understand why. I was somewhat disgruntled at the time and was told to lay off the beer, but that is understandable when talking to a student.”

Prof Hawking has a rare early-onset, slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease. He was diagnosed at the age of 21 in 1963 and given two years to live, but has defied medical experts.

“It has been a glorious time to be alive and I am happy if I’ve added to our understanding of the universe,” he said.

“I feel lucky my disability has not been a serious handicap in my work or preventing me from leading a full and active life.”

He now communicates using a single cheek muscle attached to a speech-generating device. “I identify with this voice and have no intention of changing to a more accurately sounding one,” he joked.

And while his physical condition has deteriorated over the past five decades, his intellectual brilliance, humility and humour has captivated audiences of increasing size around the world.

He said of his international bestseller A Brief History of Time in 1988: “This broke all records. It was in the Sunday Times bestsellers list for four years. Thankfully the Bible and Shakespeare do not count.

“Indeed, the book was originally meant to be called From a Big Bang to Black Holes: A Short History of Time. The title was shortened and changed to ‘brief’ and the rest is history.

“It has been imitated many times, most recently as the title of a Radio Three programme about a sleeping clock, called A Brief History of Tim.

“But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

He said the birth of his three children – Robert, Lucy and Tim – gave him “enormous help” during the 1960s and 70s.

“I felt lucky,” he said. “I never imagined we would be able to have three beautiful and accomplished children. They are the best achievements in my life – if you can call children achievements.

“It was a few days after the birth of Lucy in 1970 when I had a Eureka moment. While getting to bed one evening, I realised that black holes were not really black. They had a temperature and would glow red like hot coals.

“I had discovered a concept which is named after me: Hawking Radiation. The theory took my research down new avenues and also proved that motor neurone disease is no barrier to thinking, achieving and getting on with life. We just had to find new ways of doing things.”

He described how he caught pneumonia while in Switzerland in 1985 and had a tube inserted into his windpipe in hospital. Medical staff considered disconnecting his ventilator but his then wife, Jane, railed at the idea and he was brought back to England where he underwent lifesaving surgery.

He ended his talk, which was interrupted by software issues and finished with a previous recording of his speech, with this: “We are entering a new space age and it seems we are able to co-operate more between nations in space in a way that we can only envy on Earth.

“Pioneering space travel will help us all to recognise our place and our future in the cosmos, which is where I believe our future lies. Space: here I come. Thank you for listening.”

Afterwards, Mrs Fairweather said: “His talk was very inspirational, especially as he was poorly.

“It would have been quite easy to stay in bed, but I think it proves that if you are in the right place at the right time, you can get the help you need, and that was the message we gave during the day: we are here to help. I hope the talk will raise our profile and show people living with neurological effects that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

The conference, sponsored by solicitors Irwin Mitchell, also included three other eminent speakers: Professor John Pickard, director of the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge; Dr Trevor Powell, consultant clinical psychologist and author; and Dr Muhibbur Rahman Chowdhury, stroke consultant at Ipswich Hospital.

After his speech Prof Hawking visited Kesgrave Community Centre, which was hosting a secondary Headway Suffolk event for those unable to get tickets for the sold-out conference. He received a standing ovation on entering but could only give a brief address due to technical issues.

Stephen Hawking in Suffolk

Stephen Hawking in Suffolk

Stephen Hawking in Suffolk

Stephen Hawking in Suffolk

Stephen Hawking in Suffolk

Share this post