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Best man reveals how astronomer Sir Patrick Moore lit up his life

By Kent and Sussex Courier  |  Posted: December 29, 2012

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TO many, Sir Patrick Moore will be remembered as a talented presenter, gifted xylophonist and the authority on all things astronomical.

But to Tunbridge Wells resident Sandy Helm, 85, he was much more – a colleague, a great friend and best man on his wedding day.

Mr Helm spoke to the Courier about Sir Patrick a day after the influential astronomer was laid to rest following a short illness.

The pair met when they were both teaching at Holmewood House School in Langton Green in the 1950s.

"I remember I met him when he came to Holmewood House. I showed him and his mother around," said Mr Helm, of Somerville Gardens.

"He was absolutely annoying," he joked. "He always got everything done in double-quick time. If we were both looking for a pen he would always find it first."

Mr Helm said the thing he always remembers was Sir Patrick's photographic memory.

"You would hand him a letter and would glance at it," he said. "I would look at him and say 'you didn't read that'. He said 'yes, I did' and when I asked him about it he would recite the letter.

"I do remember catching him out once. I phoned him up for a book reference and he said it was in the fifth book on the fourth shelf along on page 343. I phoned him back up and said he was right about the book but it was on page 344."

The men struck up a strong friendship and remained pals after Sir Patrick left the school.

Mr Helm asked him to be the best man at his wedding to Patricia Cullen at Ashurst in August 1956.

"I always said to Patrick he only became famous after being my best man," he said.

"He was a good best man, I asked him because he was a good friend.

"I was quite lucky actually because the speech he gave wasn't too embarrassing. Of course, he didn't need to take notes, he just stepped up and delivered it."

The pair stayed in contact even when Sir Patrick upped sticks and moved to West Sussex.

Smiling wryly, Mr Helm said that, although having a great brain, Sir Patrick was not the most practical man in the world.

"There was an episode in East Grinstead when his mother and her companion went away for the weekend and left Patrick. I had a phone call and he said 'could you come round and can you bring some old clothes'.

"I went over and he had been cooking some 'heat then eat' tomato soup. He had put the gas on and put the can directly on the gas. After two days remodelling all was back to normal."

Another incident involved the great intellectual being defeated by a tent.

"We went off on a camping trip to Dorset," Mr Helm recalled. "Patrick wasn't the most practical, to say the least, and to watch him put up his tent was funny.

"Somebody at the funeral mentioned his inability to put up a tent."

Mr Helm attended the funeral, along with hundreds of others, on Wednesday, December 19, in Chichester, near Moore's home in Selsey where he died.

He said it was a fitting way to see him off.

He said: "It was nice to hear all the speakers who spoke about him with great respect.

"Nobody knew the stars like Patrick. He was a great conversationalist and very talented."

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