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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
George Best cheers on liver campaign
by Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff

Reformed alcoholic George Best couldn't have chosen a better location for the launch of a group campaigning to raise awareness about liver disease.

George Best
George Best in his younger days
The Palace of Westminster is a drinkers' paradise - a place renowned for numerous bars, cheap booze and non-existent licensing hours.

Indeed, among the MPs and members of the press who turned up to listen to the football legend's serious message were a number of people not exactly unfamiliar with these refreshment facilities.

But the MPs, even those from the all-party parliamentary beer group, started as they hope to go on, sipping tomato juice and Diet Coke at the launch of the new hepatology group.

And it has to be said that Mr Best, who received a liver transplant last summer, is now an inspiring role model.

It is hard to believe this tanned, healthy looking gentleman in a pin-striped suit, clutching a soft drink, could have been so ill from a life-times excessive partying.

He says he owes his good health to many people behind the scenes - and now he will do everything he can to raise money and awareness for research and treatment of liver disease.

Mr Best says: "I thank God every day that I'm here."

George is one of the lucky ones, but there are lots of people dying on the waiting list for donor organs
Professor Roger Williams

And his presence at the launch of the all-party Hepatology Group? "This is one way to say thank you to everybody," he adds quietly.

The group, which is jointly chaired by Labour's Helen Clark and Tory MP David Amess, plans to campaign to reduce the numbers of people dying each year from liver disease.

It certainly has a battle on its hand.

In the UK alone, the death toll is 7,500. The numbers dying from cirrhosis have doubled over the last 10 years.

'Good patient'

Cirrhosis is killing more women than cervical cancer and more men than Parkinson's disease.

And more than 200,000 people in the UK have the chronic viral infection, chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure.

George Best and his wife Alex
Best thanks God every day that he's alive
Professor Roger Williams, president of the British Liver Trust, who carried out Mr Best's transplant operation, says he hopes the concerted effort of the all-party MPs will be to open up the subject of liver disease.

"George is one of the lucky ones, but there are lots of people dying on the waiting list for donor organs," he told BBC News Online.

"George waited over a year for his new liver and when you are ill and your organ is failing that is a ridiculous length of time.

"George is a good patient. He is doing very well and it's jolly nice that he is backing this campaign."

Funding needed

Mr Best, a former Manchester United star, certainly supports that prognosis.

"I'm feeling wonderful, thanks to a lot of work from a lot of people. I'm getting better and better.

"It's really made me realise how serious the issue is and how much money is needed for research.

"There are a lot of children involved, a lot of people on waiting lists, who desperately need help.

"I'm heavily involved in this now for personal reasons. I think there's a chance for everyone to get involved. We need lots of money and the more the merrier.

Actually, this is a pretty good place in which to get this message across
David Amess
Tory MP

"For me, it's a total difference now. I nearly didn't make it. But a lot of people put a lot of work in behind the scenes. I thank God every day that I'm here. This is one way to say thank you to everybody."

Mr Amess, MP for Southend West, said a high profile former sportsman like George Best was needed to get young people, in particular, interested in the campaign.

"They are not going to listen to politicians are they really? But they will know George is a famous footballer and if that encourages people to listen, then all the better," he told BBC News Online.

Mr Amess said the location of the launch, in Parliament with its umpteen bars, was not lost on him.

"Moderation in all things is the message. There might be all these bars here and facilities for the MPs and there is nothing wrong with using them.

"But if you imbibe to excess, you pay the ultimate price.

"Actually, this is a pretty good place in which to get this message across."

Best admits drunken fights with wife
10 Oct 02  |  4x4 Reports
George Best: Me and my liver
07 Oct 02  |  4x4 Reports
Best 'doing well' after treatment
23 Aug 02  |  Northern Ireland
George Best back in hospital
19 Aug 02  |  UK News
George Best hits back at critics
11 Aug 02  |  UK News
Simply the Best
08 Dec 02  |  Sports Personality 2002

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