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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 06:20 GMT 07:20 UK
Botham steps out for hospital appeal
Former England cricket star Ian Botham has begun his latest fund-raising walk in mid Wales.

His 229-mile trek to Cardiff from the site of Owain Glyndwr's parliament at Machynlleth aims to raise 250,000 toward Wales's first children's hospital.

Ian Botham on the first day of Noah's Ark Appeal walk
Ian Botham plans to walk 229-miles to Cardiff for the appeal

He was accompanied by fellow former England captain Mike Gatting, who has raised 10,000 towards the appeal, and cheered off by Welsh rugby legend Gareth Edwards and comedian Max Boyce.

When the veteran walker reaches Cardiff in nine days, he will also be joined by Swansea-born actress Catherine Zeta Jones and Cardiff singing star Charlotte Church.

Wales is the only European country not to have a hospital dedicated to treating sick children.

The Noah's Ark Appeal launched in May 2000 with the aim of raising 5m to build the first phase of a 21m paediatric care unit in the capital.

Gareth Edwards and Max Boyce
Gareth Edwards and Max Boyce cheer on Botham at the walk's start

Speaking during the first few miles of the walk, he said: "I just find it staggering that there isn't a children's hospital in Wales.

He added: "It's one of the most modern European countries and yet it doesn't have this facility, so we'll put that right."

Gareth Edwards said: "I think everybody in Wales should support this wonderful project.

"The fact that Ian Botham who has raised so much money in this kind of capacity over the years is putting himself forward to raise this for the children of Wales - I think we can only support it."

Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust has already provided the site and infrastructure and the Welsh Assembly has pledged an extra 4.5m on completion of phase one.

Catherine Zeta Jones
Catherine Zeta Jones has lent her support

Last month, a supermarket chain donated 500,000 to the appeal.

The planned 50-bed unit will provide facilities specifically for children and their families.

Doctors and parents have campaigned for many years to establish a specialist unit.

The ultimate aim is to build a complete hospital which will replace existing facilities at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, which staff and relatives of patients say are unsatisfactory.

In August 2001, the cricketing legend and seasoned charity walker agreed to head the walk on behalf of the appeal.

Charlotte Church
Charlotte Church donated concert money to the appeal

Zeta Jones and Charlotte Church have since become patrons of the campaign.

In September, Church donated the proceeds from a concert in Cardiff to the appeal.

The two will join him for the last two miles of the trek in Cardiff on Saturday, 27 April.

Noah's Ark Appeal lead walker, Ian Botham
"It's one of the most modern European countries and yet it doesn't have this facility, so we'll put that right."
Paediatrician Mark Drayton
"It will provide focus for child health"
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