‘He claimed it was the biggest laugh he’d had for ages’

Picture: Pierandrea Guarnieri

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THE interview lasted for about an hour. It was another two before we were able to tear ourselves away.

For much of that time chief photographer Malcolm Wells and I had been crawling around the floor playing games with Ptolemy.

Sir Patrick Moore adored cats and Ptolemy was to be his last. Cats were the reason we were groping around beneath the furniture playing hide-and-seek with the animal. Sir Patrick watched with childlike glee, encouraging us to play more ludicrous games with the animal.

Patrick (‘just Patrick, no silly titles please’, he insisted) was confined to a wheelchair and obviously in terminal decline, but his intellect remained razor sharp. When it came to the photograph he stipulated that he would not be pictured in his wheelchair. He had to be shot at his desk in the window overlooking the garden. It was the same when it came, in his later years, to filming the Sky At Night from his home. We spent nearly 15 minutes using a special hoist to lift him from one chair to another. Patrick enjoyed it, especially when swinging in the air mid-chairs. ‘The nearest I’ll ever get to weightlessness now,’ he grinned.

He told us, without a hint of irony or mischief, about the book he had just written — a book about his lifelong relationship with cats. He insisted he could talk ‘cat’ and ‘much preferred them to humans’. It was towards the end of April this year. The book had just been published. A few weeks earlier he had celebrated his last — 89th — birthday.

The interview, one of the last he would give, would be an ‘advance obituary’. His phrase. He understood.

In his delightful, part-15th century cottage at Selsey – Farthings – he talked about astronomy, space exploration, his army life, cricket, and the one woman in his life, apart from his mother, that he loved and then lost during the Second World War.

So when he managed to get two journalists scrabbling around on the floor of his study doing what he could no longer do, play with his beloved Ptolemy, he claimed it was the biggest laugh he’d had for ages. He thanked us for making him happy.