CRICKET legend Sir Ian Botham has spoken for the first time of his father’s tragic struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

His father, Les, died in December 2005, aged 82, 18 months before his son was knighted for his services to charity and sport.

But until now ‘Beefy’, who has a home in Ravensworth in North Yorkshire, has never talked about the impact of dementia on his family’s life.

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The fact that he is finally talking about his father’s illness eight years after Les passed away is due to sheer coincidence.

During a pre-Ashes Australian speaking tour with Aussie legend Allan Border, Sir Ian was the guest at an Alzheimer’s Australia event without anyone in the room knowing just how personal the issue was for him.

It was only at the end of the Melbourne dinner that Botham confided that he knew what they had gone through and why.

"I never talk about this. These are memories, things I want to keep to myself, and if you have people who don't know what you are talking about ... I don't think anybody can comprehend this without having seen it,” he said.

"I keep it very quiet. I think it is out of respect for my dad - I don't want to tell the entire world he had no idea who or what he was at the end.

"You will know if it is Alzheimer's affecting your family and you will know very quickly because it goes from being a nice broad family conversation to just getting narrower and narrower as far as my father was concerned until it is non-existent.

"I have total sympathy for anybody who has to go through this. It is horrendous and I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy, let alone my best friend."

While he still could, Les – an aeronautical engineer – decided to donate his brain to Alzheimer’s research.

It is something his famous son is proud of, though with some regret that the strides now being made in the research did not help his father.

"Because of that, and other people who have done the same, in the last 12 months they have made massive inroads into the disease," he said.

"Who knows what would have happened? It is a bit like HIV, the people who have that nowadays can lead a relatively normal life."

Since 1985 Sir Ian has thrown himself into charity walking, covering thousands of miles and raising more than £12m.

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  • Based on an article written by Grant McArthur, which orginally appeared in the Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun