‘If you wanted to design a virus dispersion hub, you could do worse’: the Cheltenham Festival, one year on
It was one of the last major sporting events before Britain went into lockdown in March 2020. Racegoers recall a tense week and its aftermath
When the roar of 65,000 people greeted the first race of the third day, at 1.30pm on Thursday 12 March last year, Geoff Bodman was feeling just fine. The 56-year-old painter and decorator from Tremorfa in Cardiff, whose friends call him “Boddie”, had been going to the Cheltenham Festival every year for 25 years. He had paid £30 for a ticket to the affordable Best Mate enclosure, where he planned to have a punt on the horses and a day on the beer. The following morning he’d be back in Cardiff, getting on with a job painting the outside of a house.
The week before, Bodman and his wife Julie, who worked in a Cardiff care home, had cancelled their second wedding anniversary trip to Venice. They had been looking forward to it for months, but Italy had become a hot spot for the new coronavirus. “We didn’t want to take the risk. We lost money because easyJet wouldn’t repay us, but we played safe. We thought it wasn’t that bad in Britain.” According to government figures, there were 1,302 confirmed cases of Covid across the UK by 11 March; data from the Office for National Statistics later revealed that there had been 26 Covid deaths.