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7th February 2017

Professor Gordon McVie, 71

Gordon is an international authority on cancer. Currently, he is Italy Director at Cancer Intelligence and a senior consultant at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan. He has recently been made chairman of cancer treatment start-up Proton Partners International and he is also the founding editor at ecancer.org.

“I hated school and was told by my careers master that I wasn’t very good at anything. My father had gone to the same place as me in Edinburgh and they remembered him as being brilliant, especially at sport. They’d often ask why I wasn’t as good as him. Thankfully, I rediscovered my curiosity at medical school, though I failed my mother miserably by becoming a physician – she despised them! She was a theatre sister and wanted me to become a surgeon. She felt that physicians took so long thinking about things that patients died in the meantime, whereas surgeons rolled up their sleeves and got on with things.

Perfect happiness for me is having great family and great friends.

I think founding ecancer.org is the most important thing I have done in my life. It’s an open access cancer journal for doctors. A lot of patients were interested too so we also set up ecancerpatient.org. 11 million people have come to the site from 198 countries over six years. I also get a lot of fun out of mentoring people – my last Phd student graduated last year with Honours from the University of Milan and I’m now a visiting professor at Guy’s Hospital helping post-grads get research funding.

I’ve no routine, which is what I love about my job. On Fridays though, me and my wife always look after the grandchildren, which is the only regulated bit of my week. We have nine worldwide and I adore them. I have three sons with my first wife who I was married to for 25-odd years, but eventually she couldn’t handle the fact that I was never around. To my utter disgrace I put everything, including my work, before my family. I regret the way I divorced, it was atrocious and I lost contact with one of my children for a long time. We are back in touch now but I have masses of Protestant guilt about it. I could have communicated better and done things differently.

I met my second wife Claudia through my work. We’ve been married for 17 years and she’s now Chief Executive of Tenovus Cancer Care. We live in Bristol with my step-daughter and her family. They wanted a bigger house and we wanted a smaller one, so we decided to merge! We moved over the river into North Somerset to a little town called Long Ashton. You can cycle to the city centre for Sunday lunch, which is lovely. We also have a flat in Milan for work which my wife hates as she always suspects I’m fancying Milanese women! But I’m not. I’m very happy where I am. One of the lessons I’ve learnt over the years is that you have to try to listen more. I don’t listen enough, especially to my wife, she’s full of wisdom.

Perfect happiness for me is having great family and great friends. And not getting too carried away with the idea that you have to retire to pursue your hobbies, especially as I don’t have any! A long time ago I saw some staggering data on the death rates of dentists and doctors the year after they retire – it’s horrible. The late DJ John Peel described golf as the antechamber to death so I’m resisting it! I have no intention of retiring anyway because we haven’t cured cancer yet. I relax by working, by reading project proposals, or listening to classical music. I also have a passion for reading obituaries! I don’t have the patience to read a whole biography but I’ve always been very interested in people – how they did things against the odds and what they achieved.

The best age of my life is now. I’m having a ball, plus I get a free bus pass in Bristol! Of course, I also have age-related illnesses, I have had both cataracts removed and I also have hearing issues. Diet is key in staying healthy, but all the data shows that regular exercise is even more important. I’ve had a personal trainer for the last two months and I’ve been doing pilates for the last six years. I have cut down on fry-ups to twice a week but I drink at least two units of alcohol every day. Red wine is my favourite and whisky occasionally.

Everything is acceptable in moderation!

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