Former footballer Benali awarded MBE for raising £1.2m for cancer charity

The Princess Royal presented the awards during the St James’s Palace investiture ceremony.

Francis Benali
Francis Benali

The Princess Royal jokingly asked former Premier League footballer Francis Benali “have you run here today?” after she awarded the Cancer Research UK supporter an MBE for raising £1.2 million.

Benali, who played for Southampton, completed a series of gruelling endurance events – including seven Ironman-distance triathlons in seven days – as he raised seven figures for the charity.

The ex-footballer has a cult following with Saints fans across the globe and praised the support of those around him, and the inspiring experiences of people diagnosed with cancer, for helping him through the toughest periods of his challenges.

Investitures at St James’s Palace
Francis Benali chats to the Princess Royal during the ceremony (Aaron Chown/PA)

Speaking after the St James’s Palace investiture ceremony he said: “I guess coming back to those stories, and people that I’ve met… friends or family that have been touched by cancer as well.

“So in those hard, dark moments that I’d faced personally on the challenges, thinking of people close to me like that, and even somebody that I may never meet, was what drove me on.”

The ex-sportsman began his fundraising with Benali’s Big Run in September 2014, running 1,000 miles in three weeks between every football ground in the Premier League.

In 2016 he embarked on Benali’s Big Race, completing a minimum of a marathon a day and cycling up to 100 miles as he visited all 44 clubs in the Premier League and Championship in two weeks.

Investitures at St James’s Palace
The former Southampton player was joined by his wife Karen (Yui Mok/PA)

For his final challenge, Iron Fran, three years later the ex-Southampton defender swam 2.4 miles, cycled 112 miles and ran a marathon every day for a week.

Benali said about his time chatting to Anne: “She said, and it brought a smile straight to my face, ‘have you run here today?’ – I found that very amusing.

“She said something right at the end, she said it’s great fundraising work that you’re doing but look after your body as well. And I said that’s what my family have been saying for a long time now, so maybe I need to take it on board a little bit.”

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