BBC sports journalist Neil Bell died after a battle with cancer aged 61

Hundreds pack the Cathedral for memorial to BBC sports journalist

Canterbury Cathedral was packed for a service of thanksgiving to BBC sports journalist Neil Bell.

Neil, known to many affectionately as “Belly”, was a familiar face on tv screens across south-east England as he covered everything from the fortunes of Kent cricket to Gillingham Football Club.

He passed away from cancer at the age of 61 in early March.

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally was among those in Canterbury for the service.

Afterwards, he said: “It was a very moving service with fantastic speeches which really summed up Neil. You don’t know whether to laugh, cry or clap in these sort of places. It was very emotional.”

Sports minister Tracey Crouch, the MP for Chatham and Aylesford, added: “I thought the service today was absolutely phenomenal.

“You really got a sense of how very much loved Neil was – as a husband, as a father, a colleague, but also as an incredible sports journalist.

“And certainly as the sports minister I can really understand the value that he brought to his sports reports.”

Speaking to the audience, BBC South East Today presenter Rob Smith recalled how Neil had been on hand to report on achievements such as Kent’s 2007 T20 Cup win at Edgbaston and Brighton and Hove Albion’s promotion to the Premier League in 2017.

Following his death in March, former Kent County Cricket Club captain David Fulton said: “Belly was absolutely the best bloke and a fantastic broadcaster whose love of sport and particularly cricket shone through.”

In his profile on the BBC website, Neil recalled how as a boy he had pursued “a tall, smartly-dressed gentleman with a large nose and two-tone shoes” for an autograph at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury.

“He was Brian Johnston and he became my favourite cricket commentator,” he said.

His “love for sport grew and diversified”, until in 1987 he applied for a job as a cricket commentator at Kent.

“Intrigued, I applied and to my astonishment was given the chance to follow and commentate on all Kent games,” he said.

It was during that time that he first met BBC Radio Kent’s John Warnett, who was also starting out on his broadcasting career, and later moved to the broadcaster.

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