DAVE “THE PHONE” LOCK interview – Runner’s World, April 2024

Dave Lock is planning to run the TCS London Marathon as slowly as possible this year. Not that the 62-year-old from Plymouth ever does it particularly fast. This will be his 25th consecutive London race raising money for the Samaritans and at most of those events, he’s been dressed as a giant green telephone.

‘I can’t lift my knees very high because the costume is restrictive at the front, so I have to do a kind of shuffling jog,’ he explains. ‘And when it’s windy, the phone acts more like a sail. One time, going over Tower Bridge, my receiver nearly blew off from its Velcro. A few spectators had to come and push me over to the other side.’

His slowest marathon as the phone so far was about seven and a half hours, and the fastest was 5:31. That’s still very impressive when you consider he’s carrying five kilos of foam that’s the opposite of aerodynamic, not to mention the number of high-fives and autographs he gives along the way. He’ll be going even slower this year because, for his 25th anniversary, the charity has made him its team captain and the Marathon has named the Samaritans its Charity of the Year. He’s always been an outsized beacon for others running in the organisation’s green vest. It’s easy to tell people to ‘meet by the phone’ before the start.

‘Obviously with the costume I am usually one of the last Samaritans runners to finish, but this time I really want to come in with our last person,’ he says. ‘It’s about staying out on the course for as long as possible to maximise the profile we’re getting, and it’s also a metaphor for no one being left behind. It’s very much a Samaritans value that we are around for everyone.’

Dave’s first experience of the Samaritans was as a user of its listening service. ‘I went through a fairly traumatic time in the mid to late Eighties when I got divorced, I was drinking too much. I ended up ringing the Samaritans during a very bad crisis when I was suicidal, and it saved my life basically.’

By 1989, following that call, some help from friends and some counselling, things had started to look better to the extent that he walked into his local branch and asked to volunteer. ‘I was so amazed by how they had helped me, that I wondered if I could do it too. After a very demanding eight weeks of training, I started taking calls.’

He stresses that you don’t have to be in a major crisis to pick up the phone to them, and that it isn’t an advice line. ‘It’s really important to know that it’s about listening without judging, and also the anonymity gives an element of safety. I know from when I was a caller that one of the most horrendous places to be is in despair, but when you’re in despair and you’re lonely it’s 10 times worse. My fellow volunteers represented all that was good about us humans.’

In 1992 a career development sent him to Madrid for three years, and when he returned to the UK his working hours meant he could no longer reliably sign up to Samaritans shifts. When he remembered that he had completed a number of marathons as a younger man, he realised there was another way to help. He did his first London Marathon raising money for them in 1998, dressed as Big Ears from the Noddy books (because he’s good at listening, get it?).

‘It was a fun idea but I didn’t think it attracted enough attention,’ he says. ‘So I went to see a theatrical costume maker, in Bognor Regis of all places, and it was her idea to construct a giant telephone around me.’

The first one was red, but when the Samaritans changed their branding to green a couple of years later he had to get a new phone made too. That’s still the one he uses today. It lives in his garage the rest of the year, and yes, he does go on training runs around his east London neighbourhood dressed as the phone.

He has also done the Marathon dressed as a giant birthday cake for the Samaritans’ 50th anniversary in 2004. That one weighed 15 kilos. He wore the same thing in Singapore that year and had to be escorted to the finish by an ambulance and a police car, in last place, because he had overheated. And he was a computer for a few years, to mark the fact that the Samaritans had become contactable by email.

This year’s London race is not only poignant for his anniversary. Last year his brother Steven took his own life. ‘In all my years of running for the Samaritans I never thought it would touch me in this way,’ he says. ‘He always used to watch by the side of the road near Temple, around mile 24. It’s very emotional to go past that point.’

But anyone who sees him wobbling down the road will be smiling. ‘Let’s face it, suicide and depression are grim subjects. The telephone makes people laugh. Every year it always feels like I’m doing something positive.’

Samaritans is Charity of the Year for the 2024 TCS London Marathon.​ To get involved visit samaritans.org or to make a donation to Dave’s fundraising page visit https://www.justgiving.com/page/david-lock-25

Samaritans are here to listen, day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123.