A few deep breaths, a helping hand to push him into the water and Thames Valley presenter Bill Heine was off on a gruelling 111-mile Oxford to London swim, writes Karen Rosine.

The BBC presenter, dressed in a 1932 Olympic swimming costume, joked: "I will be swimming for about 30 days and should end up either in hospital or at the swimming pool for Parliament at Millbank."

The swim aims to raise money for Oxford's twin town of Leon, in Nicaragua, devastated by Hurricane Mitch.

The Oxford-Leon link challenged Mr Heine to swim the number of miles along the Thames to London using swimming pools. He said: "I have been doing training for many months and I think it should be something which is within my capabilities."

His first challenge was to swim at Oxford's Hinksey Pool the number of miles it takes to get to the next pool in Radley. Continuing in this way over 30 days, it is hoped he will eventually arrive at Millbank by the middle of June.

He hopes to be joined along the way by MPs and Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies. Tim Healey, son of former Labour minister Denis Healey, was master of ceremonies at the launch. The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, and city council leader John Tanner, ensured Mr Heine made a splash by pushing him in.

Folk group Fairport Convention, who are sponsoring the event at £1 a mile, performed a free concert.

To sponsor the event, contact May Wylie at the town hall.

Story date: Monday 17 May

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