THE legendary Christian evangelist the Rev Billy Graham has died at the age of 99 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.

He had a career of more than 70 years in the pulpit and is estimated to have preached in person to more than 210 million people around the world. For once getting things right in a tweet, President Donald Trump wrote: “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”

AS a man who could count several presidents, Her Majesty the Queen and Elvis Presley as personal friends, Graham could claim to have walked and talked with presidents and kings. Presley famously hated the nickname The King because Graham had told him there was only one king, and he was in heaven where, Graham once said, he would be with Presley one day.

The sheer numbers of people who either converted to the Christian faith as preached by Graham or who at least altered their views on many issues because of what the evangelist told them suggests he was one of the most influential people of the 20th century.

He was often allied to right-wing causes and notoriously advised the White House at the time of Richard Nixon’s presidency, but Graham was also one of the first of the post-war Christian evangelists to realise that the Civil Rights movement was unstoppable and he insisted on mixed-race attendance at his rallies from the early 1950s onwards. He later became friends with Martin Luther King.

A few years ago Graham gave an interview in which he said he regretted getting involved in politics, indicating the Nixon years in particular.

IN 1955, Graham was already a famous preacher thanks to his mesmeric hellfire and brimstone delivery of lessons from the Good Book as interpreted by himself. Of Scots-Irish descent, Graham had been raised in a Presbyterian family on a dairy farm in North Carolina but had converted to the Baptist Church at the age of 16.

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After studying at Bible college where he preached his first sermon aged just 18, Graham was ordained as a pastor in the Southern Baptist church, serving first as Pastor of the United Gospel Tabernacle Church before going on to become the youngest-ever president of an American college or university when he became president of the Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis at the age of 30.

All the time his reputation as a preacher had been growing and after the war he set out on what he called his Crusades. They took America by storm and featured “live” conversions and even healing sessions that caught the public’s attention.

By 1954 he was a world-renowned figure and had already visited Europe, drawing huge crowds in London in particular that year. It was following his mission to London that the “Tell Scotland” Christian evangelical movement invited Graham to make the All Scotland crusade that would be hugely popular and was supported by the Church of Scotland in particular.

Feeling that he really was visiting the land of his ancestor, Graham began in Glasgow in April 1955, and while he was based at the Kelvin Hall, he made apperances across the country and a team of 4000 counsellors carried his message far and wide. At one rally he preached to 90,000 people at Hampden Park, the largest crowd the famous old venue had ever seen for a non-football event.

According to the archives at Strathclyde University, the highlight of the six-week crusade was the Good Friday rally at Kelvin Hall, which was broadcast live on BBC television and radio, attracting a TV audience second only to the Coronation at that time.

As per usual with a Graham tour, there were many accounts of instant conversions and after six weeks Graham returned to the US very sure he had accomplished what he had set out to do. The evidence was that he had – in 1960 church attendance in Glasgow was still 50 per cent higher than in 1954, and many ordinary Christians and clergymen testified that he had changed their lives.

GRAHAM married a fellow student Ruth Bell while still at college and they would remain married for 67 years until her death. His extensive family say they are committed to carrying on his evangelical work.