THERE'S nothing Jeff Brazier likes talking about more than his two boys.
We might be chatting through a computer screen, but the huge pride he has in Bobby, 17, and Freddie, 16, is tangible.
“I try to be a good example to my kids but, in fact, they are a good example to me,” he says.
“The fact that Bobby and Freddie are half of me makes me the proudest dad in the world.”
The TV presenter, who six years ago added qualified grief counsellor and life coach to his CV, has been a pillar of strength to Bobby and Freddie, raising them as a single dad after their Big Brother star mum Jade Goody died of cervical cancer in 2009 at just 27 years old.
Lockdown further strengthened their tight-knit family and gave Jeff, 41, time to reflect on the “extremely challenging journey” they’ve all been on over the past decade.
“As with everybody, I had more time to think, and sometimes my emotions got the better of me,” he says.
“However, everything we did together as a family unit has made us more resilient.”
That unit is supported by Jeff’s PR director wife Kate Dwyer, 31, whom he married in 2018.
The couple have worked through the marital difficulties they experienced last year, which saw both of them briefly ditch their wedding rings and unfollow each other on social media.
Jeff has said that lockdown gave them a chance to “pause and reset” their marriage.
With Freddie back at school and Bobby embarking on a career as a model, Jeff is throwing himself into his work as a life coach.
“Mental health issues have rocketed, particularly among young people, and if lockdown gave me any personal insight, it was to ensure I could offer guidance to as many people as possible.”
Here, he opens up about the tools that enabled him to cope with grief, the challenges he has faced along the way and what advice he would give to others needing help.
Jeff, how did you cope with two teenage boys in lockdown?
They’re normal teenage boys who, like all kids, were put under the most abnormal constraints.
And with no social life, there were times when both went stir-crazy.
How did their stress show itself?
There were proper physical fights between them.
Bobby can have a temper, but I trust him so much to keep it controlled and allow Freddie to chuck in a punch or two.
Were you able to help them stay on top of school work?
I’m actually more worried now about Freddie as he enters his GCSE year, because who knows what is going to happen?
He’s struggled academically and I don’t like to put him under too much pressure.
And Bobby has been working as a model, so he’s hopefully stepping out in the right direction.
Do you worry about Bobby moving into the spotlight when it proved so damaging for Jade?
Teenagers are tricky and this is, of course, a huge challenge as I have tried to protect the boys as much as possible.
If Bobby makes an error of judgement then I hope it can be turned into a positive thing.
Everyone has been so amazing to the boys, so I hope he attracts only positive vibes.
How does Jade’s death continue to impact on them?
My gosh, they are just so resilient. Of course they were so young when she died [Bobby was five and Freddie was four] and it pains me to think they never knew Jade in the same way we all did.
When Bobby landed his first fashion magazine cover [for Man About Town] he said he hoped his mum was looking down on him and smiling. And I’m sure she was.
Can you see Jade in the boys’ personalities?
When I look at Bobby and Freddie I see their mother’s colourful personality shining through.
I mean, Jade was one of the biggest characters out there and the boys have both inherited that from her.
All their best qualities come from their mum.
How have you learned to cope with grief?
I wasn’t in a relationship with Jade when she died so I felt I didn’t deserve to grieve and instead threw myself into caring for the kids and looking after their emotions.
I realise now, I put so much pressure on myself to be strong for the boys, but in truth, that wasn’t helpful.
I was so lost for so long and have only learned along the way how doing things differently could have helped me more.
In what way?
I had a lot of male pride in those days and didn’t want to show my vulnerability, but now I know that only alienated me from family and friends.
I watched Rio Ferdinand’s documentary [Being Mum And Dad] recently, which was so moving.
The way he spoke about getting as much grief therapy as he could from the outset was so different from how I handled things.
How has your work with the Grief Encounter charity helped?
They were there for me and the boys and helped us navigate our grief. We needed reassurance that we were doing OK and they were there to hold our hands.
We met other families going through the same tragic circumstances and it helped us talk at a time I didn’t know how to express myself.
Crying and letting my emotions out was not something I felt I could do, but the charity enabled me to open up in a safe and private environment.
What made you decide to train as a grief counsellor?
My mission is to provide support to others going through bereavement.
I have a personal understanding of what worked and what didn’t, and feel I’m in the best position to offer others advice on going through the same.
It was reported that you and Kate had a bit of a rocky time last year. How are things now?
Kate is absolutely amazing.
I know things have been said about our marriage in the press, but working from home has been amazing for us as we have spent time working things out.
I am beyond proud of everything Kate does.
Would you consider having more children?
I don’t want to talk about that, I’m afraid.
What’s next work-wise for you?
At the end of the day, I’m a people-pleaser. I want to be able to help people as much as possible.
I love football and want to keep presenting sports shows, but I’m also passionate about helping people with mental health issues.
The pandemic has impacted on so many youngsters, I feel I need to do more. A podcast may be on the horizon…
For more info on Grief Encounter, visit Griefencounter.org.uk.
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